Jay Rosen began his blogging career with an excellent examination of the master narrative in journalism. I have also dealt with it in various ways, most notably in my argument that the press should “tell a different story” of politics (blog essay here; academic essay here). Do a site search on Rhetorica for “master narrative” and you’ll discover that I’ve mentioned it often.
Rosen posted a new essay about how coming up with a new master narrative changes the reporting of on-going events and allows journalists to discover new (politically useful) stories.
This is particularly interesting from a rhetorical perspective because it so glaringly points out that news is a mental construct that may be deconstructed and re-constructed based on numerous values. In a sense quite uncomfortable for objectivist thinkers, there is no news outside of a constructed master narrative. And these narratives are always interested.
To construct (or blindly/mindlessly adopt) a master narrative is to make an argument (but, then, I believe all human communication is rhetorical, therefore an argument, so take that FWIW). What if good journalism is about examining a news situation from a number of master narratives? An interesting question for a reporter to ask a source would then be: “What’s the story here?” And rather than simply jot the quote and move on to find the balance quote, the reporter might begin to follow the response as a narrative frame and think about it in relation to other narrative frames as differently constructed and differently experienced bits of a complex reality.
Yes. I know. There’s hardly time to do a barely-adequate job much less go sniffing the thin atmosphere of rhetorical theory as applied to the under-theorized practice of journalism. Yet…yet… perhaps all it takes is to read what Rosen has to say and then, simply, look for other possible stories–realizing all the while that these are constructions to help discover (construct) truth and not necessarily truth in themselves.