Monthly Archives: August 2013

JFK, MLK, and the crafting of a Civil Rights documentary

Rarely, as a local TV news reporter, do I get to spend two weeks on one story.

Rarely does that story get to be eight minutes long.

And rarely do those eight minutes contain an arsenal of powerful interviews from iconic figures.

So, when I received the opportunity to work on such a story earlier this month, I knew it would be special.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With that anniversary comes a documentary from my station in Atlanta, WXIA-TV, called “50 Years of Change”, which looks back on not just the famous march but the other major civil rights events of 1963:

  • the declaration, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” from Alabama governor George Wallace
  • the child protests in Birmingham
  • the nationally televised speech on civil rights from President Kennedy
  • the murder of Medgar Evers a day later
  • the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham
  • the assassination of President Kennedy

It’s an impressive list. (Last week we screened the documentary for local Atlanta leaders, and roughly three-quarters of the way through, one of the attendees turned around in his chair and remarked, “Man, a lot happened in ’63!”)

I was assigned the final story on the above list: the killing of John F. Kennedy, and what that meant for the civil rights movement. I went down to Dallas for a few days to get footage of the famous spots from the assassination (the book depository building, Dealey Plaza). I also interviewed several people who had been in Dallas that day, one of whom was a radio reporter at the time and stood a half-block away from Kennedy when the assassination occurred. Following that trip, I spent several days simply cobbling together old footage and photos — a difficult task, since most of the footage I wanted came with a price tag that exceeded our budget. Finally, I required two days to edit the whole thing, which included several hours reformatting all the old footage so that it looked consistent.

The process was exhaustive — and absorbing. But of all those arduous tasks, the most important thing I did was seemingly the simplest:

Listening.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Mike Bloomberg, SNL, and Finland

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.

Some weeks, I have a hard time finding three great stories to profile in this segment.

Not this week.

Perhaps I just found myself reading a lot more, but I continually found absorbing work on the print side. Beyond that, I also found occasions where traditional media enhanced their content for an online audience.

In a week stacked with memorable content, here were the three pieces that stood out to me:

After Bloomberg (8/20/13, The New Yorker): He is routinely mocked for being bland and boring, but New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is sneakily candid. He regularly weighs in on national topics and critiques the President, among other leaders, and yet he does not get the notoriety for outspokenness that a Chris Christie might receive.

In his final year of office, one would expect, his candidness will lead to numerous in-depth retrospectives — hopefully as memorable as this one.

Ken Auletta of the New Yorker produces this 8,000-word gem about Bloomberg, and it is special because it blends the mayor’s own words with the appropriate context and commentary. Auletta writes with an obvious point of view, but he generally uses it to color Bloomberg’s words, not overpower them. This paragraph is a perfect example:

I asked Bloomberg if he could imagine joining the President’s Cabinet. In theory, he said, “it would be fascinating to be Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, jobs like that. Secretary of the Treasury, you want someone who’s a real economist”—and someone “who is maybe less opinionated.” Bloomberg thinks of himself as a team player, as long as it’s his team.

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PODCAST EPISODE #7: Erin Brethauer, Asheville Citizen-Times photographer & New Yorker Instagrammer

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The New Yorker is typically known — at least in terms of its visuals — for displaying only the highest-brow material.

(After all, this 17-year-old episode of Seinfeld can’t be wrong …)

But the publication is now making waves because of how it utilizes a much more for-the-masses technology.

Check out the New Yorker‘s Instagram account. The magazine has more than 82,000 followers there, and every week its editors hand the reins to a different photographer — one not affiliated with the publication — to spotlight an important cause.

This is where we find the latest guest on the Telling The Story podcast.

I am joined this week by Erin Brethauer. By day, she is the multimedia editor and a staff photographer for the Asheville Citizen-Times. By night, by weekend, and by numerous other times, she puts her photographic hands in numerous other projects.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Erin Brethauer: “Instagram really refreshed the way I was shooting”

True story: Erin Brethauer squeezed in our podcast between a vacation on the beach and an interview with the BBC.

I was surprised when she told me this, but I should not have been.

In the eight months I have known Brethauer, she has always impressed me with her willingness and enthusiasm to take on any challenge. The multimedia editor and staff photographer for the Asheville Citizen-Times, she hit the road with our Gannett Turbovideo squad despite having less than a week’s notice. Through her young career, she has excelled at photography with a variety of cameras, from the traditional to the phone-based.

And her latest achievement?

For one week this month, Brethauer ran the Instagram account for the New Yorker, the prestigious magazine with more than 82,000 Instagram followers.

This week, Brethauer joins me for Episode #7 of the Telling The Story podcast. We discuss the future of photography, her work with the New Yorker, and which cameras are best for which situations.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring The New Statesman and nuance

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.

On a recent trip to my childhood home of New Jersey, I was discussing with my father the ways in which people consume media these days.

He and I do it very differently.

My dad sticks with a few sources and does so very traditionally; he reads the New York Times, subscribes to Time, and watches the news on TV every night. In doing so, he stays well-informed on a variety of issues both local — to the New Jersey/New York area — and national/international. In addition, by skimming each source thoroughly, he often exposes himself to subjects he would have never otherwise seen.

I, on the other hand, am all over the place. I have not subscribed to a physical newspaper in eight years, but I canvas the web for news outlets I respect and subscribe to their RSS feeds. My “newspaper” is basically my Feedly stream, and I check it multiple times a day. I usually find out the rest of the day’s big news, like so many these days, through new-media word of mouth: noticing what my friends and colleagues share on Facebook and Twitter.

I could write a whole column (and perhaps will) about the conversation between my father and me; I love hearing his opinions and comparing our perspectives.

