PODCAST EPISODE #47: Heidi Wigdahl, solo video journalist, KARE-TV

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I’ll always remember the first time I was asked to speak at a major storytelling conference.

I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2014 to talk about solo video journalism at the Ignite Your Passion workshop. It immediately became one of the most joyous and fulfilling experiences of my career, and it sparked an evolution that led to me co-directing a similar workshop two years later.

This past fall, Heidi Wigdahl received that same opportunity.

The KARE-TV MMJ discussed the do-it-all process with Twin Cities colleague Adrienne Broaddus and WITI-TV’s Jonathon Gregg. She cherished the opportunity to reach a regional audience of solo video journalists, many of whom are — like her — in their 20s.

Wigdahl has a pretty impressive story to tell. She has risen up the ranks from Rochester, Minn. to Knoxville, Tenn. to her current location, Minneapolis/St. Paul. She now works at a station that is widely respected for the storytelling acumen of its reporters, photojournalists, and MMJs.

Wigdahl is my guest on Episode #47 of the Telling the Story podcast.

We discuss a wide range of topics but focus on one of the biggest logistical struggles for many MMJs: how to dress for the twin challenges of appearing on-air and shooting quality video. I interviewed Wigdahl about that topic for my new book, The Solo Video Journalist, available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher’s web site.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring silver linings at difficult times

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.

‘Awesome’ cat survives fires in Wears Valley (11/30/16, WBIR-TV): The three stories I’m showing this week share a common thread.

They all deal with uplifting moments during trying situations.

No story this week, for example, captured the attention of the Southeast like the massive wildfires in Tennessee. So many reporters have done valiant work reporting on the harder elements of the situation, but others have produced similarly poignant pieces about the glimmers of positivity and hope amidst the tragedy.

WBIR-TV solo video journalist Becca Habegger does so here. She finds a family who lost its home and narrowly escaped as it caught fire. The parents and four children got out, as did their two dogs. For a while, though, they could not find their two cats. Habegger shows what happened when they did, and it’s a great moment.

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Every piece of advice I’ve ever written for aspiring storytellers, MMJs (almost)

I started this blog 45 months ago as a resource for all journalists, but I specifically aimed to reach the younger ones looking for guidance as they embarked on their storytelling careers.

Now, 45 months later, I have taken the next step in that process: writing a book designed to help aspiring solo video journalists, or MMJs.

The Solo Video Journalist is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or my publisher’s web site. In honor of the book’s release, I have compiled a collection of every blog entry and podcast that deals with life as an MMJ and how I approach the job. I hope you find it useful.

PODCASTS WITH SOLO VIDEO JOURNALISTS

Episode #1: Jon Shirek: It’s only fitting that I began my podcast interviewing a solo video journalist. Jon Shirek is a tremendous co-worker and an inspiration in so many ways. He, like many of the guests in this list, wound up as interviewees for my book.

Episode #3: Anne Herbst: When I interviewed Anne Herbst back in 2013, she was working as the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV in Denver. She’s now the Senior Multi-Skilled Journalist across town at KUSA. She’s a terrific resource (and another interviewee in my book).

Episode #19: Ted Land: Yet another MMJ who I interviewed in The Solo Video Journalist, Land has won national awards for writing and is one of the more methodical, analytical storytellers I know. This episode is a winner because of his expert understanding of the craft.

Episode #27: Mike Castellucci: This dude shot a half-hour special on an iPhone. He’s a smart, offbeat guy with a passion for storytelling and a willingness to take extreme measures to do it.

Episode #34: Ben Garvin: I love Ben Garvin. He’s a solo video journalist in many ways, but mostly he represents the creativity and versatility that should be desired traits for any aspiring TV news storyteller.

Episode #42: Ellen Crooke & Scott Livingston: TEGNA and Sinclair have both become leaders in their usage of MMJs. In this episode, recorded at the NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, each company’s VP of news addresses the topic and many others.

Episode #46: Joe Little: He is an annual YouTube sensation thanks to his montages of solo stand-ups. He’s also a pretty darn good MMJ who hustles harder than most.

ADVICE FOR COLLEGE JOURNALISTS & MMJS

Ten years later: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school: “My professors and leaders at Northwestern focused on teaching what I would not automatically learn as a professional. Through everything mentioned above, they ingrained in me a sense of the tradition and power of journalism. What we do is important. What we do is valued. What we do is a time-honored touchstone of society.”

Advice from college journalism professors, Part 1: “I appreciated the idealism in the professors who responded. As the landscape constantly changes, the people who train journalists seem to admire their students’ youthful enthusiasm.”

