Monthly Archives: March 2013

How to become a better writer in two easy lists

One of the greatest things about maturing as a writer? You write so much that you have seen every cliche around, and you know not to use them.

One of the toughest things about maturing as a writer? You write so much that you must continue to write creatively without using cliches — or the creative lines you have already used.

Writers and journalists of any kind — be it video, audio, photography, or print — must make a conscious and continual effort to avoid repetition in what can be a repetitious job.

For sure, every story is unique; this is one of the great joys of working in journalism. Less unique, however, are story types. This year alone, a journalist may have already attended so many press conferences or city council meetings or sporting events that he or she struggles to find ways to cover them creatively.

I welcome any outside perspective that encourages me not to get too comfortable as a storyteller.

In the past few days, I have come across two such perspectives I feel compelled to share.

On Friday, Washington Post writer Carlos Lozada wrote the article, “To be sure, journalists love cliches”. After an introduction where Lozada intentionally uses cliches to write about the importance of not using them — a technique that, frankly, seemed a little cliche to me — he gets to the good stuff. Lozada produces a lengthy list of banned phrases and, as he writes, “Things We Do Not Say” in the newsroom.

Among his targets:

  • Be that as it may
  • Needless to say
  • [Anything] 2.0 (or 3.0 or 4.0 …)
  • At a crossroads

(Believe me, this is a mere taste; Lozada writes at least 50 of these …)

Print out this list, and make sure your scripts and articles include none of its items.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring nostalgia, water, and an all-puppy channel!

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.

One of my co-workers, knowing my propensity for telling inspirational, uplifting stories, sometimes calls me “Dr. Feelgood”.

I think he would approve of the following batch of stories.

Two of these stories were published this week; the third actually first aired ten years ago but was re-aired last Friday in podcast form. They represent different forms of media — audio, photo, and the written word — but they all stir up some kind of emotion, from awe to nostalgia to the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from watching puppies. (You’ll see what I mean …)

So get in touch with your inner Dr. Feelgood, and enjoy …

World Water Day 2013 (3/18/13, I have mentioned the Big Picture blog three times now in this space, and I will probably have to restrict myself eventually. But this is my favorite of the three I have mentioned: a collection of photographs relating to water. I guarantee you have never seen photos quite like the first four in this gallery.


Ten years later: What I learned (and didn’t learn) at J-School

When people find out I work as a TV news reporter, they often ask where I went to college.

I tell them: “Northwestern University; the Medill School of Journalism.”

Then they ask: “Did you like it there?”

I tell the truth: “Absolutely.”

Then, assuming we do not start talking about the always-promising Northwestern football team, they usually say something along these lines:

“That’s a great school for journalism. You must have learned a lot there, right?”

I always give the short answer: “Yes.”

But I always wind up thinking later about how the long answer to that question is far more complicated.

This week marks a big anniversary for me. Ten years ago, I finished my last class at Northwestern. I graduated in June 2003, and I started working at my first TV station in July, but I left Northwestern’s lovely Evanston, Ill. campus in March, carrying all the ambition and eagerness expected of an aspiring journalist.

For a long time after I left, I thought mainly about what I had not learned — what I could not possibly have learned in my four years at journalism school.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Groupon, the Heimlich, and the first presidential press conference

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.

I probably would have ignored the following three stories had I not known who produced them.

I would have shrugged at the prospect of reading 3,000 words about the daily deals company Groupon.

I would have laughed at the notion of spending 25 minutes learning about the man behind the Heimlich maneuver.

And I would have yawned at the idea of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first presidential press conference.

But I respected the authors behind the stories, so I gave each one a shot. And wow, was I rewarded.

As a reader and viewer of journalism, I truly appreciate when someone can expand my knowledge about a subject with a thorough, well-researched work of storytelling. I highly recommend each of the articles below. If their topics don’t tickle your fancy at first, just allow them a few paragraphs (or, in the case of the Heimlich story, a few minutes) to lure you in.

