For more than a decade, I’ve gathered stories for ministries around the world. As a marketing executive, my goal is to move audiences to action. When I was in the corporate world, those actions included enticing television fans to tune into the evening news, making sure a DVD rental included all the other trappings needed to make it a Blockbuster night, and even getting airline employees to actively look for ways to save or make the company money.
Marketing faith, hope, and generosity are much more difficult than marketing the latest movie release or a compelling news story. Some things remain the same: connecting with an audience, helping them discover the “I see me in that story” moment, and being clear in the “what’s next” for the person who reads, listens, or watches.
But when we tell stories that involve the flesh and bone and frailty of humanity, one priority remains paramount.
So, how do you keep integrity in the stories you tell? I promise, it’s not that difficult. But it requires focus and discipline.
FIRST, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE STORIES YOU CRAFT.
Two key factors are at play when you are the one at the keyboard or in the editing room. First, what do you have permission to share. I work with several organizations that offer protection for those they serve. Gaining permission for everything—from the images that may be shown to the amount of detail that may be included—is essential for the wellbeing of everyone involved. I’ve carried that permission-based mindset into the rest of my storytelling, and teach the same to other faith-based organizations. It doesn’t mean that the only stories shared are the ones that everyone has signed off on, but it means that we do all we can to keep the personal dignity at the forefront of every story we share.
That dignity is about what’s permissible. In Scripture, Paul talks about doing what’s right—not based upon what he CAN do, but what’s right to do for the sake of the Gospel and for the uplifting of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). Doing what’s permissible means making sure we weigh our actions and motives against Scripture. While a story (including our own) may be more titillating with detailed accounts of poverty, abuse, or neglect, it’s essential that we take into account the lives of those impacted by our words. Yes, we must ask ourselves, “Who is included in this narrative, and how will they be affected not only now but in the future?” We must ask ourselves, “What elements of this story are beneficial? And how does this story make space for grace and mercy, for God’s redemption and restoration?”
NOW, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE STORIES YOU SHARE.
That’s all it takes to send a story into the world these days, thanks to the ease of social media. We don’t have to be the authors to align ourselves with the words of others. In fact, people share over 25 billion links on Facebook each year, and almost 25% of all tweets are actually retweets on Twitter. A compelling headline, a powerful photo or video, a cut-to-the-heart question are all the encouragement some need to repost a story—even if that story is filled with incomplete or incorrect information.
Once a story has been set ablaze in the social media universe, it’s almost impossible to extinguish the flames. I’ve managed the fallout when someone shares outdated, inflammatory articles in an emotional free fall by people who may have good intentions but haven’t taken the time to vet sources and data points. And recently, I watched as incomplete information was shared and re-shared on all social media platforms, even after the organizations included in the story clarified the topic.
So, before we share stories (or excerpts from them):
Read, listen to, or watch the entire article (not simply the headline), and ask yourself,
What information is being shared in this story, and what information is missing?
Is this information true? Yes, take time to check the facts.
What emotion does this story evoke?
What assumptions does the author make in this article? What is their slant?
What does this author want the audience to do with the information provided?
Why can this author be trusted with this story?
Why can this source be trusted with this story (including publishers, websites, online news channels, etc.)?
A few months ago, I visited a friend who lives in a slum community in Guatemala. She is the matriarch of her family, offering care and security to her children, grandchildren, and an aunt and cousin. She works long hours in a local dump, looking for items she might restore and resell. Her ministry efforts ensure that the children in her community receive an education so they might break cycle of poverty in her town. Her strength and resilience inspire many, both in her country and in the United States.
The woman doesn’t have access to television or the Internet, and her reading skills are limited. But as long as I have known her, she has always felt a sense of worth and belonging. Until someone told her that her life was lacking. As I walked into her home, I sensed a change in her demeanor. “I am honored that you would want to come into my small, humble home,” she said. “I am sorry that it is not better.”
My friend knew about poverty. She knew about the need for education. She knew she wanted more opportunity for future generations. But she always had a sense of pride about her home until a stranger on a mission team looked at it with disgust. One remark made with little regard to its impact had laid waste a woman’s dignity.
Words matter, in whatever form we share them. Let’s be people of integrity.
Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29 VOICE)
To learn more about keeping integrity in the stories you tell, join Ronne and other industry leaders at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, May 6-8, 2020, in Dallas, Texas. To register, visit CAFO.org.
More on CraftBut when we tell stories that involve the flesh and bone and frailty of humanity, one priority remains paramount. Integrity. One second. That’s all it takes to send a story into the world these days, thanks to the ease of social media. While a story (including our own) may be more titillating with detailed accounts of poverty, abuse, or neglect, it’s essential that we take into account the lives of those impacted by our words.