Advice from college journalism professors, Part 2: “Try. You will never know how much you can accomplish unless you take a risk. Try to capture a story in sound, images and video as well as text. Know that no one has your voice and the world needs to hear from you.”

The toughest question to answer for college journalists: “I struggle to give a rosy-cheeked answer when asked about that balance. I never sugarcoat the challenges and steep odds that come with the business; I give as realistic a picture as I can, and I stress the need to be passionate about journalism if someone wants to build a satisfying career of it.”

Embrace your autonomy: advice and a tip sheet for MMJs: “In short, the excuses are going away quickly. MMJs can win awards, do great work, and cover meaningful stories. For most of us in this wild profession, that’s a wonderful career.”

Interns (or, the value in thinking out loud): “I often point out how this industry offers little opportunity for introspection. Journalists are faced with repeated deadlines that demand immediate action; they must make an extra effort to incorporate long-term reflection into their workflows. Interns have a way of changing that.”

Interns, Part 2 (or the time I almost became famous): “The process of “making it” encompasses much of one’s 20s and early 30s; one then must spend the bulk of one’s adult life “keeping it”. The initial challenge evaporates, and the day-to-day job remains.”

LESSONS FROM MY OWN WORK

Going gold for Silas, and the value of repetition: “Journalists always talk about catering to our audience, but sometimes we must check our egos in the process. Sometimes we cannot be too proud to call for our audience to listen to us.”

The Emily Bowman story, and finding honesty in heartbreak: “When people welcome us into their lives and allow us to tell their stories, we must do so as honestly as possible. That sounds obvious, but it can often be a challenge; as journalists, we get used to doing the same kinds of stories and telling them the same way, even if the textures of those stories are far different.”

Tad and Mary, and the quest to capture emotion on camera: “People get nervous or hesitant for a whole host of reasons once they know they will be recorded. For the most part, they simply do not have experience with having their actions documented, and often they respond by behaving how they feel they “should” behave, instead of how they genuinely want to behave.”

Embracing the unpredictable, and producing better stories: “I have learned during my early career the value and necessity of embracing the unpredictable. To be sure, experience is almost always a benefit when telling stories and interviewing people; a wise storyteller learns from every assignment and uses that knowledge as perspective in future pieces.”

Why heart, in storytelling, is stronger than horror: “Even during the cavalcade of crime and destruction that fills most newscasts, the most memorable stories require a three-dimensional telling. They require care from the journalists assigned to tell them. They require an understanding of why their subject matter might resonate with someone watching at home.”

Logan’s big play: watching one story reach millions: “We talk all the time about the power of social media, and we often view it in more personal matters: the ability to keep in touch with friends, to share the moments of our lives, or to rally communities around causes. This was something different. This was watching a single story — and a beautiful video of Logan — reach a global audience and affect a number of people I could rarely otherwise reach.”

Logan lives on: the triumph of a heart-warming story: “I honestly wish people could experience Logan’s story the way I have: through a seemingly never-ending barrage of likes, shares, and comments that have left me humbled as a journalist and heartened as a human being. No matter where my career leads, I can say with some certainty that I will remember the journey of Logan as a major highlight.”

GENERAL WISDOM ON STORYTELLING

Introduction: the Storyteller’s Manifesto: “I have heard the following adage more than a few times: ‘If you can tell a good story, you will work forever in this business.’ I believe that statement; ultimately, journalism is about knowing to connect with others.”

Five lessons from five years of reporting in Atlanta: “I came to Atlanta with a lot of potential, early success, and rough edges. I have spent the last five years building on my strengths but also sanding out those rough edges and weaknesses. As the business evolves, new challenges will arise, and I will need to adapt.”

Squirrels, Steve Hartman, and storytelling through details: “A common complaint about TV news in particular is a seeming inability to be relatable. Stories fly by as mere wallpaper to a viewer’s day, mainly because the viewer cannot seriously connect with those stories’ subjects. The people in these pieces become cartoons — stereotypes or archetypes with little substance.”

The balancing act: journalism and stress: “Being a journalist requires me to know about the issues. Being a good journalist requires me to care about them. And I want to be a good journalist. So I must often allow myself to absorb the stress that comes with access.”

The all-around wisdom of “Think big, start small, act now”: “If you are not careful, the news business can send you flying. It can have you filling numerous roles without ever getting the chance to think about your own long-term hopes and expectations. Journalism is a beautiful field in which so much can be accomplished; journalists should never shortchange themselves, or their individual capacities to make an impact.”

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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.

PODCAST EPISODE #46: Joe Little, solo video journalist, KGTV

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Last week I made an exciting announcement that, I hope, will greatly benefit the journalism industry.

