Kristina Kendall on the Power of Storytelling

Telling stories enable us to animate the issues we care about. They also help us to understand ourselves better. For over two decades, Kristina Kendall has harnessed the power of stories as a producer and content creator. Stories draw attention to ideas that matter to us by evoking a deep sense of compassion and empathy for others. Similarly, when discussing issues surrounding public policy, stories can be a great way to package the meaning of complex ideas and send them for serious examination under the microscope by people who would otherwise be indifferent. 

Kristina Kendall

I think that if you’re interested in talking to people and helping them see your point of view, speaking to people’s hearts is the most important thing you can do. A graph has never deeply convinced anyone’s soul of anything.

– Kristina Kendall

Kendall first heard about IHS as a high school student participating in a program at the Foundation for Teaching Economics. Later, as a student at Carleton College, she attended Summer Seminars and received two Humane Studies Fellowships. Of particular note, says Kendall, “was the mentorship and the interest IHS staff had in me as a student. They genuinely cared about where my career was headed.”

Stories inspire people to become their best selves by empowering them from the inside, rather than through external forces. I think that featuring the human condition in stories can transform the world.

– Kristina Kendall

In 1997, the IHS Senior Vice President at the time Marty Zupan received a call from John Stossel, co-anchor for ABC News. Stossel needed a producer whose economic literacy could help him cover stories that were being overlooked. Zupan suggested Kendall as a perfect fit. Soon after, Kendall began working with Stossel full time, helping him produce videos for his “20/20” segments which aired weekly on ABC.

It’s important to note that Kendall never set out to become a producer. In fact, she expected a career in public policy, but soon discovered how storytelling can achieve just as much of an impact—and sometimes an even greater impact—than in-depth policy analysis. In adapting to her new role, Kendall sought stories that personified classical liberal ideas in ways that were easily digestible and relatable to her audience.

Kristina Kendall presenting at IHS, circa 1998

Each segment followed a story that presented a countervailing narrative. For example, some videos featured business owners who had laid off workers due to minimum wage hikes, or even had to shutter their doors entirely. In other videos, Kendall and Stossel showcased the dismal education students receive in public schools by filming inside classrooms and interviewing students and teachers about their experience. In some cases, Stossel attended teachers’ union rallies, which demonstrated how the impracticable demands of teachers led to unintentionally poor educational outcomes witnessed across the country.

Kendall reckons that the difficult stories tend to have the most powerful and poignant impact.

In her case, the stories that shed light on the hidden costs of government intervention in the economy clearly conflicted with the overriding themes broadcasted in mainstream channels. However, “a lot of the times, it’s the telling of stories that are unseen which present the greatest challenges but can strike a common nerve and force someone to reexamine their assumptions,” states Kendall.

A one-story narrative is always going to be easy. It’s much easier to tell the story of the guy who loses his job because the company is closing down. It’s much harder to tell the story of all the places he was able to find, and the way in which those assets were reallocated. Clearly, that’s a messier and more complicated story to convey.

– Kristina Kendall

When John Stossel left ABC News for Fox News/Fox Business, Kendall joined him as an Executive Producer and continued to story the effects of government regulation on people’s lives. In 2014, after spending more than 15 years with John Stossel and producing hundreds of hours of meaningful stories, Kendall went on to become Executive Vice President of New Balloon, a cross-platform media company devoted to storytelling “as a catalyst for promoting personal introspection.”  

Some of the works that Kendall helped develop and produce are “Last Days in the Desert” (2015; directed by Rodrigo Garcia), “Beasts of No Nation” (2015; directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga) and “Harriet” (2019; directed by Kasi Lemmons), which was nominated for two Oscars.  According to Kendall, the production of “Harriet” was a memorable and insightful reflection of not only Harriet Tubman’s historical figure, but her as a person and freedom fighter. She was an exemplar of human dignity in its purest form, evidenced by her relentless and uncompromising drive to free slaves from captivity.

Talk about a person who is totally robbed of all things. She was born into slavery and couldn’t read. She didn’t just find the inner fortitude to self-emancipate, but she had the passion and fire to return voluntarily so that she could free others. To her, she wasn’t free until everybody was free. What can be a more heroic and beautiful story?

– Kristina Kendall

In 2008, Kendall received the sixth annual Charles G. Koch Outstanding IHS Alum Award for her “contributions to advancing liberty through excellence in journalism.” Her mentorship of young and aspiring journalists over the years have also empowered future generations of content creators looking to transcend the conventional mold and tell the stories that emphasis individuality and personal exploration.

In addition, from 2009-2019, Kendall served on IHS’ Board of Directors. Without IHS, Kendall muses, “I would have never ended up at ABC News 20/20. I would never have been a producer and my career would have had a completely different trajectory.” After her introduction to John Stossel, Kendall nurtured stories meant to “uplift humanity and converge on the commonality of the human experience.”

Today, Kendall works at her own production company, “Kristi Kendall & Co.,” creating content that “connects hearts and minds to ideas that matter.” Her work continues to humanize the complicated elements that make up a free society by appealing to the universal constitution of humanity.

The Institute for Humane Studies is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2021. For more spotlights on scholars, video interviews, photo galleries, and in-depth conversations on classical liberal ideas, visit TheIHS.org/60

IHS 60th Anniversary
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