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Teaching the art of storytelling, online and off

Florangela Davila (photo credit Conrado Tapado)

Florangela Davila (photo credit Conrado Tapado)

Part-time lecturer Florangela Davila spent nearly 20 years in journalism before coming to the UW, but she knows that most of her students won’t wind up as newspaper reporters. Instead, Davila’s students are more likely to express an interest in public relations, event planning, and nonprofit work.

But Davila argues that the art of storytelling knows no professional boundaries, and the importance of telling a good tale is at the heart of her courses, which have covered multimedia storytelling, diversity in reporting, writing for mass communication, and interviewing.

Davila, who teaches in the Department of Communication, brings storytelling experience in a variety of media to every class. She earned her Masters in Science in Journalism from Columbia University in 1992, covered a variety of beats for The Seattle Times between 1994 and 2008, and has freelanced for KPLU, KCTS, and NPR. “What I always stress is how the skills journalists practice – and have practiced – are very applicable to other industries,” she said. “You need to be able to write. You need to be able to fact-check and be credible. You need to know which sources to trust.”

Davila, mindful of the changing times, shows students how to use the latest technologies and trends to tell powerful stories. She encourages her multimedia storytelling students to shoot video, record audio, and take notes with their iPhones, for example. She also works with students to make new technologies like Twitter less overwhelming and more accessible. “I’ve been there, and I’ve done that,” she said. “I think I’m able to sympathize and empathize with my students.”

Davila hopes that her lessons transcend new technologies, though. She preaches the fundamentals of telling a good story – “What is a story? Whose story are you going to tell? What are the facts?” she asks her students – and trains them to keep an open mind as new tools become available. “There’s always technology,” she said. “There are other ways to tell stories.”

But that storytelling acumen won’t come without experience, she said. Wanna-be writers should start a blog, and amateur filmmakers should make videos whenever possible, Davila recommends. Even flyers for campus events or club newsletters demonstrate experience and skill to would-be employers. “There’s nothing stopping you,” she tells students. “You should be creating.”

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