Fulbright National Geographic storyteller and journalist Ryan Bell: How to get your audiences
Oct 24, 2018
Ryan Bell is a writer, photographer and storyteller whose work appears in publications including National Geographic, NPR, and the Columbia Journalism Review. Over his career, he’s covered everything from American ranchers training Russians to raise cattle to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. With every story, his passion for getting past prevailing narratives to bring people the information they otherwise wouldn’t get shines through.
“With every story, there are forces that try to push you into that groove, that prevailing narrative,” says Bell. “It’s tough to resist those.” As a result, storytellers need to think about how to get “off-the-beaten-path perspectives” that lead to authentic reporting and communications. One quick tip to avoid telling stories that fit neatly into established narratives? “Talk to sources outside of an organization, who have no communications agenda of their own.”
Bell also counsels communicators to look further into the future. “The audience I care most about is 50 years in the future,” he tells us. “What is going to be true [50 years from now], and what is going to be representative of today’s moment?” Asking yourself those questions, he says, helps keep you oriented to the stories and perspectives that matter.
In 2016, Ryan worked on a Fulbright–National Geographic Fellowship to follow up on his 2010 Russia reporting. While he saw governments using his work to further their preferred narratives, he maintains that faithfully conveying people’s experiences ultimately offers audiences the most valuable information.