Wordwatch Towers

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You’re telling me stories

with 19 comments

The Oxford Book of English Short Stories

Image by dalcrose via Flickr

The only way I can do this is to just tell it straight:

I was watching Blighty’s Channel 4 news last night and an item about Microsoft came on. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton was being interviewed. Steve’s job title is ‘storyteller’.

I know.

Still, I don’t like to rush to judgement. I investigated. I found Steve Clayton’s blog.

Steve explains that his job is ‘telling the untold stories of Microsoft and hopefully helping people get to know us a little more’.

Nothing wrong with that.

He also explains that his job title was partly inspired by the notion of ‘transmedia storytelling’.

I don’t like to rush to judgement. I investigated.  Here’s what I found:

Transmedia storytelling is a technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, recognized for its use by mass media to develop media franchises. The Labyrinth Project’s Marsha Kinder calls these franchises “commercial transmedia supersystems” in her 1991 book Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She goes on to say “transmedia intertextuality works to position consumers as powerful players while disavowing commercial manipulation”.

Right. Got you.

Now I like Steve. He puts cartoons on his blog. He wears jumpers and once — um — ‘acquired’ some lip balm. But, storyteller? Really? ‘Cos it’s a transmedia storytelling type of a thing? Like ‘transmedia storytelling’ actually means something to human beings?

Oh, and Channel 4 News put quotation marks around Steve’s job title. They don’t even do that to the prime minister. That’s kind of a hint, isn’t it?

And, ‘storyteller’ also means someone who tells fibs, doesn’t it? Just thought I’d throw that into the already gruesome mix.

So, Steve, if you’re listening, I say drop the storyteller job title thing.

Oh, and when I’m next in America will you show me round Microsoft? And can you send me some freebies in the meantime? Splendid.


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19 Responses

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  1. A few computer-related companies have storytellers – all of them for all I know – mostly it translates as mendacious oik!


    09/02/2011 at 6:03 pm

    • There’s a dialogue on my blog (can’t find it, no way to search comments), between your humble scribe and Mozilla’s storyteller – it didn’t end well. If I can find it, I’ll post the link.


      09/02/2011 at 6:09 pm

  2. Your BS detector is working perfectly, Deb.

    If one is working for a company and is paid by the company to “tell untold stories” we can safely assume they will all be positive spin. Hence the employee is in Marketing, which is a fancy term for SALES.

    Microsoft has a long history of buying and disbanding small, innovative companies as a disincentive for creative competition. Do you think he will tell THOSE untold stories?

    Invisible Mikey

    09/02/2011 at 8:44 pm

    • Thanks, Mikey. Like you, I think the emphasis will be on happy ever after. Interestingly, I’ve just read a later post on Steve’s blog, in which he mentions that his job title is now ‘Senior Director, Storytelling’. That’s beyond ludicrous. Fortune describes it as ‘wacky’, but provides a nice write-up.


      09/02/2011 at 9:03 pm

  3. “Transmedia intertextuality works to position consumers as powerful players while disavowing commercial manipulation.” Well, duh. That’s why I feel powerfully playful, not manipulated.

    Michael Farrell

    10/02/2011 at 12:28 am

    • Exactly. Glad that’s clear. You don’t mention the commerical transmedia supersystem media franchises, but that’s a given, I suppose, along with with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Thanks, Michael.


      10/02/2011 at 6:41 am

  4. Your story gave me a good laugh, Deborah. Thank you! 🙂

    Tracy Todd

    10/02/2011 at 4:10 pm

    • You’re very welcome, Tracy! Always good to see you here, and thanks for taking the time to comment.


      10/02/2011 at 4:13 pm

  5. Hi Deb

    I’m listening and appreciate the advice – I’ve had lots of interesting feedback, some good, some bad on the title. At the end of the day, it’s what I’m trying to do….tell some stories about Microsoft that don’t normally get told. For those that stories = porkies, that’s really not my goal. There are a ton of sites, blogs, outlets etc that tell Microsoft’s “story” and I’m humbly trying to tell it from the inside by introducing people, places and things I find that don’t always get covered.

    If you’re ever in Seattle, I’d be happy to show you around and promise not to tell any fibs 🙂


    steve clayton

    10/02/2011 at 6:55 pm

    • Hello, Steve! You’re very welcome here. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment — and so graciously, too. (So glad now that I said some nice stuff about your jumpers and cartoons and all.)

      See – even when you say “tell some stories” about Microsoft it doesn’t sound right. You think that sounds right? It makes my teeth itch.

      There’s nothing like someone coming up with a few excellent alternatives, and this is nothing like someone coming up with a few excellent alternatives. But I bet I could after a couple of beers.

      I’ll hold you to that Seattle thing.

      Thanks again!


      10/02/2011 at 8:10 pm

  6. Hi Deb

    back again…sorry for the long delay. I’m not sure tell some stories has to sound right because the reality is I want to engage in discusion and that’s what we’re having – not necessarily on the topic of Microsoft but that’s okay in my mind. For the moment, I’m sticking with storyteller, not least as it creates a dicussion like this but also because it’s better (IMHO) than “blogger” or “spokesperson: or heaven forbid “evangelist”.

    I’m open to alternatives so feel free to grab a beer or two and send them my way of course 🙂


    steve clayton

    09/04/2011 at 7:19 am

    • Hi, again!

      Definitely better than ‘blogger’ and a million times better than ‘evangelist’. (American companies have evangelists??)

      But ‘storyteller’ is still kinda wrong in a not even so wrong it’s right kind of a way.

      I will drink beer as per your instructions and await inspiration.


      09/04/2011 at 5:33 pm

      • Micromancer


        12/04/2011 at 2:29 pm

  7. @Invisible Mikey

    “Microsoft has a long history of buying and disbanding small, innovative companies as a disincentive for creative competition. Do you think he will tell THOSE untold stories?”

    there’s something of a condundrum in this statement. if they’re untold stories, how do we know about them? do you have examples?

    steve clayton

    09/04/2011 at 7:25 am

  8. Personally, I think you all need to get out more. At least storyteller conjures up a friendly image (FYI: a storyteller is not a fibber in my book). It’s ‘Microsoft’ that makes my ‘teeth itch’. Time for a beer …

    Lizi Brown

    12/04/2011 at 1:41 pm

    • Ah yes, getting out more. I remember that. Halcyon days.


      12/04/2011 at 1:54 pm

  9. Ah, indeed. Well, if we can’t get out as much, at least we always have Windows …

    Lizi Brown

    12/04/2011 at 2:20 pm

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