Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sherpa: How We Cherry-Pick the Lyrics While Singing about Villains

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sherpa: How We Cherry-Pick the Lyrics While Singing about Villains

Article excerpt

A pop diva struck a spark in my brain. Sounds strange, but you'll see the logic if you'll ride with me for a few minutes.

Two weeks ago, my daughter gave me one of her periodic crash courses on pop music. She feels I need these to avoid coming off as hopelessly out of touch. Still out of touch, sure, but not hopelessly so.

She introduced me to "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift, "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and, catchiest of all, "All About That Bass."

That earworm from Meghan Trainor popped into my head a few days later when a reporter not from this paper talked on Twitter about "shaping the narrative."

The reporter wrote: "Shaping the Ferguson narrative has been the goal of the demonstrations from the beginning. When things don't go as planned? Reshape."

Soon, I was singing to myself: "It's all about the narrative, 'bout the narrative, no meaning."

Once upon a time, "shaping the narrative" was known as "spinning the story." News people were supposed to look past that to uncover the actual story.

But in recent years, the public and the media seem to like their major issues cut into small bites, their plots reduced to the level of a western movie. For our morality plays, we want clear-cut villains whose punishments quickly lead us to our pre-selected morals.

And so I've been told. Some years ago, a colleague and I were working on a story about problems in Missouri's management of emergency medical services. The problem was that the information- sharing process had become bogged down in bureaucracy.

Both an editor and a fellow reporter bluntly told us that "every story needs a bad guy," a single villain we could, well, villify.

In Ferguson, the Department of Justice released two reports. One detailed ingrained racial profiling in the police department; the other found no witnesses to dispute officer Darren Wilson's contention that he was in danger when he shot unarmed Michael Brown.

But in the news and on social media, most emphasis was placed on racial profiling. That story still had a villain, racist cops. …

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