The Story Behind the Story

I don’t remember much about the journalism class I took at SUNY Plattsburgh, but there was one thing the professor taught that made a big impression.

He told us that there are not millions of stories out there. The truth is that there are maybe several dozen stories at best — change the names and some details and yes, it multiplies out to millions — but the fact remains that there are only a handful of stories.

What do you mean by that, we asked, of course there are millions of stories.

Then he started writing on the blackboard. Corrupt politician/board member/cop! Stricken down before their time! Screwed by the institution! Wasted taxpayer dollars! Tradesman plys a dying craft! Lost love found! Lost object found! Lost pet returns! He went on until the board was crammed — and then when we pulled out some newspapers from the big stack he kept in the corner and we started matching up the stories with the tropes he’d listed.

I was reminded of this when I saw a story in the Times Union about a piano tuner (Tradesman plys a dying craft!) and got curious. I typed “piano tuner” into Google News and came up with numerous recent piano tuner stories, including this one published just two days earlier.

I’m not saying this is bad, just that my teacher was right: there are no new stories. And it says something bigger about us, right? We respond to universal themes that are as old as the hills, things that preceed the written word, to the time when we gathered around the fire and told tales.

4 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Story

  1. Well, the sun rose today and no State Senators have been arrested, so that’s one story we won’t read today. I’m sure the NYT and TU have the paragraphs all ready to go like MadLibs, where you just plug in the Name, District, Charge, Judge, Bail Amount, Years if Convicted, State Senator’s Denial.

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