Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

A few years ago, our local museum hired a story teller to come tell ghost stories at a Chataqua type event. I was excited to go see her as I am very involved in the local haunted history. A few days before the event, I got a call from a woman on the board asking me about some of our local haunts and I was telling her some of the stories.
When I arrived at the event, the story teller proceeded to go up there and not only tell all my stories, but she also told ones that were ONLY posted on my website. She gave absolutely no credit at all. I was more than a little offended - one, that a local person like me wasn't asked to do it but they sure did use my stories, and two, that the teller didn't give any type of credit at all as to where she obtained the stories.
Is that normal behavior? I am new to this and don't really know what is acceptable and what is not, but being a writer, I am fairly certain it's not a cool thing to do.
After the event, I very NICELY approached her and said, "I'm so glad you told the story about So-and-So. My friend really spent a long time digging through that historical society's papers to discover that one - it's such a cool story!"
She immediately got defensive and said had she known I was in the crowd she would have given credit.
I never mentioned a word about credit to her - so it was clear that she knew I knew the only place she could have gotten the information was from my site.
So - do you not tell people where you get the stories? Is it common practice to scavenge websites or cull information and then repeat it as your own?
To me, doing all the research and work is a hard job and people shouldn't be allowed to just take it and do what they want with it.

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Tammy,
It is certainly NOT alright to take other people's stories. Traditional tales are available to everyone, personal or orginal tales are the property of the creator. HIstory is a little tricky in that history is out there for anyone to find but orginal and unique treatments lean towards original tales. Ethically, credit should always be given. Organizations like the National Storytelling Network (NSN) and sites like this one help establish standards for tellers. Encouraging art and educational organizations to hire performers who are members of organziations which advocate ethical standards helps raise up the entire art form. Rw
Thank you for answering!
Clearly, the storyteller you mentioned did not behave in an ethical manner.

Whether or not you were in the audience doesn't affect whether or not credit should have been given-- of course, credit should have been given.

Model the behavior you wish to see in the world. When I tell, I prefer to cite my sources, not only out of respect for them, but to give my listeners the idea that, just as you say, someone had to do the work to get the story there. (My mom always sits and watches every credit at the end of a movie, to remind herself of the effort it took to create it). Citing sources also gives audiences a chance to go exploring on their own, especially with traditional tales.

I hope incidents like this don't discourage you from posting historical stories on your web site. You may want to consider posting them under a creative commons license so that visitors to your website know exactly what they can and can't do legally (and ethically) with them.
We were lucky enough to be able to include the stories in a book that will be out in a few weeks - it's called Ghostlahoma - Over 100 Years of Haunted History. I really appreciate the two of you answering this because it's really bothered me for a long time. Sadly, they found the woman through a professional site - we're in Oklahoma and I believe she came from Tennessee or West Virginia or something like that.

I have done public speaking and have told several of these stories to interested parties, and am even a published author, but I would really like to hone my oral storytelling skills. I was caught a little off guard at a campfire last fall and I would like to be able to do this well.
There are a bunch of books on the art of telling, but for me, I've learned the most by listening to other tellers. If you can get to a festival or conference (there are events all over the country) you can hear a wide varitey of tellers in a concentrated time. You can also listen to tellers on CDs or on the interenet. (there are some cds and videos on this site, some on itales.com.-but I think live is always best) You might also consider looking for a storytelling coach or mentor...but be picky. Find a teller who you enjoy and also has skills in allowing you to develop YOUR voice. There is a group focused on coaching on PS.ning you might want to check out. RW
Dear Tammy,
good that you ask about etiquette (and not about copyright). One year ago an assembly of more than 70 story-tellers in Germany agreed to a resolution upon this subject:

If you want to tell a story, that you have heard from another storyteller, ask for permission.

If you are asked for permission, generally give it. If for example you say no or want to give your permission only after a certain period of time explain your reasons to the one asking for it.

If you tell a story that you are indebted to somebody else for, tell your listeners who you heard it from.


("indebted" - the German text says "verdanken" which means "you have reason to thank")

Beside that: citing a source is not only a question of etiquette - it also shows to an audience that oral tradition is still alive. So it doesn't matter whether the one you have got the story from is in the audience or whether the audience has ever heard that name before.

JB
Tammy
I agree with Joerg on the etiquette thing. Legally you can no more own a storyline then a cloud. As a writer you know that I can't write your words as mine, and that is how it should be in storytelling. (though why any storyteller would use another’s words is beyond me. unless it’s a poem or something.) If I got the story from one source, I will always site it, either in the program or verbally. As a Ghost storyteller myself, I find that most (not all) ghost stories have many versions, sometimes in many cities. I try to do my homework and study them all, then make my own story to tell. In which case I obviously can't site all the sources, but if ask I will give as many as I can. It is just nice.
However, just to though a curve, I have been on the receiving end of an irate storyteller, who accused me of steeling their story. I suffered every attack from name calling to threat of law suit. I had never heard or read this storyteller before. I had never even heard their name before. I even went back to my research to see if this person was one of the authors in an anthology I had used. nope. To make it even more frustrating, the story in question was folklore, older than both of us together. I ask that all storytellers use there ethics on both sides, site your source, and don't be greedy with traditional material. Kindness works both ways.
In this case, they should of just hired you to tell, it would of been better for both of you.
Keep telling
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller
Hi Tammy...it is always a risk if you publish your stories on the web as nothing is sacred on here. I always find it best to share stories with friends and colleagues and not "go public" on the net. It would have been kind and professional of the storyteller to acknowledge her stories but there is no written down "law".....so you have to bear it I am afraid. It has obviously got to you though if this happened a few years ago.
I have got to weigh in on this one. If you, as a teller, didn't write the story, you should at least try to find out who did or where it came from or at least share how you came across the story. Sometimes it is impossible to be able to find the author, but that doesn't mean that the story is "yours." I have been in situations where the teller told a story containing the same events but it was clearly a different version of the story. Not to be confused with the work of another teller. How many stories have come out of the battle at Gettysburg for example or the Underground Railroad?

