What You’ll Learn

Pam Blair is retiring after 28 years of helping utilities tell their story through magazines. At the StoryConnect workshop, she joined the podcast to reflect on lessons she’s learned along the way.

Guest Speaker

Pam Blair

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.


Intro: A production of Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.

Andy Johns: What are some lessons we can learn from a 28 year career in storytelling? That’s what we’re going to be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host with Pioneer, and I’m joined on this episode by Pam Blair, a senior editor at Pioneer and is retiring. Pam, thank you for joining us.

Pam Blair: Thanks, Andy.

Andy Johns: So, yes, we are here. (applause) We are here, as you may have noticed by the applause at front of the audience at the StoryConnect Communications Workshop. We’ve wrapped up several great days here of working on our storytelling skills here in Newport, Oregon, including a session that Pam did yesterday that we’ll talk about. But Pam, I was hoping we could spend some time here just reflecting on looking back, 28 years of telling stories. I’m sure, you know, you’ve been involved in telling a lot of good ones over the years. Talk to us a little bit about how storytelling has changed in those 28 years that you’ve been working.

Pam Blair: Well, my background is actually newspaper reporting, and so a lot of it was news oriented. And and it’s the facts: the who, what, when, where, why. And those are still important. But what I’ve learned over my time at the magazine is that the human face is far more important. And every story, no matter how newsy it is, really has a person angle that can be told and that that has so much more impact. And over my years gaining experience, that’s probably what I’ve taken away. And as I’m editing stories, I’m always looking for the human face. How can we personalize it? How can we make an emotional connection with the topic for our readers? And I think that’s the sign of a story that that hits a home run.

Andy Johns: Absolutely. And let’s get into that a little bit more. So we’ve talked a little bit about what’s changed over the time, but there are a lot of things that sound like, though the format or reader attention span or whatever may have changed over the years, there are a lot of things that have stayed the same.

Pam Blair: Yeah, and I addressed it a little bit yesterday, but all good stories need good information. And so the crafting of the article is the second, well, probably the third step. The first step is being prepared before you go to talk to your story subject. The second step is asking all the right questions. And probably 2B on that is calling back and following up with the story subject when as you review your notes, you see gaps that you need to fill in. You can’t add and and frame something in a story if the information isn’t collected.

Andy Johns: You mentioned those different steps in the process. Let’s talk about your favorite parts and why. So you’ve got the reporting, the writing, the editing. You’ve done a lot of different roles in that storytelling. What’s your favorite part of the process, and why?

Pam Blair: Well, that’s interesting, and it’s evolved over time. It used to be that I was a writer first, and I probably will always be a writer at heart, and I’ll view things as a writer. But these days I actually enjoy the presentation of the overall experience. And that kind of surprises me as I look back because I don’t consider myself a decent photographer. I can be adequate, and I can get lucky. Somebody said earlier that they got lucky on a picture, and that’s how I often feel. You know, I see what I would like to capture, but technically I’m not there, and I get lucky. But what I really enjoy these days is being able to kind of take all the pieces. I’m a jigsaw puzzle fan, and I like to sort of look at how the pieces can fit together and really give the reader an experience. And that’s something that I said a little bit earlier, and that’s my goal, is to always give people an experience. Not just present the information, because if you just present the information, it’ll be gone in, you know, like you had mentioned attention spans. Readers have a very short attention span, and they’ll forget the newsy stuff. But if you give them a person that they connect to, they may remember that story two years from now, and they may remember what you’re trying to convey information wise for a much longer time than they otherwise would. So I enjoy the presentation, the packaging page design. I love that right now.

Andy Johns: Very cool and cool to see how it’s evolved. I think that’s a good a good place to be, always changing. So for the folks who are here, saw your session yesterday. But for the folks who are listening that weren’t able to, kind of give us a rundown or some of the take away or two from the session that you led yesterday.

Pam Blair: You bet. Yeah, I talked about copy editing, and something that I’m going to do more in retirement, but I’ve really have a passion for golf. And I kind of explained copyediting from the perspective of golfing, where you kind of step to the tee box. You sort of look at the overall lay of the land, what do you have there? And you sort of assess where the hazards are and where the fairways and the safe area is. And then you break it down piece by piece. And so you get a lay of the land, and then you start to put the pieces together. You hit your tee shot. You get it going. You take people down, down the fairway. You get close to the green. You chip it up. And then you look at the angle of the putt, and you try to figure out what is it going to take to get that in the hole? And how do you do it in a way that’s going to – I used a baseball term before “home run” – but how are you going to get a birdie or an eagle out of this? You know, bogeys and pars. You know, frankly, I’m at the level in my golf game where bogeys and pars are awesome scores. That’s a, you know, that would be a good score for me. I try to avoid the, you know, the double and triple bogeys but with writing and packaging and copy editing, you know, it’s my job as an editor to try to help the writer score that birdie and eagle.

