Mighty Ivy, Jerry & Susie, and finding three dimensions in tragedy

“Find the emotion.”

TV reporters and photojournalists hear that refrain often. Our medium, after all, lends itself less to in-depth analysis and more to visceral video. As such, we often receive assignments that offer the greatest potential to witness raw feelings.

But rarely are we asked to push beyond those feelings.

We are told to put our most emotional moments at the front of our stories, not set them up with context. We are sent to horrific scenes and given little time, both on site and in newscasts, to get a sense beyond the basic. We are pushed to keep things moving.

So often, though, such a philosophy produces reports that only connect on a surface level – and, while powerful in the moment, are almost immediately forgotten.

I want my stories to be remembered. More importantly, I want the people in my stories – the ones who open themselves to news coverage at extremely vulnerable times – to be remembered.

This past month, I received two specific opportunities to tell such stories. I tried to produce pieces that would provide both powerful moments and the depth and poignancy to earn them.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the Marshall Project

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 death row basketball league (3/16/17, The Marshall Project): This week, in this segment, each piece comes from the same source.

I have gradually become a big fan of The Marshall Project, which bills itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” Its editors and writers consistently contribute insightful, revelatory journalism, often partnering with other news agencies. That’s what they do here, presenting a first-hand account of life at a death row prison through a collaboration with Vice.

Writer Lyle May is incarcerated at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. He discusses the prison’s basketball league, weaving details of games with reminders of life on death row. The reader does not learn what crimes May committed … until the very end, when this humanizing portrait receives a hammering reminder of what leads to such a sentence.

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PODCAST EPISODE #52: Oliver Janney, senior field production supervisor, CNN

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The morning after he sat down for this podcast, Oliver Janney hopped on a plane from Washington, DC to Norman, Oklahoma.

Why?

He could not pass up the chance to be a part of the faculty at the famed NPPA News Video Workshop.

Janney has a pretty busy day job; he is the senior field production supervisor at the DC bureau for CNN. He monitors dozens of photojournalists who fly all over the world to cover the biggest stories.

But he also used to be one of those photojournalists in the field, and before he reached the national heights of CNN, he got a kick-start by attending the workshop in Norman.

Janney is my guest on Episode #52 of the Telling The Story podcast.

“That one week truly changed the trajectory of my career,” Janney told me. “I thought I knew what I was doing before that, and I came out of that week questioning everything, excited, and just fired up.”

I met Janney two weeks ago when we both spoke at a different NPPA workshop: the Northern Short Course in Fairfax, Va. I truly enjoyed hearing his perspective as a photojournalist who has experienced both local and national newsrooms. I wanted to bring his insights to the recorded audience of this podcast, and Janney happily obliged.

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MMJ Survey leftovers: burnout, a shout-out, & a look (way) back

The MMJ Survey has been catching quite a bit of attention.

In the past few weeks, I have released the results of — and written several pieces about — the MMJ Survey, in which nearly 100 solo video journalists in local TV news said how they felt about the job and industry. I conducted the survey in part because I had never seen anything like it before; I know how unique the MMJ life can be, and I wanted those in the role to feel enabled to make their voices heard.

Thankfully, I have been able to amplify those voices far beyond this blog.

In the past few weeks, I have written a column for one web site and been interviewed for a column on another. I want to share them here, and I will return with the regular rotation of columns and podcasts starting next week.

An MMJ Life | Battling burnout (TV News Storytellers): I was able to reach such a large swath of solo video journalists for my survey by posting on a pair of Facebook groups. One was MMJane, a group exclusively for female MMJs; I interviewed their administrators, Sarah-Blake Morgan and Katie Eastman, on my most recent podcast episode.

The other group is TV News Storytellers, whose founder Matt Mrozinski joined me last year on the podcast.

Matt and I spoke about me writing a column about the survey, and I chose to isolate the very real issue of MMJ burnout. I went through it as a young journalist, and I write in this piece about how I got through it.

MMJs love their jobs, often don’t feel safe (NPPA.org): This article, written by Tom Burton with the NPPA and News Photographer Magazine, tackles another glaring result from the MMJ Survey.

It talks about safety.

Burton interviewed me about the survey and seemed particularly interested in the concerns of many MMJs about being placed in potentially dangerous situations. That said, we covered a variety of topics, and Burton hits most of them in this write-up.

The cameraman who works alone: I was not interviewed for this piece, and I have no idea from where it came.

I just know this: it’s from 1964, and it’s outstanding.

Amanda Emily, the historian extraordinaire for TV News Storytellers, unearthed this chapter from Fred Mooke, then the managing editor at WTVJ-TV in Miami. Mooke discusses the rise of the one-man band … more than five decades ago.

I don’t want to spoil any of it. But solo video journalists out there need to give it a read. It’s amusing, to say the least.

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The Solo Video Journalist is available for purchase. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher’s web site.

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. You can also follow Matt on Facebook and Twitter.

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the Smokies, immigration, & Nina Simone

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.

Fire on the Mountain (2/24/17, WTVF-TV): If I wanted, I could probably devote my whole column to this one documentary.

