Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Association Story Telling: Truth vs Fiction

PBS's This American's Life retracts Mike Daisey's (center) show regarding Apple's plants .  Center photo: AP
Over the last few months, several bloggers have advocated story telling as a very effective communications tool for association management professionals.
When we advocate story telling, however, we also advocate truth-telling.
As last week closed, the news media (see Wall Street Journal piece headlined “Radio Show Pulls Expose on Apple") uncovered a PBS story that lied about Apple factories in China. The original show created outrage about Apple’s practices and even prompted one listener to start a petition drive that has already resulted in about 250,000 signatures.

Interestingly, the broadcaster didn’t seem concerned and said his show is the fiction of theater not the facts of news.

Excerpts from the WSJ article:

  • Producers of the radio series "This American Life" retracted one of the most popular programs in its 16-year history, saying that it contained a series of fabricated statements.
  • "We can't vouch for its truth," said host Ira Glass, referring to a Jan. 6 episode that featured a piece by performance artist Mike Daisey about Apple Inc.'s AAPL +0.00% manufacturing practices in China. Mr. Glass accused Mr. Daisey of lying to him and another producer during fact-checking on the story.
  • In a statement, Mr. Daisey said he stood by his work, though he noted his work is a theatrical piece, and not journalism. "The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism," he said. "For this reason, I regret that I allowed 'This American Life' to air an excerpt from my monologue." 
  • New York's Public Theater, where Mr. Daisey's one-man show is scheduled to finish its run on Sunday, said in a statement that "we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn't his personal experience in the piece." The theater defended the performance, saying that "In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth—that's what a storyteller does, that's what a dramatist does." 
  • It added that Mr. Daisey "has illuminated how our actions affect people half-a-world away and, in doing so, has spurred action to address a troubling situation."
Here’s the info on This American Life’s website:
NOTE: This American Life has retracted the above story because we learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated. We have removed the audio from our site, and have left this transcript up only for reference. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction, featuring Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who interviewed Mike’s translator Cathy and discovered discrepancies between her account and Mike’s, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who has reported extensively on Apple. Ira also re-interviewed Mike Daisey to learn why he misled us. (Here’s a link to the retraction.)

Storytelling is a great communications tool ... one of the oldest when you include parables.

Mr. Daisey is not the first public figure (author, politician) to get caught with “fabrications” to sell his point of view and, unfortunately, he probably will not be the last.

The best stories are personal ones. And the most effective stories are factual ... or, if fictional, disclosed during the presentation.

A well delivered speech – complete with personal stories that reinforce your points – remains an effective communications tool for associations and nonprofit organizations.


  1. Absolutely.

    When I advise on "storytelling" as a memorable way to convey your mission and message, I am referring to framing a story in the context that resonates for your audience, not telling tales. There is a line that needs to be drawn. No one benefits (not creator nor audience) when storytelling becomes slanderous, tall tale telling. Massaging the truth to make something more dramatic should either be disclosed up front (as you suggested) or left to (insert whichever profession you'd like to joke about here).

    Good points.

  2. Thanks Christina ... that was my point ... honest storytell ing not made up.