3 podcasts journalists should check out in 2016

If I haven’t made it clear before, I love podcasts.

I wrote about them last year. I wrote about them again last year. I even wrote about them three years ago when I first started this blog.

(And, of course, I maintain my own podcast, which just released its 40th episode and will post another new one next week.)

Very rarely, though, do I actually listen to podcasts that deal with what I do for a living.

Compelling journalism and storytelling podcasts are not necessarily hard to find; witness the innovative work regularly done by NPR, Gimlet Media, and others. But rarely do those podcasts actually address journalism and storytelling. I started my Telling The Story podcast in part because I sensed a void in podcasts that featured media members discussing their craft. Three years later, the podcasting world has expanded dramatically, with various newcomers mixing with old standbys to create a diverse mix for listeners to sample.

Here are three podcasts that, I feel, offer perspective that informs my work as a journalist:

On The Media

Speaking of NPR and old standbys, this has long been my main choice for intelligent discussions of the media landscape.

On The Media bills itself as a “weekly investigation into how the media shapes our world view”. Hosts Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone regularly prove up to the task, in their abilities to both frame topical news from a journalist’s lens and snag many of the newsmakers and news producers directly involved.

The podcast updates every Friday, though recently Gladstone and Garfield have begun adding shorter “extras” during the week. I particularly enjoyed Gladstone’s conversation last week with the makers of “fake news”, like the Daily Show and its ilk.

Social Media Social Hour

This one is a bit of a diamond in the rough … and it may not seem to directly translate to journalists and storytellers.

But for folks who do what I do — and who want to know how to spread their work across various social networks — it’s a winner.

The Social Media Social Hour podcast is hosted by Tyler Anderson, who runs a social media marketing company called Casual Fridays. (The link above, in fact, directs to the Casual Fridays blog.) Each week Anderson — sometimes solo but often with a guest — unfurls the complicated web of social media in a digestible, accessible way for anyone to understand.

His target audience may be entrepreneurs and marketers, but these days that umbrella somewhat includes journalists, who must constantly promote their work on Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

Surprisingly Awesome

Here is another podcast that, on the surface, might not seem directly related to journalism and storytelling … and yet its basic premise is essentially a storyteller’s primary building block.

Presented by Gimlet Media, the Surprisingly Awesome podcast delves into seemingly boring subjects that have an extraordinary back story or secret. It is hosted by Adam Davidson and Adam McKay, the latter of whom just took home an Oscar for writing and directing the Best Adapted Screenplay-winning The Big Short.

I loved the idea of this show from the beginning, but I especially love the vigor with which its hosts peel back the layers of whatever they happen to be discussing. I was hooked by their episode about the 1990s pop hit “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba, whose back story left me stunned.

As a journalist, I find essential the ability to take a news event and explain to people why it matters. This podcast regularly awakens my spirit.

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: The all-New York Times 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 isn’t easy to figure out which foods contain sugar (5/21/16, New York Times): I found myself taken this week by the New York Times.

I think it’s easy to overlook the consistently strong and thorough reporting provided by the third-largest newspaper in the country. I do not consider myself a loyal Times reader, but I regularly find an article or two every week that increases my knowledge or shifts my perspective on a given subject.

This past week, I read three.

In this example, Margot Sanger-Katz of the Times’ Upshot series discusses the new FDA nutrition labels and their increased emphasis on “added sugar”. She breaks down the many sneaky and unhealthy ingredients that often find their way into seemingly nutritious products, and she even provides two lists of ingredients that, in her words, “really just mean added sugar”. This is a deceptively simple presentation, providing insights and takeaways in a compact package about a dietary issue that affects all of us.

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PODCAST EPISODE #40: Boyd Huppert, reporter, KARE-TV

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At the end of this podcast, I joke, “I can retire the podcast now!”

Don’t worry … I don’t plan to retire it. But I probably could, now that I have interviewed one of the most revered and decorated storytellers ever.

My guest for Episode #40 is Boyd Huppert.

The feature reporter for KARE-TV in the Twin Cities is known nationwide for his absorbing and touching stories, which regularly find their way to NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. For many in local TV, Huppert is an idol — the man whose career and talents we all dream of having. I can’t think of a single storyteller who does it better.

