Learning from the audience, and absorbing – not ignoring – criticism

My heart always jumps a bit when I see it in my Inbox.

As a television reporter, I attempt on a daily basis to condense hours’ worth of research, visuals, and interviews into a digestible 90-second story. I rarely put anything on the air until I am entirely confident in every fact and every word.

But, on rare occasions, I get feedback that says I might have missed one.

It arrives in the form of an e-mail or social media comment, and it always fills me with a distinct sense of dread. No matter my previous confidence, I always scramble to see if I have, in fact, made a mistake. For the most part, I find my original research to be correct, and I can then release a giant sigh and resume my day. If not, I feel terrible for the rest of the day.

But every now and then, such a comment leaves me thankful.

Two weeks ago we learned of a freshman at the University of Georgia who had taken part in a student-made music video for Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”. The young man, we were told, was named Luke Bundrum and was deaf; the video featured a group of students performing the song using sign language. The group had already garnered attention on campus.

We loved the idea. I headed to Athens, Ga., met and interviewed Luke, spoke with his friends from the video, and returned to Atlanta with the makings of an enjoyable story. I wrote a script saying how this young man wanted to “raise awareness for the hearing-impaired”, and we aired the piece that night and posted it online to unanimous praise.

And then I saw a comment that said otherwise.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring drugmakers, safe spaces, & Morse code

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.

Politics of pain: drugmakers fought state opioid limits amid crisis (9/18/16, Center for Public Integrity): The authors of this story refuse to bury the lead.

In a thorough and brutal report on various states’ efforts surrounding the current opioid crisis, reporters Liz Essley Whyte, Matthew Perrone, Geoff Mulvihill, and Ben Wieder lay it all out in the first paragraph:

“The makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, the drugs at the heart of a crisis that has cost 165,000 Americans their lives and pushed countless more to crippling addiction.”

They spend the rest of the article backing up that powerful premise.

Like any great investigative piece, the reporters here present both their methods and findings with enormous detail. They represent a collaboration between the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press, and they make a powerful storytelling team.

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PODCAST EPISODE #43: Cheryl Preheim, morning anchor, KUSA-TV

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I may have said this a time or two in the past month:

The Olympics are an extraordinary assignment.

I have had the privilege of covering the event three times, most recently this August in Rio de Janeiro. I find the assignment tests me in a variety of ways, both professionally and personally, and provides both unique challenges and wonderful memories.

I have not been alone. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of journalists descend upon the Olympics every two years, and they are all tasked with providing a window for their readers and viewers that enables a greater connection to both the Games and their host city.

I saw few handle this as deftly as the team at KUSA-TV in Denver. The NBC affiliate (and TEGNA sister station) comes equipped with a team of journalists who consistently make the extra push to tell the best story for their audience.

One of those journalists, morning anchor Cheryl Preheim, is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

I got to know Preheim at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and worked with her again in Rio. In both cases I marveled at her abilities as a storyteller and her disposition as a person. Through a grueling 25 days, she always seemed to find the energy and optimism while putting together great work for her viewers.

Listen to this podcast, and you’ll get a window into what makes Preheim such a strong storyteller — and what makes the Olympics such a daunting yet rewarding assignment.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Red Rocks, yo-yos, & “the lady uniform”

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.

Celebrating 75 years of Red Rocks Amphitheater (9/5/16, KDVR-TV): Maybe it’s too easy.

Maybe it’s too easy to attempt a 20-minute special when the subject is such a ready-made stunner.

And maybe it’s too easy to do so with not one or two photographers, but more than a half-dozen.

But there’s nothing easy about the craft and creativity that went into this exquisite show from KDVR-TV, honoring the captivating Red Rocks Amphitheater on its 75th birthday.

Everyone involved deserves credit for such a compelling tribute to a fitting subject, but I want to specifically shout out the photographers. Yes, they had the built-in benefit of covering one of the most visually beautiful sites in the world, but they didn’t waste the chance, continually finding unique stories to tell and presenting characters as memorable as the amphitheater itself. Every piece is a winner, but I particularly enjoyed the segment with Blues Traveler, shot by Bryant Vander Weerd, Chris Mosher, and Isaias Medina.