Andy Johns: Perfect. Now one of the things that I appreciate about spending some time with you this week is even, here after a long career, you’re still learning. You’re still picking up a lot of things this week. What are some of the things that you’ve heard from the other sessions, from talking to folks, what are some takeaways from you that you picked up this week that you wanted to underscore?

Pam Blair: Yeah, everything was wonderful. I mean, from Camille’s presentation on writing and just emphasizing the personal connections and the whole idea. She never used the word “service journalism,” but there was an element of that involved. And service is basically providing something to the reader that is helpful, and so there was an element of that. Billy, I’ve done tons of photo sessions, and I feel like I have a good eye, but that doesn’t translate for me when I look through the viewfinder, and I have my ISO way off, and I get this black image. It’s like, that is not what I saw. And I appreciated going back to the basics and really talking about the technical aspects of photography that set me up for yesterday morning to feel like, overall, I’ve never had as good of a morning photo shoot as I had yesterday. And you know, and what I offer that for is to say you’re constantly learning, and never give up. Because I could have been so frustrated and said, “Forget it.” You know, “I’ll never figure out this camera. I’m going to set it on auto.” And one of our writers who travels internationally and in fact is leaving for an international trip, I think on Saturday, she’s like, “Yeah, I’m going to have to just set it on auto.” And I was really encouraged when we saw her pictures this morning that she didn’t set it on auto, and she’s been doing this forever too. And so just never give up. Never give up. Keep trying. And it’s worth it.

Andy Johns: Awesome. And that may tie us in a little bit. Well, I guess first, before I ask you about some advice for new storytellers out there, let’s talk a little bit about the retirement plans. I imagine that golf is going to be involved somehow.

Pam Blair: I sure hope so. I sure. I sure hope so. I had visions of spending three months down in Arizona, so that I could golf during the winter. My parents had been snowbirds. I’m not sure you call them snowbirds when you spend 20 years down there full-time. But they started out as snowbirds. And so I sort of got to experience retirement life and would spend a couple of weeks in November, a couple of weeks in December, in Arizona. Just leave my stuff there in between. And they moved back. They kind of messed up my plans. But that’s all good. But definitely some golf. Colleague, Mike Teagarden, has taught me pickleball, and I actually went to Costco and bought a kit, so I’ll do some pickleball.

Andy Johns: It’s hot right now.

Pam Blair: It is very hot. And I have access to an indoor court, so I don’t have to worry about stopping for the winter. I want to learn conversational Spanish. I want to go into the schools and do the smart reader program. There’s other opportunities for volunteer work. And eventually some international travel, but just a chance to decompress, and one of the people in my gym class said “Retirement is a chance where you get to start living life.” And it was said by a young person, which I thought was pretty darn profound.

Andy Johns: Yeah, right. It sounds great to me. We got a little while to go. Last thing for you. We’ve got folks here who have been storytellers, like yourself, 20 plus years. We’ve got folks who are just starting their storytelling career. We got folks in the middle, in between somewhere. What advice do you have for the storytellers out there, particularly the ones who are just getting started in their career of telling stories?

Pam Blair: Never stop being curious. I am an introvert, and that can be hard to be bold enough to step out and to ask questions and to probe and feel like you’re intruding. But that’s sort of what, as a communicator, you get to do. And if you just kind of find that persona of you, because we all have that part where we’re curious. Even if we’re an introvert, you know, we’re curious. We want to ask the question; maybe we’re just too afraid to ask the question. But as a communicator, that’s your job, so you have to ask the question. And the more you do it, the more comfortable you become. It doesn’t actually change your nature as being an introvert, but it’s a cool way to sort of be yourself, but be bold enough to get those answers.

Andy Johns: I like it. That’s very good advice. She is Pam Blair. She is the retiring senior editor here at Pioneer. I’m your host, Andy Johns. Until we talk again, keep telling your story. Let’s give Pam a big round of applause for all the work that she’s done telling stories. Making us all better storytellers.

Outro: StoryConnect is produced by Pioneer Utility Resources, a communications cooperative that is built to share your story. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.