This situation is similar to one that happened to me. One lady called me and asked me if she could tell "Three Penny Momma." Needless to say there was a long pause on my end of the phone while I mentally composed my answer. I didn't use the first three free handed versions and finally managed to calmly say. "No, that is a personal story, that is my own mother. You may not tell it ever." She immediately launched into her sales pitch, I sat the phone down on the counter and walked away; later when I picked it up... she had apparently finished her pitch. I suspect she tells my story and was going to no matter what I told her.

While I don't think throwing a prospector's blanket over a genre of stories is good for storytelling, for example only ethic groups should tell stories from that specific ethnic group or only people from coal mining towns should tell mining stories. But I do believe that if you wrote the story or developed a story, you should not have to attend a gathering and hear your work performed word by word and inflection by inflection.

I will say it again, unless we storytellers begin to act like professional artists, in our business practices and performance behaviors. We will have a difficult time being taken seriously by other performing groups. No orchestra deals with these kinds of silly selfish issues. Writers have a word for the crime, plagierism.
At the university we make all our students complete an anti-plagiarism module and adjoining quiz. One of the prime articles in the module is this juicy bit.


Leonard Pitts is a syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald. When a young upstart ripped off Mr. Pitts' words as his own, he grabbed the tiger's tail. See the reaction.

Dear Chris Cecil:

Here's how you write a newspaper column. First, you find a topic that engages you. Then you spend a few hours banging your head against a computer screen until what you've written there no longer makes you want to hurl.

Or, you could just wait till somebody else writes a column and steal it. That's what you've been doing on a regular basis.

Before Tuesday, I had never heard of you or the Daily Tribune News, in Cartersville, Ga., where you are associate managing editor. Then one of my readers, God bless her, sent me an e-mail noting the similarities between a column of mine and one you had purportedly written.

Intrigued, I did a little research on your paper's website and found that you had ''written'' at least eight columns since March that were taken in whole or in part from my work. The thefts ranged from the pilfering of the lead from a gangsta rap column to the wholesale heist of an entire piece I did about Bill Cosby. In that instance, you essentially took my name off and slapped yours on.

On March 11, I wrote: I like hypocrites. You would, too, if you had this job. A hypocrite is the next best thing to a day off. Some pious moralizer contradicts his words with his deeds and the column all but writes itself. It's different with Bill Cosby.

On May 12, you "wrote:" I like hypocrites. You would, too, if you had this job. A hypocrite is the next best thing to a day off. Some pious moralizer contradicts his words with his deeds and the column all but writes itself. It's different with Bill Cosby.

The one that really got me, though, was your theft of a personal anecdote about the moment I realized my mother was dying of cancer. "The tears surprised me," I wrote. "I pulled over, blinded by them." Seven days later, there you were: "The tears surprised me. I pulled over, blinded by them on central Kentucky's I-75."

Actually, it happened at an on-ramp to the Artesia Freeway in Compton, Calif.

I've been in this business 29 years, Mr. Cecil, and I've been plagiarized before. But I've never seen a plagiarist as industrious and brazen as you. My boss is calling your boss, but I doubt you and I will ever speak. Still, I wanted you to hear from me. I wanted you to understand how this feels.

Put it like this: I had a house burglarized once.

This reminds me of that. Same sense of violation, same apoplectic disbelief that someone has the testicular fortitude to come into your place and take what is yours.

Not being a writer yourself, you won't understand, but I am a worshiper at the First Church of the Written Word, a lover of language, a student of its rhythm, its music, its violence and its power.

My words are important to me. I struggle with them, obsess over them. Show me something I wrote and like a mother recounting a child's birth, I can tell you stories of how it came to be, why this adjective here or that colon there.

See, my life's goal is to learn to write. And you cannot cut and paste your way to that. You can only work your way there, sweating out words, wrestling down prose, hammering together poetry. There are no shortcuts.

You are just the latest in a growing list of people -- in journalism and out -- who don't understand that, who think it's OK to cheat your way across the finish line. I've always wanted to ask one of you: How can you do that? Have you no shame? No honor or pride? How do you face your mirror knowing you are not what you purport to be? Knowing that you are a fraud?

If your boss values his paper's credibility, you will soon have lots of free time to ponder those questions.

But before you go, let me say something on behalf of all of us who are struggling to learn how to write, or just struggling to be honorable human beings:

The dictionary is a big book. Get your own damn words. Leave mine alone.

P.S.: Chris Cecil was fired Thursday by Daily Tribune News Publisher Charles Hurley, immediately after he learned of the plagiarism.
Layne

I love you for putting this excerpt here in Professional Storyteller. I love it.

Buck
Thanks, Buck. Stirring article, I know. I fell in love with it at first read.

Layne

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