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Logan lives on: the triumph of a heart-warming story

I just spent most of August covering an event that captivates the world. I worked at the 2016 Summer Olympics for three weeks, produced 36 packages, made dozens of social media posts, and wrote 13 entries for this blog. Many of those packages, posts, and entries spread a great distance and performed very well both on-air and online.

But my most-read blog post from last month? It had nothing to do with the Olympics. It wasn’t in any way new; I had written it ten months earlier. And it was read nine times as much as the second-most popular post.

It was about a young man who has now touched hearts as worldwide as the Olympics.

It was about Logan.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring advice, Roger Ailes, & a big ear

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 farewell guide to political journalism (9/2/16, The Atlantic): When several people I respect Tweet their love for a piece of journalism, I pay attention.

That’s why I clicked on this link, unaware of its subject matter or even its author.

But my expectations were exceeded.

The title here connotes a hot take or think piece mourning the death of political journalism. In reality, it is the opposite; retiring writer Ron Franklin offers the lessons he learned in three decades as a political journalist — lessons that will, one would hope, inspire his successors to keep pushing.

His most empowering takeaway? This paraphrased passage:

“Until that moment, I assumed the people we covered in politics valued pushover journalists. … That might be true on the small stories, but not for the stuff that matters. … I left the meeting knowing that if I ever returned to journalism, I didn’t want to be taken for granted liked the first reporter. I wanted to inspire in my sources … respect and fear.”

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Every entry from the Rio Summer Games

I’m back!

I’m back in Atlanta, I’m back to my normal routine, and I’m back to work at 11Alive.

The Olympics suddenly seem so long ago.

But the 2016 Summer Games remained a remarkable event, both for viewers at home and for those of us who got to experience it on the ground in Rio. I’m taking the week off from blogging, but in the meantime, here’s a look back at every entry of mine from these past Olympics:

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: 16 odd observations from covering the ’16 Summer Games

This assignment is not normal.

I’ve said that before, right?

In fact, I have probably detailed it quite a bit in this space over the past few weeks. I have discussed how this three-week Olympic experience affects my diet, sleep, and health.

But I probably have not described much of the minutiae.

Here, then, is this list. As my assignment winds down (I leave Monday following the closing ceremonies), I bring you 16 odd observations from covering the 2016 Olympics:

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Just hold on, we’re going home (almost)

I started noticing on Sunday.

For so long, those of us working at the Olympics were so consumed with our work that we rarely talked about our families. We reveled in the excitement of the Olympics, focused on the many assignments and opportunities in front of us, and tried to stay afloat long enough to get a sustainable amount of sleep per night.

Things changed Sunday. The weekend brought, for many, a relative lull, in both activity and demand for content. We run far fewer newscasts on the weekend, so we can dial back somewhat on how many stories we produce. Many of us did so, enabling us to catch up with family members who had previous received the briefest of conversational windows.

For my part, those catch-ups – and the simple opportunities to breathe – allowed me to think about my life back home. I quickly realized how much I missed it.

I was not alone. I took part in and passed by conversations that included statements like this:

“Only one more week …”

“I talked to my kids today, and it just broke my heart …”

“I think I’m ready to go home.”

I have seen this happen before. On both of my previous Olympic assignments, I noticed a tendency for journalists to get antsy towards the end of the Games’ first week – which, for most of us, marked the end of our second week in a foreign country. The end draws nearer, and people begin to get both restless and wistful for home – even despite the mountain of work still ahead.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: One day, two legends on a stunning Saturday in Rio

The following statement should not come as a surprise, as I imagine it has become evident through my Olympic blog posts so far:

I am a huge sports fan.

I grew up wanting to broadcast the Super Bowl. I religiously followed my favorite teams and, for three years, wrote annual football preview magazines that filled 200 pages. I never sold them, and I never published them online because “online”, at that point, barely existed. But I loved writing them, just as I loved every way I could find to soak in the world of sport.

Back then, I longed for the moments when I could watch, in person, the best athletes in the world.

I still remember, in the early Nineties, going to the Meadowlands in New Jersey to see my hometown Nets take on the Chicago Bulls – and, of course, their superstar, Michael Jordan. That night His Airness played an average game (for him) but still provided a handful of highlights that dazzled the crowd. I savored that game because, for one night, I got to witness the best.

This past Saturday, covering the 2016 Summer Games, I experienced that again – twice.

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