16Apr
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PODCAST EPISODE #16: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press

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This is a story of faith.

Not religious faith, mind you. Not “the Cubs will one day win the World Series” kind of faith.

This is about Field of Dreams-type faith … the faith that, “If you build it, they will come.”

In this story, “you” is Brian Kaufman, a 31-year-old, Emmy Award-winning photographer and videographer for the Detroit Free Press.

“It” refers to his remarkable, nearly single-handedly produced documentary, “Packard: The Last Shift”, which premiered last month at the inaugural Freep Film Festival.

“Building” that documentary took four years … and a whole lot of faith.

The Packard Plant, the subject of Kaufman’s documentary, is a former auto manufacturing factory in Detroit that has been abandoned for years. It has become a city landmark, both in the negative (a blight on the city, a once-beautiful building wasting away) and positive (a haven for artists, a visual masterpiece). It has recently been at the center of a whole lot of news.

Kaufman arrived in Detroit in 2008, having (like most of us) never heard of the Packard plant. But he became smitten by its story and its twisted beauty.

So he went there. And he shot video. And then he went back, over and over again, with no promise that his material would ever find an audience — all while handling a fast-paced daily workload at the Free Press.

Kaufman’s commitment turned into a dynamic long-form story in 2012, but he knew he had more to offer. When the Free Press last year announced its intentions to host a film festival, it knew exactly where to turn for an original production.

Kaufman is my guest on the latest episode of the “Telling The Story” podcast. You will be amazed by his technical know-how, but you will be inspired by his perseverance, which resulted in a tremendous accomplishment: a riveting, powerful, 70-minute documentary that stemmed from one person’s vision.

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14Apr
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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring animals and David Letterman

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.

Being assigned a local TV news feature story about animals is like starting Monopoly with an extra $2,000 and three “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

Basically, you’re a mile ahead in a three-mile race.

Animals — particularly when placed in an eccentric context — almost always provide the kind of necessary flair, both visually and aurally, for a light-hearted feature. Attend a morning pitch meeting at my station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, and watch as the mere mention of an animal-related story elicits swoons from half the crowd.

(It also typically brings out groans from the other half.)

But if animals provide great feature material, the storyteller must still finish the job and produce a compelling piece.

Here are two strong examples of that from last week — as well as a thoughtful farewell piece to a late night titan:

A sign of spring at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (4/7/14, TWC Rochester): Unfortunately, only Time Warner Cable subscribers can actually watch this piece on its Rochester affiliate’s web site.

Thankfully, the story’s teller, multimedia journalist Seth Voorhees, liberated it onto YouTube, to which I have linked above.

Voorhees pens a piece about a local cemetery where, every spring, more than a dozen deer show up and, essentially, hang out. As most storytellers might do, he starts by discussing the cemetery and then, 30 seconds in, reveals the deer.

But pay attention to how Voorhees does this. Story-wise, he first introduces a character named Terri Wolfe; she is an older woman who regularly visits the cemetery. As a viewer, I have no idea how Terri fits into the story. Is it about her? A lost loved one of hers? Some feature of the cemetery? This misdirection makes the surprise of the deer more effective.

‘Candidates who really give a crap’ (4/6/14, KUSA-TV Denver): In this story, a couple of Telling The Story favorites take you on a four-minute visit to Animal Town. Read More »

9Apr
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A video journalism how-to guide, from KUSA-TV’s Michael Driver

Consider this a cheat sheet.

Last week’s podcast with KUSA-TV photojournalist Michael Driver was one of the most-downloaded Telling The Story podcasts to date.

But, as I noted then, Driver was almost too good a guest.

He offered so much advice in such a short period of time, and while we were recording the interview, I kept thinking I could better serve photojournalists — heck, better serve myself — by transcribing all of Driver’s terrific tidbits.

I always enjoy the discussion of journalism, and I have used this blog several times to focus specifically on photojournalism. Check out my spotlight on the best NPPA video stories from 2012 or my podcast with KDVR-TV photographer Anne Herbst. Great photojournalism is an art that often must be sustained and passed down by, not station managers or other journalists, but the artists themselves.

Here is a thorough collection of important advice from Driver, one of the top photojournalists in the country.