In recent years, Huppert has also become known as a teacher. He works with stations worldwide, speaks at conferences, and last year even gave a TED Talk:

Huppert will also, I’m proud to announce, be the keynote speaker at this year’s NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, being held in Atlanta June 10th and 11th. I am organizing and co-hosting the conference with photojournalist (and one-time podcast guest) John Kirtley of WLOS-TV in Asheville. We welcome anyone looking to improve as a storyteller and receive inspiration from some of the best in the country, particularly our keynote speaker.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference, Feel free to e-mail me with questions at the address below. In the meantime, enjoy this podcast with a legendary storyteller who speaks about his background, offers advice for getting the most out of workshops, and gives his insights and tips for young journalists.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring May sweeps, 2016 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.

Miracle? Blind woman sees again after unrelated surgery (5/11/16, WBBH-TV): It’s that time of year again.

Or, should I say, it’s one of several “that times” of year again.

Sweeps has arrived. Local TV stations across the country have now entered the crucial May ratings period, and they stack their shows with long-form stories that get regularly promoted.

Thankfully for the viewer, those stories are often very powerful.

Consider this one from reporter Chad Oliver and photographer Scott Reilly at NBC2 in Southwest Florida. They tell a tale I would not have believed if not for the medical professional in the story who confirms it: a elderly woman, who had lost her sight, regained it seemingly accidentally through surgery on her neck.

The woman is a grandmother and firecracker named Mary Ann whose personality carries the whole story. Oliver smartly lets her do so, writing in a way that elevates her character while continually adding layers of story and surprise. It’s smile-worthy, for sure.

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5 lessons from the NPPA’s best video stories of 2015

It’s getting harder than ever to keep our viewers’ attention.

That’s what we keep hearing, and that’s why, we are told, we must adapt.

If attention spans are shrinking and devotion to broadcast news is dwindling, local news journalists must expand how we connect with others. I, for example, have talked a lot about the potential of social media to enable our work to reach unforeseen audiences. Maybe we all need to educate ourselves on new platforms and media in addition to our product on-air.

But we cannot forget about that product.

If anything, we need to step it up.

The best stories I saw last year demanded my attention, and I watched zero of them on television. I watched all of them online, via links and recommendations from colleagues and friends. I arrived upon them organically and, when I clicked on the videos, found myself instantly engrossed.

A few weeks ago, the NPPA announced its Best of Photojournalism winners for last year, and I became engrossed again. I have, in several years past, authored blog posts about lessons learned from the competition’s champs, and I feel compelled to do so once more, thanks to some tremendous storytelling from some of the nation’s most talented journalists:

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring barbers, David Ortiz, & moving forward

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.

Twin barbers keep Fillmore County groomed and giggling (5/1/16, KARE-TV): This story is a virtual clinic on how to put together a TV news feature.

Naturally, it comes from the reporter who does features better than anyone in the country.

Boyd Huppert of KARE-TV in the Twin Cities worked with photographer Chad Nelson on this, and together they produced an ultra-enjoyable story about two barbers who seem to love two things above all: cutting hair and laughing. I hesitate to say much more, because I would prefer for you to see for yourself.

But I will say this: any up-and-coming reporter should watch this story twice. The first time, sit back and enjoy it. The second time, pay attention to everything Huppert does to craft a beautiful piece: his thoughtful, open-hearted voicing; his ability to write in and out of sound bites; and his way of building a story to a resolution that brings it all together.

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PODCAST EPISODE #39: John Le, reporter, WLOS-TV

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Before you listen to this podcast, you need to watch a video.

This video.

This is a snippet from an interview with Will Ferrell, where host Katie Couric plays a clip of the actor’s work in college as an aspiring sportscaster. At the 42-second mark, you see Ferrell pontificating about a beauty pageant, deadpanning about the contestants while a co-anchor nods graciously and holds Ferrell’s microphone.

That co-anchor is John Le, and he is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

We all know what became of Ferrell, but his sidekick in that clip has developed an illustrious career of his own. Le is regarded as one of the top feature reporters in the industry and has won five regional Edward R. Murrow awards along with a rising stack of regional Emmys. He is a finalist for this year’s NPPA national Best of Photojournalism award for Reporting.

He is also a hoot. Perhaps Ferrell’s comedic instincts rubbed off on him (or maybe it was the reverse?), but Le is an effervescent presence whose personality more than stands out during this podcast.

On another note, Le is one of the many tremendous speakers at this year’s NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, being held June 10th and 11th in Atlanta. I am organizing and co-hosting the conference with photojournalist (and one-time podcast guest) John Kirtley, who works with Le at WLOS-TV in Asheville. We welcome anyone looking to improve as a storyteller and receive inspiration from some of the best in the country.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference, Feel free to e-mail me with questions at the address below. In the meantime, enjoy this entertaining — and, I hope, informative — half-hour with one of the best writers around.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring breaking news at WBFF

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.

