Monthly Archives: July 2013

“Telling The Story” podcast guests on: advice for young journalists

I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I figured I would use my usual Wednesday space to put together some of the stronger exchanges and sound bites from the first six episodes of the “Telling The Story” podcast.

Last week, I posted the highlights on the topic of the changing landscape of journalism. This week, I present three segments in which some of the finest storytellers around offer their advice for up-and-comers:

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“Don’t write to be published”: Andrew Carroll is a great writer, which is somewhat amusing, in that he never really intended to be one. But maybe that’s part of what makes him so good; he writes with a unique style (witness his book, Here Is Where), and he talks with that style as well. He uses lively language and crackling words, and here he offers his keys to becoming a stronger writer — namely, to follow your passion and be a great reader.

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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“Find that mentor that scares you”: Anne Herbst can do it all — she has worked as a photographer and a one-woman band for TV stations and the major newspaper in Denver. As such, she gets asked for advice — a lot. Naturally, she was prepared when I posited the question to her here. She talks in this exchange, among other things, about finding a mentor who doesn’t pat you on the back.

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013 (so far), audio/video edition

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 am on vacation — and out of commission — through this week, so I figured I would use these weeks to post “Best Of” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

Last week I posted my three favorite written stories of the year so far. This week, without further ado, my three favorite audio/video pieces from January through June (although, it seems, they are all audio piecces), along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

Jason Collins interview (4/30/13, The B.S. Report): Jason Collins was all over the news in late April, starting with his coming-out announcement on Sports Illustrated’s web site — a wonderfully written and powerful piece in its own right. After it, he did several interviews and was the subject of a slew of articles.

In the process, Collins became an elevated figure. Many of the pieces about him last week talked more about what he represents than who he is.

For me, one interview stood out for going in the opposite direction.

Bill Simmons is, of course, the most popular writer at ESPN and Grantland.com, but he has proven to be a deft and skilled interviewer on his B.S. Report podcast, during which he regularly gets notable subjects to reveal unique insights into themselves. Simmons did a one-hour podcast with Collins the day after his announcement, and it is a seminar on how to conduct an interview. He keeps things light in many spots, chats basketball — including Collins’ ability to bend the rules and frustrate big-name opponents in the process — and does the seemingly impossible in the process: finds out details about Collins’ experience that had not yet been revealed in the tons of articles and columns written the previous day.

A detail that stunned me? Collins got a congratulatory phone call from Tim Hardaway, the former NBA player who once famously said, “I hate gay people.”

Simmons is a polarizing figure in sports media, but he has always been a terrific storyteller. His best attribute? He knows how to connect with people, whether his massive audience or his interview subjects. Here, while everyone else treated Collins as a hero, Simmons treated him as a human … and obtained the most human coverage of Collins as a result.

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“Telling The Story” podcast guests on: changes in journalism

I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I figured I would use my usual Wednesday space to put together some of the stronger exchanges and sound bites from the first six episodes of the “Telling The Story” podcast.

Next week, I will post the highlights on the topic of advice for young journalists and storytellers. This week, here are three segments on the changing landscape of journalism, which is a frequent topic here on the blog:

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“We can be those outsiders, telling a story that’s important”: Jon Shirek was my first guest on the “Telling The Story” podcast, and he remains a storyteller and co-worker who I greatly admire. In this segment, Shirek talks about how storytelling has changed in the past three decades — and how, in his words, we are still “outsiders on behalf of outsiders.”

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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“[The iPhone] does have a role in what we do”: In the aftermath of the Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to fire its photography staff, I called up veteran Indianapolis Star photojournalist Matt Detrich for an honest and insightful discussion of the future of newspaper photography. Detrich spoke mostly of his disappointment in the Sun-Times’ decision, but in this exchange, he did offer some positive words about the potential for the iPhone camera.

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013 (so far), written edition

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 am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I figured I would use those weeks to post “Best Of” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

I will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year so far next week. This week, without further ado, my three favorite written pieces from January through June (although, it seems, they were all written in April), along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

Yearning for the Golden Age in Crisis Coverage … That Never Existed (4/25/13, Sabato’s Crystal Ball): Larry Sabato is the director for the center of politics at the University of Virginia.

The man can also craft a good Tweet.

He got my attention in April when he Tweeted this one-liner: “Think coverage of Boston bombing was bad? JFK assassination coverage was worse.”

That line provides the premise, and Sabato’s article delivers.

The doctor, most known for predicting election results, goes into detail about the CBS broadcast after President Kennedy’s assassination; he documents the misinformation CBS and Walter Cronkite reported as well as the general behind-the-scenes madness. It’s an educational read for those who long for the good ol’ days of news coverage.

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15 seconds or less: Meditations and ruminations on online video

Here are, for your consideration, some anecdotes and observations from the past few weeks:

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While out on a story several weeks ago, I met a reporter for a local Patch.com site; Patch is a web-based news operation brought to you by the folks at AOL. This reporter had her cell phone out, prepared to use it as a video camera.

We talked briefly about online video, and she made the following statement:

“My editors tell me my video can’t be any longer than 15 seconds. Anything longer than that, and people won’t watch.”

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While out on a different story, I met a newspaper reporter who is investing his time in a video piece to put online. He has spent many days, often on weekends, investing in a mini-documentary that currently stands at ten minutes. He said he will likely finish the piece in the next few months.

The only problem? He cannot find anyone who wants to use it — or, more specifically, any media outlet that knows what to do with it.

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A non-industry friend and I were recently discussing my job, and she asked if I treated my stories differently depending on which show would use it. In other words, would I tell a story for the 11 pm news differently than I would tell that same story for our morning show?

