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.
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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

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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.”

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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.

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Down with Periscope? I’m still working on it

It always comes down to time.

As journalists and storytellers, we are constantly faced with limits to our time: every story has a deadline, every shoot has an end, and — particularly in TV and radio — every word we speak takes up valuable space in our story’s window.

But that says nothing of our limits in dealing with free time. How much do we choose to invest? Do we work a little longer to make a story just right? Do we get up early to call sources?

And do we attempt to master every new wave of technology that comes through the universe?

I have been a journalist for 12 years, and in that seemingly short span, I have already seen the rise of Facebook, Twitter, apps, Instagram, and Vine on social media. In each case, we as a journalism community seemed to go through a similar cycle: early resistance, followed by sweeping infatuation, ending with a happy medium of incorporation. Some outlets have fared better than others; Twitter remains the go-to way to update breaking news in a flash, while Facebook has become the place to build devoted followings and start conversations. Instagram and Vine have seen less success in the journalism community; Vine in particular seems to have fallen spectacularly after such an invigorating start. I possess a Vine account but rarely use it; I know few journalists who remain committed to it.

Now comes Periscope.

And now comes that same cycle. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring hearing, fatherhood, & photography

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.

Veteran gets overdue hearing aids after VA delay (5/18/15, KARE-TV): Like any great investigative piece, this epic from KARE-TV’s A.J. Lagoe and Gary Knox details the process of research, phone calls, and interviews that ultimately lead to results.

But unlike many investigative pieces, this one shines brightest from its human center.

Reporter Lagoe and photographer Knox tell the story of Denny Madson, who has been waiting more than a year for VA-approved hearing aids. Madson wants the devices for one overarching reason: so he can hear his wife, Darlene, who is suffering in the hospital and can barely speak above a whisper.

Lagoe’s script and Knox’s camerawork set up some touching moments between the couple, including the happy ending. This is a textbook example of how to personalize an otherwise visually challenging story.

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PODCAST EPISODE #30: Kathleen Cairns, reporter, WBFF-TV

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Before you listen to this podcast, watch this video:

This is a compilation from the tremendous, NPPA award-winning photography team at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, profiling the extraordinary week surrounding the death and funeral of Freddie Gray.

When major stories break — and then last for seven straight days of intense coverage — one can ultimately lose sight of all of the moments that comprise it. But during a tumultuous week in Baltimore, the WBFF team stood out for its riveting images and poignant coverage, which come together in the piece above.

That story also sets the table for Episode #30 of the Telling The Story podcast, featuring one of the station’s reporters, Kathleen Cairns.

“It doesn’t matter if your shift ended,” Cairns told me. “You go for the story.”

That’s how Cairns and photographer Jed Gamber, who had both just finished their shift the Monday of Gray’s funeral, found themselves untethered to a live truck when riots broke out. While the rest of the news team stayed live with continuous coverage, Cairns and Gamber collected compelling video and put together this memorable story, which I shouted out recently on this blog:

Cairns has served as a reporter in Baltimore for 25 years, and she has won numerous awards during that quarter-century. In this case, she brought wisdom, tenacity, and — most importantly — context to a volatile story.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring ATL, Mad Men, & a new heart

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.

If we win again, we’ll be one again (4/21/15, Bitter Southerner): This one falls under the category of, “I only heard about it this week, but it actually came out nearly a month ago, but that’s OK, because it’s wonderful.”

Leave it to the Bitter Southerner to bring forth a beautifully written article from a veteran journalist about the changing landscape of Atlanta sports. Ray Glier discusses how, as baseball’s Braves prepare to move out of the city and into the nearest suburbs, basketball’s Hawks have seen a renaissance this year, on the court and in the stands.

Glier wrote all this before the Hawks advanced to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, and his prose, in retrospect, seems all the more prescient. Glier blends the right amount of lofty wordplay and contextual background, while the web site’s Gregory Miller provides magnetic photos.

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5 active, insightful journalism blogs from educators

These are five “classes” you should audit immediately.

As a TV reporter in a major market, I can easily get myopic about my job if I so choose. I can focus on the inner workings of Atlanta, the politics of my station and its competitors, and whatever story happens to sit in front of me at the time.

But I always aim to fight that instinct. Instead, in addition to working hard on my various stories, I strive to both improve my skills and examine my industry.

I find, in the blogosphere, a perfect catalyst.

One need not look far to find a sea of worthy blogs about journalism, and some of my favorites come from those who teach. Professors and educators often provide perspectives that are both thoughtful and prescient; in many ways, they get paid to look ahead. I always appreciate those who take time to instruct not just their students, but anyone with the Internet and an open ear.

Here are five of my favorites, all of whom post regular if not semi-regular updates:

Jay Rosen, New York University: The founder of PressThink, Rosen will next year hit his 30th anniversary on the journalism faculty at NYU. His blog succeeds in part because of Rosen’s own knowledge and experience, which comes through whether discussing the White House Correspondents Association or Facebook’s Newsfeed. But Rosen truly stands out because of his willingness to collaborate: his posts nearly always feature links to other articles, alternative perspectives, or background posts that enhance his own reasoning.

Meg Heckman, University of New Hampshire: Here is another great blog for mere thought expansion. Heckman writes about a diverse array of topics, and she finds inventive, informative ways of presenting herself. Her most recent post as of this writing, an inside look into her work as a juror for this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, is a must-read.

Shawn Montano, Emily Griffith Technical College: From the heartland of Colorado comes one of the strongest how-to web sites for anyone who edits video. Montano fills his Edit Foundry blog with real-life, step-by-step examples of editing at its finest; I read every post, and I always walk away with valuable insight.

Joy Mayer, University of Missouri: An associate professor at Mizzou, Mayer constantly offers informative looks at modern-day journalism. She focuses predominantly on technology and community, both of which are rising factors on the current landscape.

Robert Hernandez, University of Southern California: He posts less frequently than the others, but Hernandez makes up for it with lively work that delves into the power of social media, language, technology, and devices. His is a look into the future of journalism — and an entertaining look at that.

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. The photo above is “Different types of pens” by .janneok.Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Mother’s Day, Berlin, & cake

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.

Anna Jarvis was sorry she ever invented Mother’s Day (5/8/15, BuzzFeed): Cinco de Mayo the classic example of a holiday “celebrated” by so many who know nothing of why it exists.

But what about that other May holiday?

I had little knowledge of the origins of Mother’s Day and was fascinated by this article, which explained them. But Joel Oliphint goes further. Writing for BuzzFeed, he examines the life of the holiday’s founder, Anna Jarvis, who crusaded to both make Mother’s Day a reality and then prevent its commercialization. She was portrayed in the media as a eccentric spinster, but was she?

Oliphint succeeds here by applying a modern-day lens to historical questions. He gives Jarvis a fair shake in every debate about her personality and tactics (she even went after non-profits for, she said, coopting Mother’s Day for their own causes), but he refrains from offering knee-jerk sympathy. Beyond that, he writes an article that is simply interesting from top to bottom.

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