Monthly Archives: May 2013

PODCAST EPISODE #3: Anne Herbst, assistant chief photographer, KDVR-TV

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Try to follow the career path on this one.

Anne Herbst studied journalism in college with the intentions of being a newspaper reporter.

Her professor said she was better at shooting video, so she became a staff photographer at a TV station.

She got hired as a staff photographer at KUSA-TV in Denver — one of the top shops in the country for video journalism — but gradually began writing her own stories … to which reporters would then put their voices.

She left KUSA to become a solo video journalist at the Denver Post. If you’re scoring at home, Herbst went from a TV station to a newspaper and went from being a traditional photographer to doing everything herself.

This past year, she returned to TV as the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV, Denver’s FOX affiliate.

Herbst is a hallmark of developing numerous skills and leveraging one’s talent to find high-quality positions in the field of journalism. She has charted her own course in many ways, always finding ways to progress and improve.

Oh, and it helps that Herbst is really, really good at her job.

She has twice been named NPPA Photographer of the Year for the West region — always the most competitive in the country. She has won numerous NPPA awards as a solo video journalist, as well. Watch some of her work, and you will see why.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Anne Herbst: “every TV station should have a backpack journalist”

Every year I enter the NPPA Solo Video Journalist competitions, and every year I see more and more names appearing on the winners’ list.

Around late 2011 I began seeing a new name pop up: Anne Herbst.

What struck me first was her place of employment: the Denver Post. Herbst was a video journalist … for a newspaper.

What struck me next was her work: it was rock-solid. Herbst impressed me then — and continues to impress me today — with her ability to make slick, well-crafted stories that were grounded in three-dimensional characters, a natural voice, and a more down-to-earth sensibility.

Oh, and she did it all herself: as a backpack journalist, she shot, reported, wrote, and edited her stories as a one-woman band.

This week, she becomes the third esteemed storyteller to join me on the Telling The Story podcast.

Herbst no longer works as a backpack journalist, or for a newspaper: she is now the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV, the Fox affiliate in Denver. But, at one point during our conversation, she offered her advice to local news stations in regards to backpack journalists:

Hire them.

Or, at least, hire one.

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3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Covering the Moore, Oklahoma tornado

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 seems to be way too familiar an occurrence.

Tornadoes take hold mainly during the springtime, and this year they have struck numerous states across the South and Southeast. The latest one, an EF5 tornado that leveled buildings and homes across Moore, Okla., left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured.

The hardest part in dealing with these tragedies, I think, is trying to make sense of them. The same applies to covering them as journalists.

This week, I picked out three examples from the coverage of the Moore tornado in which the journalists and storytellers did not try to impose their own beliefs or wills on the situation. They simply conveyed it and let the horror — and the emotions that followed, both positive and negative — speak for itself.

A tornado hits Moore, Oklahoma (5/20/13, The New Yorker): A month ago, I praised Amy Davidson of the New Yorker for her coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. In that case, I appreciated her ability to take a stand about a difficult issue.

In this case, I appreciate her abilities to simply capture the details and atmosphere of a scene.

Davidson wrote this story as the specific information about the tornado was still developing; the twister’s death count and EF rating had yet to be officially determined. She doesn’t run for her lack of answers; she embraces them. Davidson aggregates the most piercing details from the first day of the tornado and presents them in a clear and sympathetic way, acknowledging both the potential big-picture ramifications and the immediate, visceral reactions.

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ESSAY: The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism

In May 2013 I was assigned to tell the story of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Evan Gattis. It took me on a two-day journey across the state of Texas.

This is Part 1 of the story of that journey. To read the entire story on a single page, CLICK HERE.

*****

Snooze.

I woke up to the sound of muffled radio static on the alarm clock in my hotel room. I had not bothered to find a station before I went to sleep the previous night; I was exhausted, and I doubted I would miss much by scanning the AM dial for Abilene, Texas’ finest. Plus, I knew I would not be listening for very long when I awoke.

Instead, I did the first thing I could think of: reach over and hit the button on top of the radio.

Snooze.

I did not intend to go back to sleep, of course. I couldn’t. I was up for a reason: to drive ten hours, in one day, to interview two people, both of whom were integral to the life of Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis. A month earlier, Gattis made the Braves’ Opening Day roster as a 26-year-old rookie. Two weeks after that, he was named National League Rookie of the Month.

