Jay Rosen Channels Robert Coles on the Psychogenic Power of the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Jay Rosen gave a talk at South By Southwest on The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists. It concluded with a powerful story by Robert Coles about the significance of the stories we tell ourselves:

The psychiatrist Robert Coles, author of The Moral Life of Children and other great works, wrote a book called The Call of Stories (which is another reason people go into journalism, to answer that call.) In the beginning of that book he reflects on his early training in psychiatry, at a mental hospital in Boston. He is told to make his rounds and classify his patients by the diseases they seem to be exhibiting, and note any changes in their condition. #

After a few weeks of this, Coles is depressed. He’s doing the work, classifying and observing, but he cannot see how his patients are going to improve. So he goes to see his supervisor, a wiser and older doctor. Coles complains: I don’t get it. I am doing what they told me to do, but how are my patients going to get any better? The older doctor listens to him, and pauses. It’s as if he’s been waiting for the question. And this is what he says: #

“Our patients have been telling themselves a story about who they are and where they fit in the world. And for reasons we do not understand very well, their story has broken down. It no longer lets them live in the real world, so they wind up here. #

“Your job—your only job—is to listen to them, and then get them to see that they have to start telling themselves a better story. Or they won’t get out of here. If you can do that–any way you can do that–you are doing psychiatry. Coles got it. And this was the beginning of his career as a clinician.” #

I think this illuminates the situation with the professional press today. The story it has been telling itself has broken down. It no longer helps the journalist navigate the real world conditions under which journalism is done today. Somehow, journalists have to start telling themselves a better story about what they do and why it matters. And we have to help them. We interactive people. #

For people in the press, bloggers vs. journalists is an elaborate way of staying the same, of refusing to change, while permitting into the picture some of the stressful changes I have mentioned. A shorter way to say this is: it’s fucking neurotic. #

Listen to the audio of Jay’s talk. He also discusses it on Rebooting the News #87.

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One Response to Jay Rosen Channels Robert Coles on the Psychogenic Power of the Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. Mark Willis says:

    Robert Coles said in an interview with Scott London: “What I’ve had to do is leave the realm of social science, which strives for predictability, consistency, and theoretical amplification…. Anyone who has gone through the years that I went through of psychiatry, child psychiatry and psychoanalysis develops a theoretic mind. While I’ve had to hold on to some of those virtues, I’ve also had to leave behind much of that way of thinking in order to turn toward what I think stories offer us — an appreciation of complexity, irony, ambiguity, inconsistency, fate, luck, chance, circumstance.”

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