BEFORE YOU SHOOT:

Back-time your day: “You need to make sure you know how much time you’re going to have to do this stuff. Give yourself enough time to edit and do the story properly. You have to have a plan in place. If you go in like, ‘We’ll see what happens,’ you’re going to run out of time. We work in a business where deadlines are our enemy. You have to make sure you get everything you can in the quickest amount of time, and then give yourself enough time to work on it.”

Work with your reporter (if you have one): “We’re constantly communicating, constantly talking about what we’re going to do. Talk to your reporter. When you get out to a scene, you’re not going to know exactly what it is. It’s constantly talking about, ‘What elements do we need? What are the visuals we need to tell this story?’”

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7Apr

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Gmail, NY pizza, & the Trix bunny

Frivolity can be a beautiful thing.

And the Internet loves frivolity.

Think of how it has changed journalism and online content. Think of how many articles now are devoted to nostalgia, pop culture, and the highbrow interpretation of seemingly lowbrow material.

Storytellers occasionally get these stories right, and when they do, they succeed with either a detailed behind-the-scenes look, a thorough guide, or a scientific slant. (Sometimes they use a combination of all three.)

Here are three stories from last week that tackle such topics with unquestionable rigor:

How Gmail happened: the inside story of its launch 10 years ago (4/1/14, Time): Mark this one under “detailed behind-the-scenes look”.

And boy, is it detailed. Time writer Harry McCracken travels back a decade to when leaders at Google wanted to invest in an e-mail service.

That service, otherwise known as Gmail, changed our culture.

What’s more remarkable, it did so largely in the same ways its creators predicted.

McCracken shows a screengrab of Gmail at its inception, and it actually looks relatively similar to the product in 2014. More impressively, McCracken identifies the hurdles Google’s programmers faced in creating Gmail, and then he neatly explains how they solved those issues.

This is a long read but a great one.

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2Apr
Michael Driver

PODCAST EPISODE #15: Michael Driver, Photographer, KUSA-TV

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Young photojournalists — heck, all photojournalists — need to listen to this podcast.

Last week, after winning my own award as NPPA Solo Video Journalist of the Year, I decided I wanted to interview another of the association’s big award winners for 2013.

I found a photojournalist whose work I have admired and referenced before in the blog: Michael Driver of KUSA-TV in Denver.

Driver was named the NPPA’s 2013 West Top Regional Photographer of the Year, and he beat some of America’s finest photojournalists to do it. The West, largely because of the highly-regarded photographer staffs at KUSA and Seattle’s KING-TV, is usually the most competitive region in the country. Driver arrived in Denver in 2012, eager to make his stamp on the competition.

Then he went ahead and won the whole thing.

Driver produced some magnificent work in 2013; I have included two stories below. First, “I Miss You, Beryl”:

Then, “Before I Die”:

Now Driver joins me on the Telling The Story podcast, and he is as ferocious on the mic as he is behind the camera.

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31Mar

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Upworthy, ageism, & post-Olympics Sochi

More and more, I see long-form writing being spread on short-form media.

I found two of this week’s 3 Great Stories through links on friends’ Twitter feeds, which struck me as ironic both then and now. Here is a social media service, designed for lightning-quick communication, often derided for the lack of depth it encourages through its 140-character Tweet limit. And yet, it has become — on some small level — a conduit to explore much larger works of writing.

My vantage point on Twitter is, I believe, not unique. When I use it, I typically want a quick scroll of headlines, quips, and commentary to keep me abreast of the latest news and conversation topics. But I also find myself turning to Twitter during pockets of down time, and in those moments, I find myself susceptible to being lured into a long-form read.

Here is what lured me in this past week:

Watching Team Upworthy work is enough to make you a cynic. Or lose your cynicism. Or both. Or neither (3/23/14, New York Magazine): Speaking of something that seemingly succeeds by functioning against conventional wisdom, enter Upworthy.

The web site known for its bluntly emotional headlines and sincere content is also notorious for its astounding ubiquity online. It is much-loved and much-hated — and the envy of virtually every web developer eager to duplicate Upworthy’s rags-to-Internet-riches success.