But that was not what sent me to Texas. I had arrived in America’s second-largest state to shine the spotlight on Gattis’ other claim to fame, the story that had captivated Braves fans in Atlanta and baseball fans across the country. After completing high school and committing to Texas A&M as a highly-touted prospect, Gattis left the game and did not return for half a decade. In the meantime, he traveled the state and the country, working odd jobs at golf courses, ski resorts, and even Yellowstone National Park. He followed a spiritual advisor to New Mexico, and he lived like a nomad, on a search for purpose and identity. Gattis had gone on a journey, to be sure, and came out of it a Major League baseball player.

How fitting, then, that I would have to take a journey of my own to properly tell his story.

I got up out of bed in that Abilene hotel room and took a shower. When I got out, I heard those muffled AM sounds again. I walked over, looked at the clock on the radio, and saw a time I generally only saw during the daytime.

4:44.

I wanted to hit Snooze again. But not this time. It was time to hit the road.

*****

A day earlier I had awoken at technically the exact same time. In this case I had gotten up at 5:44, but I was still on the Eastern Time Zone, at my apartment in Atlanta preparing to leave for the airport. This in itself felt like a big step. My trip to Texas was the culmination of roughly a month’s worth of planning – and nearly an equal amount of frustration – with Gattis’ story.

The news managers at my TV station, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA-TV, had decided back in April they wanted me to do an in-depth story about Gattis. It was a no-brainer, really; they had heard about Gattis’ improbable journey, watched his hot start for the Braves, and believed his story would be great for our big ratings period in May. I reached out to the Braves’ media relations team multiple times but did not hear back; finally I decided to meet Gattis myself, heading to the clubhouse for post-game interviews and introducing myself to the slugger at his locker. I told him we wanted to tell his story and even head to Texas to talk with his dad Jo, who played a huge role in Gattis’ growth both personally and professionally. Gattis gave the OK and simply asked that we go through the Braves’ media relations folks to reach his father.

Done, I said.

Over the next few weeks I sent roughly a dozen e-mails to the Braves’ PR person assigned to these types of requests. I found I could not even secure an interview with Gattis, let alone his dad. The Braves were only home for a week in late April, and numerous national media outlets had come knocking with a similar request to interview the catcher, who by this point had developed a Jack Bauer/Chuck Norris-like mystique among the team’s fans. I would have to wait until their next homestand, I was told. And what of Gattis’ dad? I heard very little.

Finally, my managers and I got tired of waiting. We wanted to tell Gattis’ story, and we no longer wanted to delay until the Braves’ media folks got around to us. “Head down to Dallas,” I was told. “Set up whatever interviews you can, and we’ll make it work.”

I spent last Monday and Tuesday making calls and developing contacts with people who had watched Gattis grow. I called his youth coach in Dallas and his college coach in Odessa; they jumped at the chance to talk about someone for whom they held great admiration. I connected with the Texas-based scout who recommended Gattis to the Braves; I got a hold of the machine shop owner who briefly hired Gattis during his time away from the game.

I even found his spiritual advisor in New Mexico. She declined my request.

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ESSAY: The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism — Part 2

In May 2013 I was assigned to tell the story of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Evan Gattis. It took me on a two-day journey across the state of Texas.

This is Part 2 of the story of that journey. To read Part 1, CLICK HERE. To read the entire story on a single page, CLICK HERE.

*****

“I’d like to book a room for the night.”

Several hours after interviewing Hernandez and Turner, I was back at the Coppell West field, trying to make a hotel reservation from the driver’s seat of my rented Chevy Sonic. I had already driven for nearly two hours that afternoon, making stops at the aforementioned mechanics shop and golf course before popping back to the field to get footage of Tigers practice. Now I was preparing for the big drive: five hours from Dallas to Odessa, Texas, where Gattis returned to baseball after his time away from the game.

At least, I thought I was heading to Odessa.

But when I made my request to the operator at the hotel, she responded as follows:

“All right, sir. A room with one king-size bed is $309 a night.”

I quickly checked the number to make sure I hadn’t accidentally dialed the Holiday Inn in midtown Manhattan.