I said, while I did make certain concessions and alterations for the show-specific audiences, I ultimately had to assume that the story would see its greatest interaction online. For the most part, web readers and viewers do not care about the show in which the story ran; they watch the story independently of that.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The printed, foreign affairs edition

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.

After submitting three local TV news features for your approval last week, I wondered, “What would be the complete opposite of such stories in the media realm?”

My decision: print stories about international affairs.

(Granted, I did not spend too much time on this question. And that means one of you readers may correct me on whether these are indeed the “complete opposite”, a la George’s salmon-tuna situation on Seinfeld.)

As George would say, “Good for the tuna.”

In the meantime, check out the masterful storytelling — and, in one case, story-obtaining — in these three pieces from last week.

Bin Laden raid reveals ‘state failure’ (7/9/13, Al-Jazeera.com): Here is that example of story-obtaining, and it is a biggie.

The investigative unit at Al-Jazeera received a copy of a report, commissioned by the Pakistani government, to determine how Osama bin Laden could live in Pakistan for nearly nine years undetected.

Like any modern-day journalistic outfit, they take the correct first step and make the entire report available for viewing online. But beyond that, this piece by writer Asad Hashim — one of nearly a dozen that accompanied the release of the report — details the report’s blunt words about the government’s incompetence throughout bin Laden’s time in the country. The commission even coined a phrase for it: “Governance Implosion Syndrome.”

The commission’s report is scathing; give credit to Hashim and the Al-Jazeera crew for distilling it into manageable, yet quite shocking, terms.

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PODCAST EPISODE #6: Roman Mars, 99% Invisible Podcast

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The great thing about the 99% Invisible podcast is that feels like a well-kept secret — even as it has risen the ranks to become one of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes.

Seemingly improbably, Roman Mars has created and built a beautiful podcast that discusses the virtues of design and architecture — visual subjects that are tackled in audio form. It is a tricky challenge, but Mars and his team regularly prove worthy of it, captivating their audience with vignettes about subjects like city streets, slot machines, and — most perplexingly, from my vantage point — rebar.

In the process, Mars has developed a reputation as “the Ira Glass of design”, and that reputation is warranted — to a point. As a listener of both, I feel like Mars has developed his own persona, with more asides and unbridled enthusiasm. Both are terrific, and Mars is quickly becoming just as popular as Glass, recently launching the highest-funded journalism project in Kickstarter history.

I was honored to interview Mars for the sixth episode of the “Telling The Story” podcast. We tackle numerous subjects, including:

  • The future of podcasts: “I don’t think we have saturated the podcast market in the slightest. My most popular web page is the web page where I recommend other podcasts.”
  • The difference (if any) between journalism and storytelling: “I like to think of it as, ‘I have a column about design.’ So I have a fact-based opinion column. To me, it’s honest in that way.”
  • How to convey the beauty of design and architecture: “You kind of have to seduce the audience to care about this thing that they have been trained to not notice. Most of the good design in the world is good because you don’t think about it.”

I highly recommend this episode, especially for younger journalists looking for storytelling tips; Mars provides several important ones. I was honored to have him as a guest.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Roman Mars: “I think of Jon Stewart as a model host”

If you are a young journalist or storyteller, looking for a career path to emulate, Roman Mars likely is not your guy.

In fact, his path to success — and he has had enormous success in recent years — has been quite rare.

Rare is the person who can study science in college and spend years clawing his way into documentaries and public radio while holding down odd jobs to make money.

Rare is the person who become an independent storytelling entity as a podcaster … and raise gobs of money from fans to expand his vision.

And rare is the person who can turn an upstart radio segment about design and architecture into one of the most popular, respected podcasts on the planet.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Long live the local news feature

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.

Confession: I love watching a good local TV news feature.

Whereas many stories on television are so serious, these stories bring the levity. Also, because they deal with lighter topics, they often bring out more creative storytelling, since  reporters and photojournalists can have a bit more fun with them.

Enjoy the following three features — partly for their storytelling, but also because they will likely make you smile.

Frankfort senior’s dream of flying takes flight (7/4/13, WKYT-TV):  I did not love everything about this story. Specifically, I did not love the first 90 seconds. Reporter Sean Moody and photojournalist John Wilson tell a perfectly fine story about a senior citizen who reminisces beautifully about her departed husband.

It is an OK start but not totally unfamiliar ground and not particularly memorable.

And then the hot-air balloon comes in.

You quickly learn that the senior in question, Jean Broome, has been offered the opportunity — by her nursing home — to ride in a hot-air balloon; it is her “next trip” after taking so many adventures with her husband. Then the photography gets gorgeous, the writing gets truly poignant, and the personality of the story’s subject comes out in droves.

Again, the first minute-and-a-half of this story is fine on its own. But the last two minutes are outstanding, and the feature as a whole will absolutely warm your heart.

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The Emily Bowman story, and finding honesty amidst heartbreak

It was pitched to me as a heart-warming story.

When I walked in the door last Thursday at WXIA-TV, I learned my producers had already lined up my assignment. I would head out to Woodstock, Ga. — roughly 40 minutes northwest of Atlanta — and cover the homecoming of 19-year-old Emily Bowman, who had spent the last four months in the hospital.

Bowman, a student at nearby Kennesaw State University, spent three weeks in a coma after being hit by a drunk driver back in February. She made small improvements in the following months, while police arrested the young man who they believe crashed into her.

Now, she was coming home — and we would be there to document it.

In the morning meeting, producers described the story with words like “great”, “beautiful”, and “uplifting”. On the surface, these words seemed to be accurate; Emily’s friends and family had been eagerly awaiting her return, and a local charity had even remodeled her home to make it wheelchair-accessible. We pictured all the wonderful potential moments that would touch our viewers’ hearts.

And then, one of my fellow reporters raised her hand and interjected.

“You guys know she can’t walk or talk, right?”

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