The Art of Storytelling in the News World: Palki Sharma Upadhyay (Transcript)

Full text of journalist Palki Sharma Upadhyay’s talk: The Art of Storytelling in the News World at TEDxMICA conference.

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Palki Sharma Upadhyay – Editor with World Is One News (WION)

Hello, everyone, and thank you, TEDxMICA for having me here.

The subject of today’s talk is Mind The Gap. And the first thought that comes to mind is the metro train and its constant advice to mind the gap that we don’t really dwell on once we are off the train.

But mind the gap can and does have a more profound meaning. Today I’m telling you about the gaps that I grapple with and how I try to fill them in my own way.

This is my story, and before I begin it, I have a question for you: What is your story? When you grow up and talk to your grandchildren, what’s the story that you want to tell?

Will your story be more exciting than your CV? Or will you say you woke up, went to work, completed projects, met deadlines and targets, got promoted every other year, basically went through the motions of life, did not drop too many balls, but did not disrupt very much either?

Think of the story you want to tell a few decades from now and then start writing it today. Because our world today is essentially a grand storytelling competition, we’re all striving to present our own national, cultural and personal stories in the most persuasive manner.

I remember reading somewhere that in the olden times we said, if you want to poison a people, you must poison their wells.

But in this day and age, as novelist Ben Okri said, if you want to poison a people, poison their stories. Because stories sway people. They change the course of policies, politics, and indeed, the world.

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I’ll give you an example. During the Second World War, America had a list of Japanese cities it wanted to bomb with the atom bomb. The city of Kyoto was on that list, but it was removed by the Secretary of War — American Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. Instead, they put Nagasaki.

Why do you think he removed Kyoto? Because he’d gone there for his honeymoon, he’d seen Kyoto’s beauty and culture, and he did not want to see it destroyed.

You could say Kyoto’s story saved it. And that’s why it’s very important to be in control of your story, to actively shape it. And this is the first gap that I encountered in my career as a journalist.

We are a country of 1.4 billion people. We have hundreds of channels, a very aware and politically engaged audience, but we did not have a single news channel or newspaper that told our story to the world.

The New York Times write something about India, and it immediately becomes a Twitter trend. You may trash it, but you’re still consuming it and reacting to it.

The Economist weighs in on an Indian election, and it becomes part of the political debate. We are letting the foreign press shape our self image.

Which Indian newspaper triggers a similar response in the West? If there is disturbance in Kashmir, the world learns about it from the BBC or Al Jazeera. They use their own lens, their own editorial biases. And for the moment, that’s besides the point.

The argument I’m making is very simple. Why can’t India, the land of epics like the Mahabharata Ramayana, and tell its own story in its own words?

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