Great stories emerge when you really listen and break down the barriers that can sometime shield the most interesting hooks.
By Graham Clifford.
Stories eh? As we sat outside a small tavern overlooking the Acropolis, Edel from Kerry doubted that she could help me with mine.
It was the summer of 2011 and recession had decimated the Greek economy. I travelled to Athens as a reporter to write stories on how the Irish living there were impacted.
As the evening wore on, Edel told me of her life in Greece, of her two sons and how her Greek husband, an engineer, had watched work in his sector dry up. She spoke of desperate people and broken dreams.
Almost everything she said lent itself to a powerful and compelling story.
Yet somehow she still doubted how others would be possibly interested in reading about her and her family’s experience.
She and her family moved back to Ireland and, as a qualified radiographer, she began working in the University Hospital Kerry in Tralee.
Her sons even started playing football for the local GAA club in Kerry.
Every time Edel spoke to me, another potential story or engaging angle just popped out.
And that’s the magic of storytelling – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve turned on the dictaphone to discuss a prearranged topic with someone —only to be side-tracked by a far more interesting nugget.
Edel eventually returned to Athens and established a recruitment company helping the Irish health service find well-trained Greek doctors. And that was yet another story.
What started off as a chat over a beer on a warm summer’s evening in Athens, transformed into a multi-layered series of features in the national media.
Edel opened a door and I gratefully walked through it.
It’s something which happens on a regular basis. I’m often surprised when those sitting in front of me feel their story is bland — this is especially true when reporting on business matters.
Sometimes CEOs or entrepreneurs labour through the details of his or her latest product or business. They talk in jargon and play down the really interesting stuff; for some reason blunting the enlightening story.
You just have to keep digging to find the heart and personality that can give an emotional insight into why a business is different or unique.
Like the boss of a software company in Cork, who climbs the world’s highest mountains in his spare-time.
There’s the former actor who set up a successful jam-making enterprise in Co. Mayo, or the country and western singer running a branch of a multi-national pharmaceutical company in the South East.
Their back stories are so interesting that they add to the initial story you were sent to document; these authentic stories can add focus, colour and character and lead to follow-up interviews – and vital media coverage.
As a seasoned journalist, broadcaster, and StoryLab editor, I’m always looking out for that killer voice or storytelling-ability in an interviewee which could transfer seamlessly to the airwaves or a great article.
Because of the interactive structure of modern media, an interesting story, with many dimensions, can come alive across many platforms such as print, online, and broadcast.
Edel is the perfect example.
She thought her story wouldn’t be of any interest. But here I am six years on from our first meeting and I’m still writing about her and, indirectly, of the other worlds she’s led me to.
Featured image: Edel Michailidou (nee Mulvihill) from Kerry taken at her first meeting with Graham Clifford in June, 2011 in Athens.