Nope, this was Odessa.

“What was that number again?” I asked.

“Three-oh-nine,” the operator responded, with genuine cheer that indicated she perhaps was not aware of why anyone would be surprised by this.

Hernandez was not surprised. “Yeah, Odessa is big with oil guys. You can’t get a hotel room there for less than $300 a night.”

I had to re-route. Unfortunately, the nearest city on my way to Odessa was Abilene, which sported a variety of two-star hotels off Interstate-20 but would also leave me 2 ½ hours from Odessa.

I did the mental math in my head. Suddenly I was facing a potential nine hours of driving the next day – on top of the three hours ahead of me on this day.

What could I do? I rolled with it.

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ESSAY: The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism — Part 3

In May 2013 I was assigned to tell the story of Atlanta Braves’ slugger Evan Gattis. It took me on a two-day journey across the state of Texas.

This is Part 3 of the story of that journey. To read Part 1, CLICK HERE. To read Part 2, CLICK HERE. To read the entire story on a single page, CLICK HERE.

*****

Ten hours of driving. Zero minutes of music.

These were my stats as I zoomed along I-20 on a 360-mile journey from Odessa back to Dallas. Somewhere in the 3 PM hour, I hit double digits in driving hours for the trip, and I had not yet listened to a single song.

I love music, of course, but I probably love it too much for a trip like this. I am an unabashed sing-along-in-the-car guy, and I will rock out in the driver’s seat under the right conditions.

But rocking out requires energy. I needed to conserve mine.

I decided early in the trip to take a page from the baseball lifers around me and remain even-keeled throughout. I already did not plan on getting much sleep, and if I fed off adrenaline, I reasoned, I would eventually crash hard at an inopportune moment. I needed to be on top of my game, from Wednesday’s touchdown at Dallas-Fort Worth to Friday’s departure back to Atlanta.

So, instead of bobbing my head to my favorite songs, I listened to podcasts. Instead of gulping down drinks with caffeine, I sipped on bottled water and green tea. And when I felt the occasional dip in appetite or energy, I sucked a few Tic-Tacs.

Quite the life, this road-tripping business.

I thought back to my off-camera conversation with Hernandez and Gerald Turner. We talked about Turner’s job as a scout for the Braves, and I asked him about his work schedule.

“From January to now,” Turner said, “I have maybe had six days off.”

“And those were probably days it rained,” Hernandez joked.

I posited to Turner that he probably tries to do whatever he can during these months to keep a semblance of normalcy and routine in his daily life. Turner quickly shook his head.

“There’s nothing you can do, man,” he said. “You’re traveling all over the place, you don’t know what the weather’s gonna be, and you don’t know when you might have to turn around and drive all the way across the state.”

A day later, Turner’s answer still surprised me. I could not imagine going months at a time without any kind of structure to my life. I thought of the discipline required to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle while still maintaining one’s health and sanity. I also wondered if the opposite was true: perhaps someone like Turner thrives off unpredictability and lack of structure. After all, he spends his life trying to predict the future, scouting high school and college athletes for a Major League Baseball team. Maybe that lifestyle has seduced him, in a way.

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3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Bill Gates, finding meaning, and giving back

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’ll be honest: I found the coolest story I read this week in an in-flight magazine.

Perhaps I have just been traveling too much.

I have taken two trips, involving six flights, for work in the last two weeks. Eventually I found myself with nothing to read, so I picked up the US Airways in-flight magazine … and I found a gem.

The famed author Andrew Carroll gave the magazine an abridged introduction to his just-released book, Here is There. I found it engrossing. In the article, Carroll recounts a few true but hard-to-believe stories from U.S. history, such as:

  • the time the brother of John Wilkes Booth saved the life of the son of Abraham Lincoln
  • how a group of Confederate rebels tried unsuccessfully to set Manhattan on fire

Carroll is a terrific storyteller, and I have since purchased Here is There and am awaiting its arrival in the mail. I decided to include his abridged introduction as an honorary great story this week, and — believe it or not — the in-flight magazine version can only be found in virtual magazine format online.

So you too can now experience the joys of getting inspired by an in-flight magazine, completing with the ads for two-karat tanzanite rings and indoor kart racing.

