Monthly Archives: June 2013

PODCAST EPISODE #5: Andrew Carroll, author, “Here Is Where”

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To this point, the Telling The Story podcast has focused on short-form storytellers.

I have interviewed a multimedia journalist, a former sports anchor, a television photographer, and a newspaper photographer. Each person produces his or her work quickly, usually on deadline, in the often ephemeral format of daily media.

Not this guest.

Andrew Carroll joins me on the fifth episode of the Telling The Story podcast. He is a two-time New York Times best-selling author who has just released a mammoth, 450-page tome called Here Is Where, which tells a giant handful of forgotten stories from America’s history. In researching and putting together this book, Carroll has produced a phenomenal piece of storytelling.

I wrote about Here Is Where several weeks ago in a book review that focused both on Carroll’s storytelling and his themes. The book left me spellbound by its conclusions about the role of history in present society.

Here is what I wrote at the time:

Here Is Where is absolutely worth a read. It is the first book I can remember that captivated me with its content while truly making me think about larger, cosmic concepts and connecting me with history in a way that seemed real and palpable.

Carroll is nearly as good a podcast guest as he is a storyteller. In the podcast, we cover a ton of ground, touching on a variety of subjects including:

  • The importance of history, and particularly these forgotten stories: “There are still all these great stories around us, and they connect us in ways we don’t even realize.”
  • The best advice he was ever given: “Don’t write to be published. Write because you love to write. Write because it changes your view of the world. Write because it makes you more attentive to what’s around you.”
  • On the pros and cons of modern media: “I do wonder overall how much the art of conversation is being lost … because the art of conversation is so much a part of writing.”

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Andrew Carroll: “Every writer has to be a reader”

If there is such a thing as the Telling the Story Blog trifecta, Andrew Carroll has completed it.

I first mentioned the author and his book, Here Is Where, on my 3 Great Stories segment.

Then, after reading the book last month, I wrote a commentary in the form of a review about the masterpiece he had produced.

Now, I am proud to introduce Carroll as my latest guest on the Telling the Story podcast.

Carroll is a two-time New York Times best-selling author whose most recent work, Here Is Where, is a look at the forgotten stories from America’s history. The author road-tripped across — and even beyond! — the continental United States to fulfill the mission.

Come back to tellingthestoryblog.com Wednesday at 8 AM to hear the full podcast with myself and Carroll. We talk about a variety of subjects, delving into the overarching themes of his book and examining the storytelling process one chooses when facing the mountainous challenge of writing a 450-page book.

Carroll also offers his advice for young writers. His first pearl of wisdom? If you want to write well, you need to read. A lot.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring #Skywire, Stephen Colbert, & raw emotion

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 a mentor who scoffs at the idea that certain stories are considered “emotional” while others are not.

“Every story is about emotion,” she says.

One of the toughest parts of my job on a daily basis is capturing raw emotions in a story. People behave differently when they know their actions are being recorded, especially but not necessarily by a camera (people modify their behavior in front of a writer with a pen and paper, as well).

This week, I use this space to celebrate three great stories from last week that gave people glimpses into raw emotion — three very different types of emotions.

Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda (6/23/13, Discovery Channel): A big part of me simply does not get the ultimate point of events like Skywire Live, other than as a chance to say to everyone, “Look at what we can do.”

(Thank you for indulging the Sports Night reference … my favorite unsung TV show of the 90’s.)

That said, when Nik Wallenda did his Skywire walk across the Grand Canyon, he instantly mesmerized more than a million people who tuned in to watch, be it on the air or online.

Part of the draw is, of course, the suspense of whether or not Wallenda would make it across. But that is only a fraction of the equation; after all, I think most people assumed deep down he would make it, or why would the Grand Canyon and the Discovery Channel put so much money and muscle behind it?

More than that, I think people wanted to see a seemingly ordinary person do an extraordinary feat.

During the event, my Twitter feed featured all sorts of comments about the event. Some folks marveled about Wallenda’s wardrobe, mainly that he wore blue jeans to conquer the Canyon. Others commented on the number of times Wallenda thanked Jesus during the proceedings. Still others loved the interplay between Wallenda and his dad.

Wallenda bared himself to the world, and in doing so — and by doing a remarkable stunt — he became an instant celebrity.

