What Journalists Can Learn from Comedians

By: Nu Yang

Improv isn’t just for comedians anymore. According to Think Improv co-founder Amanda Hirsch, journalists can learn a few lessons on how to collaborate efficiently by studying the art of improv. Hirsch is also editor of Collaboration Central, a website dedicated to journalistic collaborations and a division of PBS’ Mediashift.

“In an improv show, two actors take the stage. There’s no script,” Hirsch said in a recent Collaboration Central post. “One of them says something; the other responds. They are collaborating to create a scene or story on the fly, and if they collaborate effectively, that scene will knock people’s socks off.”

Hirsch said journalists operate under a similar environment. “You’re also creating a story, often under extraordinary deadline pressure … you’re still reliant on other people to help you build a narrative to fill the blank page.”

Improvisers use a technique called “Yes, and.” Hirsch said it’s the “principle of agreeing with the information your fellow performer establishes and then building upon it.” In other words, “Yes, what you say is true, and here’s some more information.

“We use ‘yes, and’ to go from zero to something in a matter of seconds,” she said.

Off-stage, journalists can use the technique in newsrooms when partnering with another organization to cover a story or as a reminder to listen closely to sources so that the story will present itself.

“If journalists don’t listen closely to their partners in a collaboration, they miss out on key information that can strengthen the final editorial product,” Hirsch said.

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2 thoughts on “What Journalists Can Learn from Comedians

  • June 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm
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    “Yes…and” is a lot about what journalism is about. Whenever you’re covering a story, you listen to what someone says, (have you ever seen how TV reporters bob their heads up and down in agreement while a source speaks?) and gently nudge them to tell you more (“And??”). Even when we are in a position to disagree, journalists often do it in a positive way to keep the dialogue going.

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  • June 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm
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    Yes .. but: Good advice to collaborate/cooperate, except for a couple barriers: In most of the best improv comedy I’ve seen, the comics already have a set of responses, and they plug the best ones into the storyline that their colleagues develop. That’s akin to “pre-writing” a news report and then getting the facts/quotes to support your POV. Also: the “sources” are not as witty and articulate as the improv partners. So “improv-ing” the news may not be akin to “IMPROVING” the news.

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