I introduced my new book, The Solo Video Journalist, dedicated to providing a unique how-to guide for TV multimedia journalists — also known as MMJs, backpack journalists, one-man and one-woman bands, and VJs. The book can be found on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and my publisher’s web site.

Throughout the book, I interview some of the country’s best MMJs — and journalists period. I use each chapter to break down a specific step of the storytelling process, combining my advice with that of the journalist I interviewed for that chapter.

In the case of shooting solo stand-ups, I knew exactly who to call.

Joe Little of KGTV is my guest on Episode #46 of the Telling the Story podcast. He has gained notoriety in media circles for his annual YouTube compilation of his stand-ups that have continued now for more than half a decade.

(I actually just got sidetracked writing this post while watching one. Check it out …)

He brings creativity and fearlessness to a task that would deter many solo acts — myself included. I shied away from shooting my own stand-ups for a long time but have seen from Little and others how they can benefit my work. Now I do them regularly, and I am more empowered because of my solo status.

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Introducing “The Solo Video Journalist”, my how-to book for aspiring MMJs

I am a television news reporter for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, Ga., the 10th largest TV market in the country. But I am also my own photographer, shooting and editing the video that becomes my pre-produced reports. From the start of my day to the finish, I am almost always on my own.

And I represent a growing reality in TV news.

The term “multimedia journalist” gets thrown around in the news business, but in television it has a clear meaning. It refers to a journalist who produces a report from start to finish, combining the jobs of a traditional reporter (researching, interviewing, writing) with those of a traditional photographer (shooting, editing). We now occupy a substantial part of TV newsrooms; per the latest survey, roughly nine of every ten local network affiliates use them in some capacity. When aspiring television journalists go to college, they are warned they will almost certainly start their careers – and likely spend a good chunk of them – as one-woman and one-man bands.

Yet no book exists that offers a comprehensive overview of what the job entails, with the insights and authorship of journalists working in the business.

So I wrote one.

I am proud and excited to announce the release of The Solo Video Journalist, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is a how-to guide for a position in TV news that is long overdue for such analysis: the multimedia journalist, or MMJ.

(… or backpack journalist, or VJ, or any number of titles bestowed upon this position through the years. I went with “solo video journalist” because I think that term most accurately describes the job: producing video stories and journalism on one’s own.)

I have held this title since I entered the business more than a decade ago, and I have remained astounded at the lack of explicit instruction exists for those who do it. So many, both inside and outside the business, continue to envision newsrooms full of traditional reporters and photographers, neglecting the vital role MMJs have come to play.

The reality is far different.

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PODCAST EPISODE #45: Matt Mrozinski, founder, Storytellers

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Many of us in the TV news business spend the years of our 20s trying to “make it”.

We expend all of our energy building our craft, learning from others, staying afloat, and climbing the ladder to a point of relative stability in a ruthlessly unstable industry.

Then we get to our 30s, and we make a conscious choice to begin to give back.

I know I went through that process. It’s why I started this blog four years ago. It’s why I almost always accept requests to speak at workshops and conferences. It’s why I helped organize and direct a workshop back in June.

(It’s also why I have been working on an exciting project for which I’ll be making a special announcement next week.)

And it’s why I began the Telling the Story podcast, in which I always devote a segment with my guest about advice for younger journalists.

My guest on this episode has fulfilled the same calling in a magnificent way.

He is the director of photojournalism at KING-TV in Seattle, but he is perhaps even more highly regarded as the founder of Storytellers, a web site and Facebook group for critiques and conversation that just cleared 10,000 members — almost all of whom are current journalists, news managers, and media professionals.

He is Matt Mrozinski, and he is my guest for Episode #45.

I have been a member of the Storytellers group for several years, but I had never heard how it began until interviewing Mrozinski for this podcast. I found his story fascinating, mainly because he did not start the group with the intent of reaching thousands of people. On the contrary, he stumbled upon its success — but then seized the opportunity to ensure its growth in a meaningful way.

I really enjoyed this interview and believe you will too. Mrozinski gives great insight into how the Storytellers community has benefited its members; he even provides some self-proclaimed “BREAKING NEWS” about future plans.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring voting, laughter yoga, & the Cubs

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.

My first vote as an American (11/4/16, KUSA-TV): In a year that has been marked by election fatigue, we could all use a good reminder of the idealistic value of voting.

This piece provides that reminder in a powerful way.

Anastasiya Bolton is a reporter for KUSA-TV in Denver and a Russian native who voted in America for the first time in 2008 as a naturalized citizen. In this first-person opinion piece, Bolton speaks to viewers about why she treats the right to vote as a privilege. She speaks with passion and chokes up repeatedly during the two-minute monologue. Even if she perhaps tips her hand as to who she selected in the voting booth in ’08, she does so with the larger purpose of conveying the importance of the opportunity.

