4Mar
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MMJ advice: my interview on the “Thrive on TV” podcast

It is rare that I am on the receiving end of an interview.

But when it happened a few weeks back, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity.

Bakersfield, Ca. sports anchor Casey Keirnan asked me to be a guest on his “Thrive on TV” podcast, and we did the interview a few weeks back. We spoke about the highs and lows of multimedia journalism, the value (and potential distraction) of awards, and transitioning from sports to news, which I did gradually over the first half-decade of my career.

I also share the story of my worst day in television, which still makes me shudder more than a decade later.

But amidst all the storytelling tips and thoughts in this podcast, I think I mostly appreciated the chance to talk about how my job fits into my life. Casey and I discuss that towards the interview’s end, and I think it’s a worthy conversation for any younger journalist wondering about his or her future.

You can listen to the podcast at this link, and check out Casey’s web site as well. Enjoy!

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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2Mar

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Cleveland, graffiti, & Moneyball

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson says arbitration process keeps bad cops on police force (2/27/15, Cleveland Plain Dealer): As the city of Cleveland continues to face massive local and national scrutiny for the actions of its police force, its largest newspaper showed a great way this week of elevating the discussion with informative coverage.

The staff took what could have been a simple daily news story — the mayor holding a press conference and speaking out against the arbitration process on disciplined officers — and turned it into something deeper. In addition to the straightforward recap of the mayor’s comments, the newspaper focused on five specific arbitration cases and broke them down in a meaningful way.

News outlets are constantly looking for these kinds of “see for yourself” applications to major stories. The Plain Dealer included on its web site both summaries and the actual documents from the selected arbitration cases. This is empowering information for anyone who chooses to use it.

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25Feb
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PODCAST EPISODE #27: Mike Castellucci, reporter/anchor, WFAA-TV

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A few weeks ago, I raved about a half-hour special ran by WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Dallas, at the end of last year.

It featured a compilation of stories shot, written, and edited by widely acclaimed feature reporter Mike Castellucci.

And his camera? It was the one on his iPhone.

Castellucci has become well known in Dallas — and, now, among TV news reporters and photographers nationwide — for his compelling piece of boundary-pushing storytelling. His features actually appear quite straightforward until you realize the equipment he used to shoot them.

But give him credit: he saw a need and attacked it, fearlessly flying into both multimedia journalism and iPhone videography. He wound up with an impressive result — and a powerful niche in his market.

Castellucci joins me for Episode #27 of the Telling The Story podcast.

“People ask me why,” he said, “and I think it was [because of] two reasons. One: I wanted to be first. And, the challenge of it … I had been doing stories on my iPhone 4, and I just said, ‘Let’s take it 19 steps further.'”

Here is a reporter who has had plenty of success in various markets, but he chose to take on a challenge many journalists would reject. He deserves some major kudos.

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23Feb

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring popcorn, Xerox, & night hockey

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Why popcorn also jumps (2/17/15, New York Times): I have not done any research to see what other videos exist online of popcorn popping.

I will only say: I have never seen one this breathtaking.

The video is a supplement to an article from New York Times science writer James Gorman, who also narrates and appears in it. He reports on how French scientists have discovered why popcorn kernels don’t just pop; they also jump, ever so briefly, vaulting in the air as they spring to life.

The article is perfectly interesting, if short, but the video brings it home. Credit the Times team for investing in whatever equipment was needed to get these pristine shots. The popcorn here looks like it is pirouetting in the air.

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6Feb
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#GoodMorningAtlanta: Photos from 2/2-2/6

In October 2014 I began posting a photo every weekday morning with the hashtag #GoodMorningAtlanta. The goal? To inspire, enlighten, or just plain help others start their day with a smile. See each week’s photos by clicking on the #GoodMorningAtlanta category, and view the daily photo by following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

As we hit the second month of the year, let’s take a look at iconic images of the city I call home.

I present to you: Atlanta …

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4Feb
Adam Levine - Government

PODCAST EPISODE #26: Adam Seth Levine, American Insecurity

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You can imagine my surprise when a childhood friend of mine wound up being the 2nd-most popular person named Adam Levine.

But I was completely unsurprised when this Adam Levine — now going as Adam Seth Levine — became a published author.

A faculty member at Cornell University for several years, Levine recently embarked on the journey of writing a book. Nearly three years later, that journey is complete, and the result is American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction.

Levine joins me for Episode #26 of the Telling The Story podcast.

He is an atypical guest for the podcast; he does not work in journalism or storytelling by trade. Levine has, though, at least partially, made it his trade. His background is academic; the potential audience for this book is far wider. He thus faces the challenge of producing a book that both general and academic readers can find useful.

And when Levine discusses the process of writing a book — the surprises, the triumphs, the difficulties — he unearths lessons for storytellers of all stripes.

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2Feb

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring street ball, Selma, & the iPhone

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

The Carver Mobb (1/21/15, SB Nation): How fitting that, on the week of the Super Bowl, the most powerful piece of football-related writing focused on a different league.

Forget the 90,000,000 words written about Deflate-Gate. Check out this 4,000-word piece from Ivan Solotaroff about a New York City street football league that can be far rougher than the NFL:

If all sport is ritualized warfare, it’s often difficult to distinguish the two in rough-touch. That’s particularly true as playoffs approach, when midfield fights emptying both benches can involve fans, referees, even league commissioners, usually aging veterans of the sport. “City” (short for the Bronx’s Coop City/City Island League) was the most desired Chip, until recruiting refs became difficult and the commissioner’s tires were slashed.