“Fire on the Mountain” is a 30-minute special from the team at NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, widely regarded as one of the best storytelling stations in the country. It takes a look back at the wildfires that raged through the Smoky Mountains in late 2016.

The special consists of a series of moving, well-written, beautifully shot stories, largely from standout reporter Chris Conte. But I want to specifically highlight the final piece. Former podcast guest Jason Lamb reports about how the area has moved forward, and his sublime script is matched only by the photography of Mike Rose, Angie Dones, and (another former podcast guest) Catherine Steward.

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PODCAST EPISODE #51: Sarah-Blake Morgan & Katie Eastman, MMJane

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I have never been to the page of the Facebook group run by my guests on this podcast.

I can’t get into the group.

And that’s a really good thing.

Sarah-Blake Morgan and Katie Eastman run MMJane, a Facebook group that provides a platform and community for its nearly 1,000 members.

The members are all women, and they are all solo video journalists.

Such a group is long overdue. A few weeks ago, I released the results of the MMJ Survey, in which nearly 100 MMJs gave their anonymous thoughts about how they view the job and business. I discovered a massive gender gap in the responses. Female MMJs consistently gave lower marks to statements about the solo life, most notably to the statement: “I see myself as an MMJ ten years from now.”

This is a huge problem for the future of our business.

Eastman and Morgan are my guests on Episode 51 of the Telling The Story podcast.

I spent 45 minutes chatting with the MMJane administrators about ways to better cater to female MMJs and give them a stronger voice in local TV newsrooms.

Only afterwards did I realize: they have already taken a giant step towards doing that.

The mere existence and ownership of MMJane is a massive victory for the one-woman band community — and, thus, our industry as a whole. Underrepresented groups advance more quickly when they develop a unified voice and receive positions of power. MMJane provides both.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring immigration, caverns, & sign language

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.

Trump’s first roundup (2/20/17, The Marshall Project): In a fractious and volatile media environment, the strongest stories are sometimes the ones that cut through the noise and present simple facts.

This piece from the Marshall Project accomplishes that task with some deep research and poignant storytelling.

Writer Julia Preston examines the first round of ICE raids on undocumented immigrants since the election of Donald Trump as president. With little information from the federal government, Preston seeks out immigration attorneys and other sources to compile data.

In doing so, she develops a clearer picture of how the federal strategy has continued that of President Barack Obama … and how it has changed. One leaves Preston’s piece far more informed.

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The MMJ Survey: What MMJs want non-MMJs, managers to know

Last week I posted the results of the MMJ Survey. I heard from nearly 100 currently solo video journalists about how they view their job and industry, and I wrote an accompanying column with eight revealing takeaways.

In three days, that column became the fifth-most popular post in the history of my blog.

It also became the source of countless messages, both online and in person, about the importance of providing a voice for such an overlooked position.

I believe strongly in developing that voice for solo video journalists. It’s why I speak so passionately about MMJs at workshops and conferences, and it’s why I wrote an entire book, The Solo Video Journalist, to provide the kind of specific guidance that is lacking for the position.

I want to use this post to give more space for those voices to shine.

The MMJ Survey ended with a series of open-ended questions that pressed respondents to speak out about their position. While I cannot publish every answer, I present below the most frequently heard themes from today’s solo video journalists.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring bonds between spouses, families, & new friends

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.

Skeptical cop befriends homeless veteran (2/15/17, KARE-TV): In his first appearance in this segment this year — but definitely not his first appearance overall — Boyd Huppert gives a master class in how to imbue a piece with emotion and connection.

The headline above makes clear the substance of his story: it deals with a homeless veteran who finds a source of grace and generosity in a local police officer. But Huppert writes — and photographer Rob Collett edits — with a deft touch, revealing critical details in a way that both surprises and enriches.

Those of us who teach storytelling often talk about the importance of “reveals” and “moments”, but Huppert excels at earning those moments. When they appear in this story (I won’t spoil them here), they feel more meaningful because of the rich visuals and character development that have led to them.

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The MMJ Survey: 8 revealing takeaways about solo video journalists

For too long, the job of a “TV multimedia journalist” has been defined and viewed in its simplest terms … at least by those who have never worked as one.

Outsiders typically view the MMJ as a two-for-one combo package of reporter and photographer. Technically this is true; a one-person crew, by definition, handles the responsibilities traditionally assigned to multiple people.

But solo video journalists face unique challenges not experienced by – and not immediately obvious to – their colleagues in more traditional roles.

I have worked as an MMJ for my entire career, and I currently do so for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta. But I have devoted much time away from the newsroom to shining a light on this widespread yet often overlooked position. I have written about the challenges on this blog, interviewed renowned MMJs on my podcast, and recently authored a book, The Solo Video Journalist, that serves as a how-to guide for one-woman and one-man bands.

My latest offering is aimed not just at MMJs but also everyone else in the newsroom.

In January I conducted the MMJ Survey: I crafted a list of questions designed to get a better understanding of how solo video journalists view their jobs. I heard from 96 MMJs, with diversity in age, gender, and market size. They offered responses that often showed a clear consensus – and unearthed some conclusions that may surprise their newsroom colleagues.

Here are eight takeaways from the MMJ Survey:

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