Information is not a story

As I write this, the Wikileaks drama is unfolding. Whatever becomes of Julian Assange himself, there is no question that we are in a new era of information gathering and sharing. Information is everywhere and there is just going to be more and more of it. The cat, as they say, is out of the bag.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past couple of weeks. It’s clear that information is very different to story. A story can exist without any factual information (we call that fiction) but information, in order to get out there and sink in to people’s minds, needs a story to frame it. If a piece of information fits inside a story we already know, we can easily digest it. If it falls outside the frame, we can have trouble even “seeing” it, let alone understanding it.

The recent sexual abuse cases in the media are a case in point. Why did families allow paedophiles into their homes, their children’s bedrooms? Didn’t they suspect something? If the story is “priests are trustworthy” then factual evidence – even evidence that’s right in one’s face – can be ignored because it falls outside of the framework of this powerful story.

The role of journalists has traditionally been to sift through raw information and then distill it into a story, a narrative that has meaning. But they’re not the only ones at it. Stories are constantly being told and retold at home, at school, at work – everywhere we go, because stories are how we make sense of the world.

In his latest book, Here on Earth, Tim Flannery says we pass on genetic information but we also pass on cultural information in the form of “memes”. These memes pass from one generation to the next just as relentlessly as our genes.

When it comes to climate change, we have the scientific information – bucketloads of it – but in my opinion we are lagging when it comes to digesting the true meaning of this information. If we really “got it” we might be doing a little more about it.

The Bathurst Community Climate Action Network is embarking on a “Visioning” project in 2011 to develop and promote stories about what this town might look like in a low-carbon economy. If you’re interested in being involved, contact us through our website.

Tracy Sorensen is the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN). Visit www.bccan.org.au.

This article was written for the Western Advocate, Bathurst’s daily newspaper.

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