This is a masterful and powerful story from SB Nation Longform, as Solotaroff works as both tour guide — explaining the rules, format, and stakes of the league — and profiler — providing poignant portraits of the athletes and others involved. He writes beautifully at every step.

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30Jan
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#GoodMorningAtlanta: Photos from 1/26-1/30

In October 2014 I began posting a photo every weekday morning with the hashtag #GoodMorningAtlanta. The goal? To inspire, enlighten, or just plain help others start their day with a smile. See each week’s photos by clicking on the #GoodMorningAtlanta category, and view the daily photo by following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

One week last year, I used this space to spotlight the Atlanta sunset.

This year let’s take a week to showcase the opposite.

Here are five photos of an Atlanta sunrise, to wake you up for whatever comes your way. Enjoy!

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28Jan
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The lesson I learned telling a story about race

I was expecting 25%.

Typically I try to avoid person-on-the-street assignments — the kind that involve humble reporters like yourself asking “regular” people to opine on a certain issue. I prefer to hear from experts or the newsmakers themselves; I dislike the concept of 2-3 random interviewees somehow speaking for a whole community.

I also despise the rejection.

People are often, understandably, reluctant to speak on-camera about a potentially controversial issue. Look at the situation from their eyes: a reporter, who you likely have never met or even seen on TV, approaches you with a camera and microphone. You don’t know where your words — with your face attached — will wind up. Will you be edited? Almost certainly. Taken out of context? Possibly. And even if the reporter represents your words perfectly, can you trust yourself to say exactly what you think without somehow garbling the message? Think of how many conversations or arguments where you thought afterward, “If only I had said …” Do you want to stand by recorded answers to questions you have not yet heard?

It’s a tough sell.

Throw in the potential land mine of race, and you have my recent assignment.

My station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, was planning an hour-long town hall called “Conversation Across America”, about race relations in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police. I was tasked with the introductory piece, setting up a panel discussion that examined numerous difficult questions facing white and black America moving forward.

Here, in an atypical moment, I advocated for a person-on-the-street approach.

My rationale? The hour-long special would be filled with experts, from protesters to retired police officers to a political pundit. It would even include a taped interview with Charles Barkley. But it would not feature a component that included the rest of us.

What kind of conversation could we promote without hearing from the audience we wished to reach?

So I championed an introductory piece that focused less on the events themselves — the Brown and Garner deaths, the subsequent lack of indictments of the officers responsible, and the many protests that took place throughout — and looked more at how we, as a society, discuss race.

Usually we simply don’t.

I thought of a study that had made news late last year when it claimed that 75% of white people have zero black friends, and 65% of black people have zero white friends. I thought of the competing stories and columns that had developed out of Ferguson and New York, interpretations that often differed based on the background of whoever wrote them.

I wanted to produce a piece that encapsulated that disconnect, and I decided to dedicate a day to simply hitting the streets and asking people to share their thoughts on where we stand, as a nation, on race relations in 2015.

But I expected a low success rate.

25%.

On most subjects, when I ask people for their thoughts, I get a “Yes” response maybe a third of the time. With a less threatening subject that still breeds opinions — say, the performance of the local football team — my success rate jumps closer to 50%.

With a subject like race? I braced myself for a steady diet of rejection.

I received the exact opposite.

Nearly everyone I approached agreed to an on-camera interview, from a diner in downtown Atlanta to a panini shop in the suburbs. I asked people of different races, ages, and genders, and I heard a lot of yeses.

And those responses paved the way to powerful conversations.

I spoke with more than a dozen people, and I used nearly everyone’s words in the resulting story. I found their thoughts compelling and varied; many remarked how they had rarely discussed such weighty matters — particularly race — in their day-to-day lives.

What made them open up here?

I credit two things: my approach, and my station’s intentions.

Every time I approached someone, I laid out the request in as sincere and thoughtful a manner as possible. I described the hour-long special and pressed the importance of hearing numerous voices; I spoke about our desire as a station to promote conversation, and I never rushed or tried to push anyone who might not be sure. My story required honesty and openness; I needed to display both if I wished to receive it.

But I also felt heartened by the fact that so many people held such deep, poignant thoughts about race. We tend to only see the most polarizing, often offensive, comments in matters like these. This story reminded me how many people remain in the middle.

A few months ago, legendary KARE-TV reporter Boyd Huppert and KING-TV photographer Jeff Christian did a similar story in Ferguson that asked, “Why can’t we talk?” I called it my favorite TV piece of 2014, mainly because Huppert and Christian took a seemingly taboo, volatile subject and made it immediately accessible.

I tried to do that here, and I am proud of the result: both my story, and my “Yes” success rate.

75%.

Not bad at all.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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26Jan

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Batman, Oregon, & Tamir Rice

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Batman (1/9/15, NPR’s This American Life): Whenever I listen to This American Life on NPR, I marvel at its producers’ ability to consistently find truly fascinating stories.

They then turn those stories into enthralling hour-long programs.

This month’s “Batman” episode fills the bill. I actually rolled my eyes a bit at the title and constant references to the super-hero, which seemed somewhat forced and even subjective in glamorizing the program’s main subject.

But that subject — a blind man who can ride bikes and hike, among other things — and the program’s overall examination of the capabilities of the blind make for a superb listen. Producers Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller weave their way through a story that absorbs from start to finish.

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