Give credit, then, to writer Nitsuh Abebe for penning a fascinating article that goes behind the scenes with Upworthy’s 40-person staff. Abebe covers all angles of the Upworthy saga, from its founders’ mission to its detractors’ skepticism.

More than that, Abebe, normally the music critic at New York Magazine, performs the deft trick of revealing various details of the Upworthy creative process while still acknowledging the seeming mystery of the site’s monstrous performance. He maneuvers around that tension throughout the piece, which remains absorbing throughout.

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26Mar
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An outstanding NPPA honor, and a prideful achievement

At the moment when I received one of the greatest honors of my career, I could not have felt less prestigious.

I was not dressed in my black-tie finest, attending some lavish awards banquet, hoping to walk up on a stage and give an acceptance speech. I was not surrounded by my colleagues, loved ones, and journalists from all over.

I was sitting alone on my couch, in my gym clothes, staring at a laptop.

And that was completely, absolutely, undoubtedly fine.

The TV branch of the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA, held its annual awards show Monday night. The association named its photographers and stations of the year for each of its three regions. It also named its national Solo Video Journalist of the Year, in a category full of talented one-person bands who shoot and edit their own reports.

I am thrilled to announce that I was named 2013′s Solo Video Journalist of the Year.

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24Mar

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring “Mercer 78, Duke 71″

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.

A significant role of the media is to chronicle the major events of our society.

If something captures the attention of the nation this week, I should ideally be able to look back in five years and remember how we all discussed and covered it.

And I should also be able to relive how the various spectacles and sideshows that surrounded it.

In the moment, though, we tend to share the spectacles and sideshows as much as the actual events.

This past Friday, 14-seed Mercer stunned the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Online the following day, I saw a slew of articles getting shared about it — not about the game, but about what made it more than a game.

Here are three such stories that did their job exceedingly well:

Duke loses, world wins (3/21/14, New Yorker): How strange for staffers at the New Yorker to see this article atop its “Most E-Mailed” list.

Despite some strong competition in the Top 5, this was Number 1.

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19Mar
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PODCAST EPISODE #14: Dave Schwartz, sports anchor, KARE-TV

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“What is it like to cover the Olympics?”

I have heard this question from virtually everyone I know since I came back from Russia three weeks ago.

But before I answer, I generally need to ask a question of my own:

“Which part?”

Reporting from the Olympics combines an array of unique experiences for any journalist. On the list:

  • covering a massive international event
  • corresponding from a foreign country
  • working extremely long hours, with zero days off, for nearly a month

In the case of the 2014 Winter Olympics, you can throw a few more items onto the list, such as concerns about security and privacy in what many consider a hostile country.

I documented my experiences through my numerous on-air stories as well as fifteen blog entries from Russia. But I promised I would use this space, soon after I returned, to showcase the viewpoint of someone else.

Enter Dave Schwartz.

The sports anchor and reporter for KARE-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul worked several seats down from me in Sochi, but in some ways he experienced the Winter Games far differently. He covered numerous local athletes and events, where I typically focused on the Olympic atmosphere. He worked with a partner from his station, while I mostly worked by myself.

And on a personal level, Schwartz spent three weeks in Sochi, ten time zones away from his wife and kids.

Schwartz joined me on the latest episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

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17Mar
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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring elevators, the Paralympics, & Busta Rhymes Island

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.

I recently read an intriguing interview with Nate Silver in which the so-called “stats superstar” talks about his new web site, FiveThirtyEight, under the ESPN platform. In regards to data journalism versus traditional journalism, Silver says this:

This is data journalism, capital-D. Within that, we take a foxlike approach to what data means. It’s not just numbers, but numbers are a big part of this. We think that’s a weakness of conventional journalism, that you have beautiful English language skills and fewer math skills, and we hope to rectify that balance a little bit.

Silver makes a great point. Analysis pieces typically downplay the importance of numbers, research, and scientific techniques. They often rely more on forceful opinion and personality.

At the same time, numbers without context mean little — and can be dangerously misinterpreted.

I am excited to see what Silver & Co. have up their sleeves for FiveThirtyEight … and whether their model will penetrate the traditional journalistic model in any tangible way.

And now, your 3 Great Stories from the week that was:

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