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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The MMJ Survey: Full results

In January 2017, I released a survey for solo video journalists to better understand how they view their jobs and their industry. I heard back from 96 MMJs, all of whom answered anonymously.

Below are the results to the survey’s multiple-choice questions. Most of these questions were accompanied by open-ended follow-ups, which are not included here due to complications with transfer from the Google Forms apparatus. For insight and analysis, check out the following article:

For more information about the data and survey, you are welcome to reach me by e-mail.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Atlanta icons & an Alabama firefighter

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.

#GoodbyeBrenda: 11Alive bids farewell to an Atlanta icon (2/8/17, WXIA-TV): This past week, my newsroom in Atlanta lost a legend.

Longtime anchor Brenda Wood officially retired from local TV news, signing off Wednesday for the final time. I have used this space quite a bit in recent weeks to commemorate Wood and her work in Atlanta.

But I can think of no person better to honor such an icon than our newsroom’s other storytelling standout.

Jon Shirek is a phenomenal writer and a generous soul; I have interviewed him both on my Telling the Story podcast and for my book, The Solo Video Journalist. In this story, he does his homework and encapsulates the career of our colleague with sensitivity and admiration.

It’s a fitting tribute. After all, Wood never lacked command as an anchor; Shirek never lacks it as a writer.

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5 little-known stories that show the greatness of Brenda Wood

For nearly eight years, I have worked in the same newsroom as an Atlanta TV legend.

But I have only witnessed a fraction of what makes her one.

Brenda Wood has been the foundation of the 11Alive newsroom for two decades; she has been an institution in Atlanta for nearly three. Her last day Wednesday marks the end of a 40-year career in television news – one filled with more honors, distinctions, and trailblazing moments than most of us can hope to accomplish.

Through my much shorter time at 11Alive, I have shared many conversations with Brenda while admiring the command and vision that set an example for so many in our newsroom.

Only recently did I learn the extent of that vision … and how far it goes back.

I was fortunate to interview Brenda for nearly an hour for my Telling the Story podcast. In that time, we covered many topics, and Brenda told some fascinating stories about how she developed into the woman she is today.

Those stories, to me, illuminated what makes her so special.

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How it feels to cover the Super Bowl without seeing it in person

My eyes are bleary.

I am three hours and 200 miles away from finally returning home from eleven days on assignment in Houston. In the last two days I have slept ten hours, which is the same amount of time my co-workers and I have spent driving back to our station in Atlanta.

(As I write this, we still have three hours to go. Hello from Greenville, Ala., by the way …)

The Super Bowl is worth it.

I wrote last week how I had dreamed as a child of covering the Super Bowl, the undisputed biggest event in sports. My dreams had strayed as I grew, I wrote, but I still recognized in this trip the chance to fulfill this original one.

Now that I have, I find myself still trying to take it in.

In more than a week, I have covered nearly every corner of Houston to tell the stories of the Super Bowl. I interviewed players, fans, and celebrities; I attended events; I ate some of the best food of my life; and I stood at the center of the sports’ biggest week.

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SUPER BOWL STORIES: Hello from Houston!

I have been fortunate to receive some dream assignments through the years.

My current one was once an actual dream.

I don’t watch as much football as I did when I was a kid. To be fair, nobody watches as much football as I did when I was a kid. I loved the NFL, and — growing up in New Jersey — I particularly loved the New York Jets.

In fact, one of my first journalistic exploits came when, in seventh grade, I started a weekly newsletter called The Jet Weekly. I even convinced my friends to write regular columns.

My football infatuation didn’t stop there. In high school I wrote full-length magazines previewing the upcoming NFL seasons. I turned down the volume before Jets games and did the play-by-play into a microphone (and recorded the audio on a cassette player). I simulated seasons from start to finish, and I never missed a game.

But as those years have grown more distant, so has my devotion to the NFL. In my career, I transitioned from a full-time sports guy to a full-time news guy (who, through some extraordinary assignments, gets to dip his toe into sports every so often). In my life, I went from a two-time fantasy football champ and NFL Red Zone devotee to someone who watches the occasional game. I no longer view the league through a lens of infallibility, and I often struggle to separate my enjoyment of the sport with the controversial baggage it carries.

