Understand the “Place This in its Historical Narrative” Context – Striving to Understand in an Increasingly Complex World


I don’t know how much you know. But I do know that I do not know enough. Not enough to understand the story behind the story of news item after news development.

In the VUCA world we live in, “Complexity” demands that we understand things better. And we need some help to do that!

I remember being such a fan of Daniel Schorr. After several years as a “stringer,” he joined CBS news in 1953, and reported the news in some fashion or another through his last assignment with NPR, up to his death in 2010. In other words, he reported the news throughout every year of my entire life (until his death). To listen to him, I just felt… a little smarter, and much better informed. He had the ability to take the long view, and he could put stories into much, much greater, and much more understandable, context.

These days, there are growing numbers of “explainer sites.” Our need has created them, I think. Now the MIT Media Lab is entering the fold with “Fold.” I read about it in No Idea Where Ukraine Is? Confused About The Differences Between Sunnis And Shiites? Mit Has A Solution. Here’s the opening paragraph of the article:

The global news cycle can be overwhelming. So many cultures, regions, and conflicts around the world intersect to form a new mass of headlines each day, that it can be nearly impossible to keep up. Even for those of us who track current events religiously, contextualizing the pieces at play–really understanding the sociopolitical nuances of the conflict in Gaza, say–can be a struggle.

In the article, there is a mock up of how the site will look. And the article refers to the Vox card stacks (here’s one: 16 Things about ISIS and Iraq You Need to Know) as another example of this new version of “explainer” journalism.

Here’s what I have come to know. When you start with the story that is in the news today; when you start with the book that you read this week; when you don’t know, or don’t consider, the larger context, the “place this into its longer historical narrative” context, then you don’t quite understand.

And when you don’t understand, you can get in trouble.

When understating is important—and, it is – then context matters. The better communicators/journalists/authors get at explaining things, the better off we all will be.

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