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Newspaper photographers, and how the Sun-Times, iPhones, & Internet relate

An interesting discussion took place on Twitter after I posted my most recent podcast.

I interviewed Matt Detrich, a staff photographer for 15 years with the Indianapolis Star, about the role of traditional photography in the changing newspaper landscape. The podcast seemed especially relevant since, a few weeks earlier, the Chicago Sun-Times fired all of its photographers. Newspaper officials will instead rely on freelancers to cover major events and reporters to shoot photos and video with their phones.

Said Detrich, among other things: “I really can’t wrap my head about why they would dismantle one whole department … and such a special department for a newspaper.”

A few days later, Tom Spalding — a former Indy Star employee and current board member at Indy Social Media, a social media web site — Tweeted this:

Fourteen minutes later, Spalding’s fellow Indy Social Media board member Chris Theisen responded with this:

That led to the following exchange between Detrich, Thiesen, and Spalding:

My response to each of these Tweets? I agree.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The NBA Finals, and innovation in sports coverage (Part 2)

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 year’s NBA Finals have been outstanding.

How? Let me count the ways.

  1. Two great teams: the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs
  2. The individual stars (LeBron James, Tony Parker, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, and more!) with legacies on the line
  3. The role players stepping up and performing wondrous feats of strength
  4. The seemingly endless number of storylines popping up every night
  5. The series’ complete lack of predictability

Simply put, the Heat and Spurs have given us a classic NBA Finals so far.

They have also compelled the sport’s numerous journalists and bloggers to step up their game.

With great moments come great opportunities for innovative and memorable journalism. I already used this space last week to show how sports coverage has both improved and diversified with the advent of the Web. The great work continued this past week, so I decided to provide an encore of great — and inventive — reporting of this year’s NBA Finals.

Experience LeBron James’ block on Tiago Splitter in 24 different ways (6/10/13, TheScore.com): If you are even a casual sports fan, you probably saw what has fast become one of the most famous blocked shots in NBA history.

Click on the link to this story, and you can immerse yourself in LeBron James’ famous block.

People always talk about how, in today’s media landscape, we have so many options that we do not really unify over big moments anymore. But the diverse landscape also allows us to magnify those moments. This article from The Score’s basketball blog, The Basketball Jones, exemplifies this by compiling the various photos, videos, and angles of James’ block into one mammoth, defining blog entry.

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PODCAST EPISODE #4: Matt Detrich, staff photographer, Indy Star

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Last month, a group of work colleagues and I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The museum features numerous exhibits, many of which are both informative and absorbing. But one exhibit stood out above all:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning photos.

On the first floor of the Newseum, one can see “the most comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos ever assembled,” according to the museum’s web site. It is an impressive sight: iconic photographs, one after the other, often as chilling as they are impressive.

We all loved the Pulitzer exhibit. We all stood spellbound at the gallery for far longer than we expected. Deep down, I think, journalists truly appreciate the value of the photograph.

And then, there’s this.

As the month of May came to a close, management at the Chicago Sun-Times made the decision to lay off its entire photography staff. They would instead rely on national feeds, freelancers, and reporters who would shoot photos with their camera-phones.

Is this a one-time thing or a sign of the times? Regardless, the landscape is undoubtedly changing for the newspaper photographer.

That brings us to this week’s Telling The Story podcast.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Matt Detrich: “My stomach just dropped” when the Sun-Times fired its photographers

In the world of journalism right now, there is one big story.

And it is this.

The Chicago Sun-Times shocked the newspaper world when it laid off its entire photography staff last month. It left many photographers feeling both disrespected and misunderstood.

It also left many wondering what could become of their jobs.

This seemed like a great topic for the fourth episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

Matt Detrich is a staff photographer with the Indianapolis Star; he has worked there for 15 years. Like most photographers I know — heck, like most journalists I know — he takes an awful lot of pride in his work. Now, however, he is incorporating the iPhone into his work; he is shooting video in addition to photos; and he is proactively changing with the times, sometimes against his purist heart.

“My stomach just dropped,” Detrich said, when he heard the news about the Sun-Times.

Come back to tellingthestoryblog.com Wednesday at 8 AM to hear the full podcast with myself and Detrich. We dig deep about the Sun-Times’ decision, the transition to a more immediate and web-based industry, and the misconceptions about a photographer’s day-to-day life.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The NBA Finals, and innovation in sports coverage

 

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.