I still, though, enjoy the game. And I particularly love the way a winning team — in any sport, including the NFL — brings together a city.

It’s happening right now in Atlanta. And it’s why I’m spending this week in Houston.

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PODCAST EPISODE #50: Brenda Wood, anchor, WXIA-TV

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Let me first say the following:

Thank you.

I did not anticipate reaching 50 podcast episodes — or four years of the blog as a whole — when I recorded my first one in 2013. I have continued to write these posts and produce these episodes, in part, because of the consistent and genuine encouragement I have received from readers like you. That feedback helps keep me going.

The other thing that keeps me going? It’s a sentiment expressed with beauty and brevity by my guest on this milestone episode:

“Always the student. Always learning.”

I would admire anyone who follows that philosophy, regardless of profession, but I especially admire those who preach it in local television news … because it can be so easy to do the opposite. The business often seems to conspire sameness, and I strive to find guests on this podcast who never get comfortable or complacent.

Fortunately for me, and for anyone who works at WXIA-TV in Atlanta, such a person has been the spirit of our newsroom for two decades.

Brenda Wood is the reigning dean of Atlanta TV news, and she has worked in the business for forty years. In that time, she has broken barriers, interviewed dignitaries, and collected numerous awards. Beyond that, she has always seized the chance to extend her reach. She has stood out in recent years for a daily opinion segment called “Brenda’s Last Word” and ambitious projects like a half-hour documentary spotlighting the work of the Carter Center in Ethiopia.

In whatever she does, Wood aims to spread influence and make impact. She has been the bedrock of our building for so long that we will face a mammoth challenge when she moves on.

On February 7, she is doing just that. Wood will sign off from 11Alive for the final time.

Brenda Wood is my guest on this 50th episode of the Telling the Story podcast.

This interview was supposed to last 30 minutes, but it went 45. Wood is rich with stories about the past, speaking about the challenges of starting her career as a black female reporter in the South. She also says plenty about the present, offering advice to young journalists on how to exercise their own influence and remain committed to their communities.

And, of course, she talks about her future, which will be filled with that wonderful sentiment:

“Always the student. Always learning.”

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring homelessness, Solange, and facts

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.

Under the Bridge: a virtual reality visit with homeless in Seattle (1/19/17, KING-TV): The first two stories I’m featuring this week are significant for breaking new ground in messy circumstances.

Let’s start with “Under the Bridge”, a 360-degree mini-doc produced by KING-TV’s Toby Rigby and Matt Mrozinski (himself a recent Telling the Story podcast guest). They work with photographer/activist Tim Durkan to explore a homeless camp in Seattle, and they devote five minutes to providing immersive looks and raw moments.

One cannot take on a new frontier without growing pains, and this production definitely presents a few from a storytelling standpoint. Watching it on my phone in a public place, I struggled at times to figure out where I was supposed to be looking. I often needed to take a few seconds during moments of dialogue to actually spot who was speaking.

But this is foremost an inspiring effort. Rigby and Mrozinski use the 360-degree space in innovative ways, from the opening titles to a sea of surrounding photographs towards the end. I applaud their dedication and perseverance here, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.

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Solo video journalists: take the MMJ Survey

I have spent my entire career as a multimedia journalist, or MMJ.

And because of that, I know all too well how little attention and instruction are paid to the position, even as it becomes one of the most prevalent jobs in local TV news.

In the past few years, I have taken major strides to rectify that. I have devoted many entries on this blog towards analyzing the quirks and challenges of the solo life, and this past fall I released a book, The Solo Video Journalist, which serves as a step-by-step guide through the storytelling process for aspiring MMJs.

Now I want to take the next step: this survey.

The MMJ Survey will provide a comprehensive look at how solo video journalists view their jobs, their industry, and themselves. I plan to compile the results and present them on this blog in the next few months.

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