The power of media narratives and the Bills Playoff Drought

The Buffalo Bills made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Perhaps you heard.

Even with Sunday’s excruciating 10-3 wild-card loss to Jacksonville, this was incredibly important weekend for the Bills. By making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, by ending the longest playoff drought in the four major U.S. sports, the Bills have changed how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves. Now, every decision made won’t be framed by the shadow of the playoff drought. Now, the Bills can move on from Tyrod Taylor, or trade up in the draft, or make a free-agent move without having it judged by how it affects their chances at ending The Drought.

Above anything else, the Bills’ Playoff Drought demonstrates the power of media narratives.

So many stories written about the Bills over the past 17 years — from off-season moves, to training camp previews, to in-season moves, to post-season recaps - all focused on The Drought. What was needed to end The Drought? When would The Drought end? Why won’t The Drought end?

What was interesting, of course, was how the Buffalo media talked about the narrative of the drought.

It shows one of the core differences between journalists and media sociologists. Often, journalists treat a narrative as something that exists in the world and they are just reporting it. Media sociologists view narratives as a journalistic creation, something that comes out of the norms, values and routines of reporters and editors.

It’s a chicken-and-egg argument with no correct answer, but it is an interesting way to see the power of narratives in media.