Enjoy!

And now, the 3 Great Stories of the week:

Bill Gates: ‘Death is something we really understand extremely well’ (5/17/13, Washington Post Wonkblog): This is a classic example of where a story is best served by a straightforward Q&A format.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein goes in-depth with Bill Gates, still the world’s richest person according to Bloomberg News, about his latest ambitious endeavor: the literal eradication of polio across the globe.

But the interview really gets fascinating when Gates discusses the ways in which different countries treat the reality of death. Some of his assertions are simply haunting, such as the following:

When you’re running a poor country health-care system, you can’t treat a year of life as being worth more than, say, $200, $300 or else you’ll bankrupt your health system immediately. So, with very few exceptions, you do nothing for cancer. If you get cancer, you’re going to die.

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Jason Collins, and why storytellers succeed by breaking routine

He has been analyzed and over-analyzed.

In the past two weeks, a wide swath of writers, bloggers, broadcasters, and pundits have dissected the words of Jason Collins, who became the first American active male pro athlete to come out as gay.

But very few of them have addressed the paragraph that stood out most to me.

It is perhaps an afterthought in light of Collins’ many revelations in his Sports Illustrated article, but early on the NBA center talks about what made him decide to come out now.

Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.

Think about that for a second. Collins essentially put off making a major life decision because he became stuck in a routine.

He is, of course, not the only one. How many times in our lives do we put off potentially troubling decisions because we do not want to break our everyday patterns? After all, thinking critically about oneself is a difficult task; it takes effort, humility, and the ability to admit that our current routines may not always be the correct ones.

We all fall prey to this line of thinking.

And that is why we all should take a cue from Collins.

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3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring a kidney transplant, an NFL war room, and a big move

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.

Telling different kinds of stories requires equally varied ranges of sensitivity. Some require tenderness and care; others require aggression and investigation.

Most stories, no matter what kind, require the attention and discipline to capture the emotions of the parties involved.

This past week, I saw three pieces that stood out because of the storyteller’s ability to convey the emotions of the scene:

Heartwarming gift: Inside a little girl’s kidney transplant (5/6/13, WJW-TV Cleveland): This piece is somewhat simple in scope: the sights and sounds as a teacher donates a kidney to one of her students. Reporter/photojournalist Annette Lawless presents it in documentary form, somewhat; she keeps herself out of it and lets the people speak for themselves.

This is a bold decision … and it really works.

Lawless captures the before, during, and after of the transplant, including many of its powerful moments. But she really shines in terms of presentation: from the time-lapse at the beginning to the quick cuts in the waiting room that transition from scene to scene. With these moves, without saying a word, she drops the viewer right in the world of the story.

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PODCAST EPISODE #2: Ed Kilgore, Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer

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At the end of my latest podcast interview, with my former co-worker and dean of Buffalo sportscasters Ed Kilgore, the former WGRZ-TV sports anchor reminded me of a conversation we once had during a slow moment at work.

Apparently (and I vaguely remember this), I asked Kilgore — in all sincerity — if he felt Tommy Lee Jones had underachieved.

And then, he recalls, we seriously discussed this topic for several minutes.

Such is the spirit of Ed Kilgore. He is a man who enjoys discussion, no matter what the topic. I shared a cubicle with Kilgore during my time at WGRZ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Buffalo, and I always knew I could rope him into a deep conversation if I so desired. Kilgore, like myself, enjoys thinking about and dissecting topics — even a topic as seemingly silly as Tommy Lee Jones’ movie career.

Kilgore joined me for Episode #2 of the Telling the Story podcast. A quick bio: he worked at WGRZ-TV for 40 years before retiring last month. He covered four Super Bowls, the Miracle on Ice, and pretty much every big recent sporting event involving the city of Buffalo. He was inducted in 2010 to the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and he is by far the most famous sports anchor to have graced Western New York.

In the podcast, we touched on very little of this, because the last decade of Kilgore’s broadcasting career was arguably the most interesting in the context of storytelling. He saw his role change, learning how to edit highlights and becoming a force on social media, and experienced a much darker period in Buffalo sports (the NFL’s Bills have not made the playoffs in more than a decade, and the NHL’s Sabres have not played in a Stanley Cup since 1999).

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