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Why journalists shouldn’t brand themselves “storytellers”

New research into a common branding journalists use for themselves on social media is once again showing the wide disconnect between journalists and audiences.

The research, conducted at the University of Cincinnati, evaluated reader’s reactions to the use of the word “storyteller” to describe a journalist. You can read the report in greater detail here.

Journalists dubbing themselves “storytellers” is a trend on Linkedin, in Twitter bios, and on resume’s. As journalists, we want to say we tell people’s stories. We believe every person has a story and there’s a story behind every event and as the writers of the first draft of history, we want to be the ones to tell that story. It is a noble idea, but there is a disconnect with how audiences perceive this particular moniker.

Your audience sees the word “storyteller” and thinks one of two things:
1.) Fake news. You just make it up. You’re telling lies.
2.) They think of a story teller — such as a librarian reading a fairy tale to children.

Some of the quotes from the study are quite damning. Journalists calling themselves storytellers are called “Pinocchio,” or “Well-trained liars.” One person interviewed for the study said, “It makes me feel like they will make up a story. Like a tale.”

Your audience does not understand the nuance of your craft and does not hear the word “storyteller” the same way you, your journalism professors, your editors, or anyone on the inside of the craft of journalism hears that word. Instead, your audience equates storytelling with fiction.

Leave “storyteller” out of your social media profiles and off your resume’. It isn’t trendy and it isn’t good branding. Instead, it is evidence that you don’t know your audience and are disconnected from them.

If you are a budding journalist who just graduated from college, you certainly shouldn’t use it. You haven’t told anyone’s story yet and you haven’t met the audience you intend to connect with. Journalists wishing to brand themselves as story tellers should have years of experience where they have become known by their audience as “storytellers.”

The “branding” so many journalists are seeking is an earned reputation. You don’t just get to slap it on a social media profile and have automatic authenticity. The audience isn’t buying it and neither should you.

We need to be more in touch with our audience. We present news for audiences not for other journalists. This is just one example of several areas where journalists need to back up and take stock of why they do what they do and who they do it for.

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