I admire Bolton for stepping out of her comfort zone and offering such an appeal. She presents straightforward honesty and emotion in a political season often criticized for lacking either.

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5 MORE great stories: the all-Boyd Huppert edition

Two days ago I posted my weekly “3 Great Stories” column, except I made a couple of exceptions:

First, I posted five great stories instead of three.

Second, instead of normally showcasing the best work I saw in the prior week, I submitted a Greatest Hits compilation from my four years of blogging — of one person’s gems.

I posted 5 great stories from KARE-TV’s Boyd Huppert, who had just captured his 100th regional Emmy and been named to the NATAS Upper Midwest Silver Circle. I shared the entry on the Storytellers Facebook group, populated by 10,000 current, former, and future journalists, including Huppert himself and many photographers with whom he has collaborated through the years.

Then something beautiful happened.

The storytellers expanded the list.

Within hours, fellow TV news journalists had sprinkled the comments section of that Facebook post with a variety of Huppert treasures, one dating back nearly two decades. Since Facebook posts eventually fade away from people’s news feeds, I decided to combine those additions onto this new blog entry.

Here, thus, are five more great stories from one of the greatest storytellers in our field:

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5 GREAT STORIES: The all-Boyd Huppert edition

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.

It’s time to pay tribute to a legend.

This past Saturday, KARE-TV feature reporter Boyd Huppert received the coveted Silver Circle award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The honor often reflects longevity — a lifetime achievement award, if you will.

But few journalists have reached Huppert’s level of achievements.

In fact, that same night, Huppert won his 100th regional Emmy award — one of 11 he received for 2016.

In addition to his Emmys, Huppert has won 14 national Edward R. Murrow awards and three Sigma Delta Chi awards; he has received, on seven occasions, the NPPA’s Photojournalism Award for Reporting. Beyond that, Huppert has inspired thousands of journalists through both his teaching and his example, and he has touched millions with his heart-warming stories.

A far less prestigious achievement? He is by far the most mentioned reporter on this blog. In nearly four years, I have tagged Huppert in 23 posts — the majority of which have come as shout-outs for his work in this “3 Great Stories” segment.

(Huppert also graced my podcast for our 40th episode; it’s a terrific listen.)

To that end, I have chosen to use this week’s “3 Great Stories” as an all-time Greatest Hits list of my favorite Huppert games. (“All-time”, in this case, refers to the last four years in which I have written this blog.) I could not narrow the list to three, so here are five great Boyd Huppert stories, along with what I wrote about them at the time, with minor edits for clarity:

Dying man finds miracle in abandoned church (11/18/12, KARE-TV): I can’t think of one thing that stands out to me about this story.

Simply put, everything stands out.

Few in my profession would argue that Huppert and photographer Jonathan Malat are as good as it gets in terms of long-form, human-interest storytelling. I regularly find myself blown away by their work, and I could not stop smiling over this one. This is beginning-to-end perfect: a touching story that takes its time but does not waste a moment.

It is the kind of story that makes me want to be a better journalist.

I could probably list five lessons I learned from this story alone, but above all I was reminded of the importance of continually finding stories — and storytellers — who inspire you. I have no doubt I will improve because, when I watch pieces like this, I can see the possible results of said improvement.

(NOTE: The original link from KARE-TV no longer works, so I have posted the YouTube video from a different station that ran the story. Also, Huppert followed up this year with the story’s main subject, now facing a new fight.)

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PODCAST EPISODE #44: Jason Lamb, reporter, WTVF-TV

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If you want to get to know my guest on this podcast, you need to watch this video:

It features a young reporter, standing among legends as finalists for the NPPA’s 2016 Reporter of the Year award, awaiting the decision … and then finding out he won.

The reaction is priceless.

The reporter is Jason Lamb.

After about 20 seconds of straightforward shock, the 30-year-old from WTVF-TV in Nashville gives a heartfelt acceptance speech. He talks about the lessons he learned from the other journalists on that stage. He confesses he didn’t really prepare anything to say. And just when he claims to be done, he quickly calls everyone back so he can think the photographer, the ultra-talented (and former podcast guest) Catherine Steward, who shot every story on his award-winning entry.

Lamb is my guest on Episode #44 of the Telling The story podcast.

We certainly discuss his advice for young TV journalists on developing as a storyteller, but mostly we talk about his most recently high-profile assignment: covering Hurricane Matthew for dozens of local news affiliates as it came up the Florida coast. Lamb, Steward, and his team worked 17-hour days and executed loads of live shots; they came back exhausted but satisfied with their work.

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