PODCAST EPISODE #33: Katie Stern, photographer, KOMO-TV

Play

If you follow the Telling The Story podcast, you have heard several guests describe the process of covering a huge story.

But I have never interviewed a guest who had to cover such a story while dealing with the massive personal tragedy it brought.

Everyone at KOMO-TV went through it last March, when the station’s helicopter crashed in downtown Seattle, killing photographer Bill Strothman and pilot Gary Pfitzner. The journalists and employees in the KOMO newsroom suddenly needed to bring the news of a major story while processing their own emotions.

Katie Stern had worked at KOMO for nearly a decade when the crash occurred. She sprung into action and spent the morning as the roving photographer, collecting B-roll and gathering interviews around the scene; then she set up for live shots with reporter Denise Whitaker. All the while, she fought back tears and, she says, at one point could not keep a steady shot because her hands were trembling.

Stern is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

I received the immense privilege of listening to Stern last month when she spoke at the NPPA Northwest Storytelling Workshop. She shared the stage with Bill Strothman’s son, Dan, and the duo reflected upon the experience with composure and eloquence. Their presentation kept the audience silent and attentive; we were all confronted with the potential of finding ourselves in a similar scenario.

But regardless if any of us ever cover a personal tragedy, journalists everywhere can take major lessons from Stern on how to cover tragedies in general.

“I think that talking about trauma and journalism — and how the two are forever intertwined — is so important,” Stern said on the podcast. “Slowly we’re starting to talk about it more. I think there’s a stigma that comes with showing any kind of emotion as a journalist, and I’m really hoping we can wash that away.”

I completely agree.

I greatly appreciate Stern’s time and appearance on the Telling The Story podcast, and I hope you find her words meaningful and instructive.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring DeAndre, Elsa, & Chattanooga

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.

DeAndre Jordan’s round trip (7/14/15, ESPN.com): Last week I smothered praise upon Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe for landing such a huge interview in the wake of DeAndre Jordan re-signing with the Clippers.

And while Lowe’s interview remains a great get, two of his colleagues at ESPN came through this week with what will go down as the definitive story behind Jordan’s big decision.

Ramona Shelburne and Tim McMahon, who cover the Clippers and Mavericks, respectively, used all their source-power to put together a day-by-day chronicle of what went on behind the scenes. Jordan signed with the Mavs, had second thoughts, met with coaches and teammates from the Clippers, and set off a frenzy of social media activity that had the whole basketball-following world ablaze. Shelburne and McMahon talk to nearly every key player in this story (with the notable exception of Jordan himself, who has yet to say much), and they produce a tremendous read.

(more…)

Interns (or, the value in thinking out loud)

“You know this is making me very uncomfortable, right?”

I said this in the car recently on the way to a shoot. My drive time at work usually consists of reflection. As a multimedia journalist, I produce stories by myself, which means I rarely ride with someone in the passenger seat. I spend most of my time thinking about either that day’s story or my overall outlook.

But this time was different.

This time, I was accompanied by an intern.

And that intern had questions.

And those questions forced me to speak aloud about my career, my journey, and my job in a way I seldom do.

***

Summer brings into the newsroom a unique atmosphere. Colleagues take vacations, which leads to smaller staffing. Our viewers take vacations too, which usually means fewer story ideas and a reduced audience. The enormous May ratings period gives way to a less pressurized environment, and the June and July heat brings its own challenges in the field.

The season also brings interns — usually a handful on summer break from college. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the World Cup, the Awl, & DeAndre Jordan

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.

J.J. Redick on the DeAndre Jordan saga (7/10/15, The Lowe Post): Here is why I love Zach Lowe.

The biggest story in sports this week involved the out-of-season NBA: free agent DeAndre Jordan, after agreeing to leave the L.A. Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks, changing his mind and going back to Los Angeles to sign with the Clippers. The story was shrouded in secrecy, with even the best NBA reporters relying on off-the-record sources and anonymous information to provide the background of how it all happened.

And then there’s Lowe, who gets one of Jordan’s teammates to GO ON A PODCAST AND TALK ABOUT IT FOR 30 MINUTES. This interview is tremendous: Clippers guard J.J. Redick gives just about every detail one could want about how his team got Jordan to change his mind. Redick himself is a forthright interview, at times enthusiastic to give Lowe the play-by-play.

Again, this is why Lowe is such a prodigious reporter. Not only does he break down the game better than virtually anyone, he also makes the most of his connections. In this case, much like last week’s 1-on-1 with the newly minted coach of the NBA champs, Lowe lands an interview to delight any basketball fan.

(more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #32: “Best Of”, Covering the Big Stories

Play

A few weeks ago I rounded up some of my favorite podcasts that surrounded a specific theme: why we act the way to do as recipients of storytelling.

This week, I continue the “Best Of” tradition with a different topic: how reporters handle the tasks of covering giant stories.

These are not the stories that lead the newscast one night and disappear the next. These are the stories that carry on for days and weeks, often commanding national attention (and the national media that comes with that).

Such brings us to Episode #32 of the Telling The Story podcast: a “Best Of” edition on covering the big stories.

You’ll hear snippets from previous episodes with the following guests:

Dave Schwartz, sports anchor at KARE-TV in Minneapolis, on heading to Russia to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics (5:30-10:18): “I don’t think you could ever be prepared until you get into the situation and have to do it … I was prepared that it was going to be difficult, but I don’t think anyone could have made me feel better about the security until we were down on the ground.”