When in doubt, sports shall guide us.

At least, sports journalists often do a great job of leading the way in terms of innovative storytelling.

I will confess: I am an unabashed basketball junkie. As the NBA Finals kicked off last week, I found myself reading a high volume of basketball-related content. I could not help but notice the numerous ways in which journalists, bloggers, and statisticians are now covering the sport online.

It’s a beautiful thing, really.

People watch sports with a variety of motives, and the Internet landscape now caters to all of them. To be sure, one can still go to ESPN.com, SI.com, or  Yahoo! Sports and take in the NBA Finals for its more overarching topics: Who are the heroes and goats? What does the series mean for the individual legacies of players like LeBron James and Tim Duncan? What does it mean to their teams, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, and their respective fan bases?

But what about the other fans? Many crave new-school statistics and analytics in their coverage; they now have many options. Many love to compare today’s game to that of the past; they too can find many resources on the Web.

And finally, many basketball fans — like me — love the playoffs because they turn the sport into a total chess match. Coaches adjust their game plans; players adapt to different match-ups; and fans can enjoy the whole thing on a macro or micro level if they so desire.

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BOOK REVIEW: Andrew Carroll’s “Here Is Where” is haunting, enlightening, and beautiful

I never would have guessed that an in-flight magazine would lead to one of the most thought-provoking reading experiences in my life.

But here I am, thoroughly moved by the new book, Here Is Where, by Andrew Carroll — and I owe it all to US Airways Magazine.

I mentioned three weeks ago how I picked up the in-flight mag out of boredom and wound up reading — and being engrossed by — the abridged introduction to Carroll’s latest book. Here Is Where, he offered, would detail the forgotten stories that make up the fabric of America; Carroll traveled to the sites and cities where each of these stories took place.

I got home that night, purchased Here Is Where, and started reading it while on vacation last week. I finished it last night, having wolfed down chapters like Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

And, unlike after eating a dozen Krispy Kremes, I feel energized, hungry, and genuinely moved.

I originally purchased Carroll’s book for two reasons. The first? His ability to craft an absorbing story. Carroll lured me in with his introduction, teasing me with details and rewarding me with a solid pay-off; I knew I would be in for a treat, no matter the topic.

And I was right. Carroll is a phenomenal storyteller, and he elevates certain anecdotes simply on the strength of his writing. I especially found this in his chapter about a not-so-famous airplane hijacking in the mid-1970s, which played a large part in the creation of many of the air travel security measures in place today. Carroll keeps peppering the tale with surprises, turning an already interesting story into one of the book’s most memorable. Even some of his throwaway bits work, like when he gets a speeding ticket and wonders who came up with the idea for cruise control — only to find the answer later in the chapter, thanks to his research.

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3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Finding characters and dissecting cereal boxes

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.

Towards the end of last week’s podcast with KDVR photojournalist Anne Herbst, the two-time NPPA Regional Photographer of the Year offered this piece of advice to young journalists about storytelling:

“I’ll get these really wonderfully shot stories … and I don’t care about them at all because there’s not a compelling person,” Herbst said. “You can have all these pretty shots of mountains and sunsets, but in the end what you remember is the person and the story.”

With that in mind, I selected several stories this week that thrived because they found a great person within them. The authors do not provide a whole lot of flair in their storytelling; instead, they let their characters do most of the talking. And because they do, their stories shine.

(Oh, and if that’s not your bag, I also chose an enjoyable, semi-fascinating story about cereal boxes …)

Raising the flag in Bethel Acres after tornadoes (5/28/13, KFOR-TV): Here’s a bonus story from the Moore, Okla. tornado — a topic I covered in last week’s 3 Great Stories.

But this story is as good as they come.

Reporter Sara Celi mostly hangs in the background here, putting the focus on the people of Bethel Acres, specifically a staff sergeant of the Air Force who walks stoically at the start of the story, clutching an American flag in his hand.

His name is Alan Burch. His quest, to hang and fly the flag in the middle of the wreckage, is beautiful — as is the show of support from the community members who aid him.

Photographer Norris Kyles documents the action step by step as Burch and his team accomplish their mission. Then he cuts to a shot of Burch saluting Old Glory. In that shot, Burch’s trademark stoicism gives way to a swell of pride in his eyes. It’s a touching moment.

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