Greed is Groupon (3/13/13, The Verge): This is a long one, but it’s worth it. Writer Ben Popper mostly ignores the rise of the daily deals giant Groupon and heads straight to the behind-the-scenes details surrounding its fall. Surely you have checked out sites like Groupon and wondered, “How do these guys make any money?” As Popper’s piece shows, sometimes the company leaders don’t quite have the answer, either.


Joe Posnanski, Steve Sabol, and a story about a storyteller

As a teenager I bought many CDs that I view today with a certain degree of embarrassment.

This was not one of them.

I was (and maybe still am, though I have no idea where it is buried) the proud owner of The Power and the Glory: The Music of NFL Films. I listened to the cinematic compositions of Sam Spence and the booming voice of John Facenda without knowing either man’s name. I immersed myself guilt-free into a world where the NFL consisted of gladiators battling for glory, a task that is far more difficult in my adult years. I played the album over and over, often as a Sunday adrenaline-builder before watching my hometown New York Jets.

And I think, on some level, I knew who was responsible for this jewel of an album.

Steve Sabol.

I knew Sabol as the voice and face of NFL Films; he popped up as the host of ESPN’s Super Bowl Memories, which would play during the playoffs every January. Even before his passing last year at the age of 69, I thought of him as a nostalgic figure of my childhood, someone who played an integral role in making the NFL my favorite sport. In my eyes, he was a two-dimensional figure.

That is no longer the case.

And the man responsible for that is Joe Posnanski.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: On soccer, adversity, & elections

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.

I have focused the first few weeks of “3 Great Stories” on TV pieces, both long-form journeys and well-edited triumphs.

This week, we branch out.

You will find three impeccably told stories here, but they come in different sizes and media. One is a nicely spun local TV yarn, but another is a print masterpiece accompanied by a horrifying photo. The third is all photos, by one of my favorite storytelling arms in the business.

Soccer reigns at King Chavez High School (3/1/13, KNSD-TV San Diego): Greg Bledsoe does what I do — he is a one-man TV band, which means he shoots and edits the videos for his on-air reports — and he does it very, very well. (He also does weather on the side, which is a whole ‘nother batch of awesomeness.) In this story, he captures dawn on the soccer field in San Diego, with a piece that reminded me of the movie Gridiron Gang with its uplifting inner-city athletic-success-story feel.


Taking #Turbovideo into warp speed

I am exhausted.

For nearly two months now, I have been traveling on a special assignment for my parent company, Gannett. I am part of a 20-person team that is visiting newspapers around the country and teaching them the tools and techniques of video. Basically, our company is aiming to greatly boost the quantity and quality of video content on its’ newspapers’ web sites.

The initiative even has a hashtag: #turbovideo. Check it out on Twitter; the conversation is quite enlightening.

(Oh, and follow me while you’re at it: @MattPearl11.)

We began the project in January at the Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina. Since then I have traveled to Indianapolis, Asbury Park, N.J., Louisville, Wilmington, Del., Tallahassee, Fl., and now Westchester, N.Y. My fellow trainers and I spend a week at each publication; we discuss interviewing for video, writing for the ear instead of the eye, and using the iPhone both to shoot and edit video stories.

That’s right: we are teaching journalists how to produce video … on their iPhones.

Perhaps this sounds crazy; perhaps it seems amateurish. But I have been amazed at the results. Many journalists produce their first videos and tell compelling stories in the process; others, who have already cranked out videos in the past few years, quickly elevate their work after learning the techniques we teach.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring families and good Samaritans

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.

This week’s stories are triumphs of editing. A great video journalist knows the importance of tight cuts, creative angles, and multiple settings when telling a story. Watch these stories just to watch them, but then watch them a second time — and pay attention to the craft of editing in each one.

Brothers’ passion for music a South Side inspiration (2/27/13, NBC News): This is, of course, a great story of inspiration from NBC News’ Ron Allen. But what strikes me here is how much ground Allen covers in a small window. He takes us to an opera house, symphony hall, South Side Chicago home, youth music class, even the set of Mr. Rogers! Allen immerses us in each of these settings and gives us an extensive biography of two impressive brothers — and he does it all in two minutes.



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