Claudine Ewing, anchor and reporter at WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, on handling the 2014 “Snowvember” storm that blanketed parts of the city (7:45-11:05): “A storm can really, really change lives for people, and then as reporters we have to be sensitive and then remember: those are also stories that can told, too.”

Kathleen Cairns, reporter at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, on covering the death of Freddie Gray and the protests and riots that followed (4:55-9:00): “As journalists, it doesn’t matter that your shift ended. You keep going. If it’s your day off, and you hear of something big, you jump in the car and go. There are some people who have that and some people who don’t.”

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring a banner month for podcasts

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.

Episode 613: President Barack Obama (6/22/15, WTF with Marc Maron): June was the month of the podcast.

When media historians write about the growth of podcasts, they will mention various key moments: the rise of independent comedy, the impact of Serial, and the monetization and legitimization of a once-mocked form of media.

They will definitely mention this: the first time a sitting president arrived for an hour-long, podcast-specific interview — in a garage, no less.

I really don’t care for the WTF podcast very much, but I cannot deny its — and host Marc Maron’s — effectiveness. This episode is particularly impressive because of the depth of conversation it reveals from its guest. President Obama has always been capable of analytical, thoughtful discussion, and for anyone curious to his worldview and reasoning for decisions, this is a great introduction. This is an A+ performance from both host and guest, and a milestone moment for this brimming medium.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2015 (so far), audio/video edition

Every week, I will 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.

We have reached the halfway point of 2015, which has brought about some strong journalism about riveting topics. With that in mind, the time is right for some “Best Of” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year so far next week. This week, my three favorite audio/video pieces from January through June, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

South Carolina officer is charged with murder of Walter Scott (4/7/15, New York Times): There is no doubt about it.

The most powerful piece of storytelling this year came from a citizen’s cell phone camera*.

A South Carolina man captured video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting a man named Walter Scott five times in the back, killing him. The clip launched an arrest, an avalanche of coverage, and a new chapter in the conversation on law enforcement.

As for the accompanying article, New York Times writers Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo wisely let the video do most of the talking, playing it straight and telling a thorough story. The Times received the video from the Scott family’s lawyer, and it sure made its mark.

*I debated whether to categorize this as written or audio/video, but I went with the latter because the video is truly the story here. This piece had such resonance because of the cell phone camera video, not the accompanying article.
(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2015 (so far), written edition

Every week, I will 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.

We have reached the halfway point of 2015, which has brought about some strong journalism about riveting topics. With that in mind, the time is right for some “Best Of” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

I will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year so far next week. This week, my three favorite written pieces from January through June, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

These are the families left to reclaim Garissa’s dead (4/9/15, Buzzfeed): Tucked away behind lists about animals and ‘NSYNC, Buzzfeed dedicates resources to a team that regularly produces long-form gems.

Here, global news correspondent Jina Moore presents one of the most heart-rending stories I have read in a long time.

A week earlier, gunmen stormed the campus of Garissa University in Kenya and killed 144 people, mostly students, in ways both horrifying and humiliating. Moore steps in the following week by describing, not the attack, but the search by parents to claim their dead children.

This is a devastating read, and Moore writes with such descriptive power that each sentence feels like a stomach punch. She puts a captivating spotlight on the aftermath of this incidence of international terrorism. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #31: “Best Of”, The Way We Act

Play

The number of podcasts is mounting up.

More than two years since I penned my first post for the Telling The Story blog, I have also had the pleasure of producing 30 podcasts. Each one has enabled me to interview a journalist or storyteller from across the media landscape.

I looked back at the list a few weeks ago, and I saw a few recurring themes.

One: I have gravitated towards guests who explain why we act the way we do — not as storytellers, but as recipients of storytelling. These guests are not necessarily journalists in a traditional sense, but they have used an expanding number platforms to explore the subject.

Such brings us to Episode #31 of the Telling The Story podcast: a “Best Of” edition on how we behave.

You’ll hear snippets from previous episodes with the following guests:

Ryan Shmeizer, a venture capitalist by day, on why we love list-based articles: “Lists are so tempting because they present the illusion of a satisfactory quick fix … but I do think, sometimes, hard-core, factual information that is hard to digest is often well served in list form.”

Dr. Paul J. Zak, professor at Claremont Graduate University, on the science of storytelling: “If you don’t get my attention in about 20 seconds, you’re gonna have a much harder time. … Print, you actually have a longer period of time, because people’s expectations are that it’s going to take a while to get through a page of text. But I think this says that the first paragraph, or even the title, signals that something’s gonna happen here.”

Clive Thompson, freelancer for Wired, the New York Times, and others, on the rapid evolution of language in the early years of social media: “Because we’ve had this shift where so much more conversation is happening in the written form, I think it’s almost like an evolutionary pressure to push language forward.”

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Japan, Kansas City & pop songs

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.

Biracial beauty queen challenges Japan’s self-image (5/29/15, New York Times): The Internet gives us every opportunity to learn about the cultures of others.

When one can survey the work of journalists around the world, one can better learn about all the world has to offer.

The irony here is that the New York Times’ Martin Fackler is very much a traditional journalist; he just happens to be the newspaper’s bureau chief in Tokyo.  His lens brings fascinating stories, such as this one about Ariana Miyamoto, the new Miss Universe Japan who has gained as much attention for her heritage as her accolades.

Fackler’s straightforward yet thorough reporting provide a powerful profile of not just Miyamoto — navigating the waters as a mixed-race resident of “proudly homogenous Japan” — but her country’s culture.

(more…)