A storyteller’s trip to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni

My journey to one of the world’s most stunning sights began with an innocent click.

Really, it began because of this web site.

I launched the Telling The Story blog in February 2013 to inspire journalists and storytellers, using not just my work but that of others around the world. I included a weekly series called “3 Great Stories” to spotlight the best pieces I watched, heard, or read that week.

I began to relish my regular quest to unearth such gems, and I regularly scanned different outlets to expand my reach.

In January 2014 I discovered Medium.

Advertised initially as a long-form version of Twitter, the site had become — at its best — a beacon of creativity where both young and established writers posted their work. I started scouring its headlines until I stumbled upon this one:

Salar de Uyuni: my trip to see the world’s largest mirror

It was accompanied by this photo:

Salar post photo

My eyes widened, and my index finger raced to the mouse to click on the link.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Kenya, Clinton, & a dog

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.

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.

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PODCAST EPISODE #28: Michael DelGiudice, photographer, WNBC-TV

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Michael DelGiudice has won more Emmy awards than the number of weeks in a year.

Michael DelGiudice has won more Emmy awards than the number of Super Bowls.

Michael DelGiudice has won more Emmy awards than the number in a famous Beatles song.

Michael DelGiudice, during his 30-year career in television, has won 65 regional Emmys.

The photographer has captured a slew of other awards as well, and he was just named this year’s NPPA Photographer of the Year for the East Top region — an extraordinary honor in what he calls “a dogfight” of a competition.

But what most impresses me about DelGiudice is not his award count but his location.

He has achieved this type of success, and preached the gospel of storytelling, in the largest market in the country: New York City.

The Big Apple has a reputation for wanting the hardest of news; its stations fly through their newscasts, rarely staying on one story for very long. But within those parameters, DelGiudice — along with the reporters who work alongside him — has developed his own reputation as a photographer who finds humanity in his subjects.

He joins me on Episode #28 of the Telling The Story podcast.

DelGiudice and I discuss his tried-and-true techniques, tips for younger journalists, and the ups and downs of working in a market that swarms with media. He is a New York native (it shows in his voice), and he has made a tremendous living in his home city.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Walter Scott, police, & Hannibal Buress

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.

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 week, maybe 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.

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5 lessons from the NPPA’s best video stories of 2014

Effort.

It’s the one through-line of every great story I see.

Television news constantly forces the hands of the people who bring it. At various points throughout the evolution of a story, a reporter, photographer, or multimedia journalist must decide when they have done enough:

Did I do every interview I can do for this story, or do I need to find another?

Do I have enough footage for this story, or do I need to shoot more?

Is this script exactly as I want it, or should I read over it again?

How much time do I have to keep editing, or do I need to submit my story for air?

These are the questions that daily confront TV news journalists, and they are often answered by the ticking clock of the deadline. But more than that, they come down to effort.

I thought about this frequently as I watched this year’s video winners for the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism awards.

In each one, I saw numerous moments that only succeeded because the winning photographer made an extra piece of effort, be it during the gathering or editing process.

This year, I was one of those winning photographers; as I mentioned last week, I received 1st place in the category of Solo Video Journalism: General News. I won for the story of a Madison County, Ga. man who rescued a baby on the side of the road; the piece went viral and aired, in slightly edited form, on NBC Nightly News. As I wrote then, that story is a quintessential example of the value of effort.

Here are four other winning entries that I found particularly powerful — and the lessons I took from them: (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Playing catch-up from March

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.

Devil’s Rope (3/17/15, 99% Invisible): I took a few weeks off in March to go on vacation and retool the web site.

But I continued to watch, read, and listen to great journalism and storytelling.

I decided to use this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” to play catch-up and spotlight several pieces that stood out to me last month. This podcast, from the terrific Roman Mars, follows the 99% Invisible formula to beautiful effect, outlining a historical problem (cattle and buffalo wandering too freely during the 19th century, as Americans moved to the Great Plains) and teasing the eventual solution (the invention of barbed wire). That solution, of course, opens the door to a whole host of angles and anecdotes that fill the rest of the episode.

As I listened, I kept thinking, “I really don’t care that much about barbed wire. But I can’t turn this off!” Mars and his team are such potent storytellers, and I always enjoy listening to 99% Invisible from that standpoint alone.

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Ladies and gentlemen, some changes — and exciting news!

You have probably noticed: the site looks a bit different.

After taking a few weeks off for an international vacation (more on that in the next few weeks), I decided to shake up the appearance of the Telling The Story blog. As much as I enjoyed the previous look, I wanted to adopt a new presentation that offered more visible links and a more modern feel. I hope you like the changes.

You will notice, on the right sidebar, a group of essential entries that showcase, I believe, my best work from the first two years of the site. Below that is a complete list of podcasts, from #1 with WXIA-TV reporter Jon Shirek to #27 with WFAA-TV reporter Mike Castellucci. I look forward to adding to this list and welcome any suggestions for potential storytellers to interview.

I also have an exciting announcement: one of my stories has received a national award! I found out this weekend that my story about Bryant Collins, the Madison County, Ga. man who found a baby crawling on the side of the highway, was named the NPPA’s story of the year for Solo Video Journalist General News. This piece went all kinds of viral last June, and I am thrilled that it has received such strong recognition. As my friend (and podcast interviewee) John Kirtley said to me, “The NPPA is THE standard for storytelling, and this is on the national level,” so I am honored.

In the meantime, I will return with new entries next week and look forward to your feedback. Thanks for your readership, and enjoy the new site!

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.

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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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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