Man in animal costume shot after making bomb threat at Baltimore’s FOX45 (4/28/16, WBFF-TV): This past Thursday, a major news story played out in front of a TV station’s eyes … or, more accurately, its parking lot and lobby.

According to the story, a man wearing a panda costume set his car on fire in the parking lot of WBFF-TV, Baltimore’s FOX affiliate. Then he demanded “the station air a story he brought with him on a flash drive” and “threatened to blow up the building after being denied entry to the station’s lobby”. The building was evacuated, police arrived, and the suspect was eventually shot but not killed by officers.

And the station’s news department kept working.

The entire newsroom contributed to live coverage, even when they possessed no access to their building. Moreover, they produced compelling work while dealing with the uncertainty of a very real and likely scary situation. I give immense credit to all involved.

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Remembering Clem Ferguson, the 96-year-old honorary flight attendant

Most television news reporters try to avoid clichés, but we tend to stumble upon one when people ask what we love most about our jobs.

The recurring answer? “Meeting people and telling their stories.”

I can’t deny it. I love that part of my job. Nearly every day involves meeting someone new; nearly every meeting involves learning something new. I continuously meet people who make me think, laugh, smile, and even cry.

And on the rare occasion, I get to meet someone like Clem Ferguson.

This past April Fool’s Day, I was assigned to tell Clem’s story, and it was a great one. Clem, I was told, was a lifetime Georgian who had finally received the chance, after 96 years, to live her childhood dream.

That dream? She had always wanted to become a flight attendant.

Clem’s nursing facility, Christian City in Union City, Ga., arranged for her to receive honorary wings from Delta Airlines. The previous week, I learned, Delta employees had taken Clem through a sped-up “training day” and bestowed upon her the title she had long desired. I reached out to the airline and received video of the experience; to shoot my story, I simply needed to interview its star.

The interview turned out wonderful, but weeks later I remember everything else. Clem smiled the entire time and sparkled with gratitude for so many things in her life. She seemed genuinely touched by the opportunity to be interviewed for the local news. She also made sure I didn’t leave without looking at photographs of her five sisters and now-deceased husband.

This did not feel like a typical interview. It felt entirely disarming, so much so that when Clem poked fun at me during this little off-air exchange, she caught me completely off guard:

I cannot say it any more simply: Clem made my day.

Through my story that night, she made the days of many others.

I posted the piece on Facebook shortly after it aired. In three weeks, that post has reached more than 300,000 people, and the accompanying video has been viewed more than 100,000 times. I would like to take the credit, but in this case I think I must give it to Clem.

I’m sure, at some point in your life, someone has made your day like Clem made mine. At 9:00 that morning, I did not know she existed. By 1:00 that afternoon, I felt privileged to cross her path. By 9:00 that night, I was still beaming from the experience.

Three weeks later, I received unfortunate news that left me feeling the opposite.

This past Wednesday, Clem Ferguson passed away. I found out two days later while on vacation in New York, and it stunned me. Clem may have been 96 years old, but she had shown no signs during our interview to suggest the worst. She had displayed the charm, vibrancy, and sincerity of someone who possessed no plans to slow down.

When I heard the news, I felt genuinely sad.

To be sure, Clem by all accounts lived a full, rich, and happy life. She lived for nearly a century and did not seem to express any regrets.

Yet I still felt pained by her passing … largely for the rest of us. Three weeks earlier Clem had brought a beautiful joy to my world, and I imagine she had affected numerous people similarly through the years. Sadly she will no longer be able to do so for anyone else.

But I hope you watch Clem’s story below. I hope she makes you smile. And I hope, no matter what your profession or situation, you acknowledge and appreciate the Clems in your world who brighten your days when you least expect it.

I feel thankful she was able to brighten mine.

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 Passover, paint & Shakespeare

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.

Meet a Southern Baptist matzoh expert (4/18/16, The Sporkful): This week marks the continuation of Passover, the eight-day Jewish holiday celebrating the exodus from Egypt.

Like many Jewish holidays, it is notable for its history as well as its food.

On a holiday where Jews are instructed to give up bread and other leavened products, the most fascinating food is matzoh, or unleavened bread. Very few podcasts would devote a whole episode to the cracker-like cuisine, but The Sporkful is one … and it does a great job.

Host Dan Pashman delves deep into matzoh with several enjoyable interviews, one of which features a Southern Baptist who once played a major role with the Manischewitz company. Like most episodes of The Sporkful, this one is inventive and enjoyable thanks to Pashman’s passion.

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