In this case, I thought about it just now as I sat down to write this story. I realized that, in choosing this week’s 3 Great Stories, I had somewhat followed both of our models of media consumption.

In classic new-media fashion, I was tipped last week to a thought-provoking article about John F. Kennedy, written in a magazine I had never previously read: The New Statesman. I enjoyed the article and have included it in the selections below.

But then, based on my enjoyment of the source, I clicked on a link to another column and — similarly to my dad’s reasoning — began reading numerous articles I would have missed had I not visited the site and looked around. I now subscribe to the feed of The New Statesman — an offbeat choice, by the way, in that it is a English magazine that can often be very Brit-specific in its tone and issues. I happened to enjoy the intellectual and nuanced style of writing, appreciating the writers’ abilities to take singular issues and make universal points.

Call it a meld of old- and new-world media consumption. Both mentalities have their merits, and in this case they made for a delightful hour of reading and learning.

The Camelot delusion: John F. Kennedy’s legacy 50 years on (8/15/13, The New Statesman): This was the article that got me hooked. Naturally, it is the one piece from this UK magazine that deals with American affairs.

And, of course, it delves into one of the more widely discussed topics among U.S. historians: the success, failure, and legacy of the JFK presidency.

Nearly a half-century removed from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, historians disagree almost as staunchly on his legacy as they do his murder. Some describe him as a well-meaning crusader who lit the match for greater victories that came after his death. Others call him vastly overrated, a president whose tangible successes never matched his oratory skills and celebrity.

I enjoyed this take on JFK from David Runciman, in which he examines the arguments of several historians and critics while offering his own. He approaches the subject with a distinct opinion but respect for all sides — a novel and appreciated way of writing during this age of histrionics and hemming to one side of an issue.

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Beep baseball, and my two minutes of blindness

It had been a frustrating morning.

Back in May I was made aware of a baseball team in my home city of Atlanta that played every Saturday during the spring. The team was special for a powerful reason: each of its players was deeply visually impaired, if not completely blind.

At the time I anticipated a tremendously moving story, but I could not find a day to shoot it before their season ended. However, I was told, the team — named the Atlanta Eclipse — would be a part of a truly special event in late July: the World Series of beep baseball.

(The sport is called “beep baseball” because the ball beeps, so that the players can hear it.)

I then learned that the World Series would feature 19 teams from around the country, as well as the defending world champions from Taiwan. Beyond that, it would be held in Columbus, Ga., a mere 90-minute drive from Atlanta.

I got excited. The story, I felt, had great potential; I would simply have to cool my heels for two months until the Series arrived.

But now, nearly two months later, I was frustrated.

I had arranged to shoot a practice several weeks before the Series, but the day beforehand I learned that a majority of the players would be unable to attend, for various reasons. I showed up on a rainy Saturday morning to find just three players — along with their aides and the team’s volunteers and coaches.

Because of that, and because of the weather, I did not have much to shoot. I got whatever video I could, but I knew it would pale in comparison to what I would see at the World Series.

Hence the frustration. No one was to blame, but I found myself spending valuable weekend hours on a shoot that had produced disappointingly little.

So I decided to play.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Mark Cuban, Nick Beef, and Phil & Harvey

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 cannot remember the last time I traveled somewhere that had triple-digit weather.

But this past week, I took a two-day jaunt to Dallas for a story about the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was a powerful experience … and hot, definitely hot.

Perhaps I am in a Dallas state of mind, but I chose two Dallas-related stories — one of which indirectly relates to JFK’s assassination — to lead off this week’s “3 Great Stories”. The final story takes us to the Twin Cities for a landmark moment, covered in tremendous fashion by the video wing at the area’s biggest newspaper.

All three stories features wide, multi-dimensional windows into their main characters.

Mystery from the grave behind Oswald’s, solved (8/9/13, New York Times): Among the circles of relevance surrounding JFK’s assassination, Nick Beef probably lands as far from the center as possible.

For nearly half a century, “Nick Beef” has simply been known as the name on the gravestone immediately beside that of Lee Harvey Oswald. No one was sure whether “Nick Beef” was an actual person, let alone whether said person was still alive.

Now, we know.

Nick Beef is alive, and he is actually a self-described “non-performing performance artist” living in New York. He reveals himself to Dan Barry of the New York Times; through Barry’s paragraphs, he comes off as quite the morbid soul.

Something else happens in Barry’s article. Dealing with a subject — the assassination — that has been dissected so many times through the years, Barry examines a man whose own story is relatively unremarkable. The mystery of Nick Beef winds up more fascinating than his emergence.

But Barry does not try to oversell his subject. He simply recounts Mr. Beef’s story in a way that allows us to get to know the man in question, and he solves an age-old mystery in the process.

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Appreciating the English language, thanks to an Austrian funk band

I have been away for a bit on vacation, hiking the spectacular Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy and seeing views like that in the above photo.

(Not bad, huh?)

Of course, as apparently is my penchant when I go away, I came back with great inspiration for a blog entry.

And, much like the last time, the inspiration came from an unlikely source. On my last trip I was inspired by an article in an in-flight magazine. This time, it came from an Austrian funk band.

This band.

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After the hike, my travel buddy and I stopped for a day in Innsbruck, Austria, a vibrant city whose Old Town blends ornate architecture with youthful verve. Part of that verve, during the summer anyway, comes from a series of outdoor concerts such as this one, which I passed on the way to dinner.

By “passed”, I must admit, I mean “stopped at for 30 minutes”.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring frivolity, whimsy, and nostalgia

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’m back.

After two weeks of vacation and four fillinthegap blog posts, I return with fresh Telling The Story content, starting with three great stories from this past week.

And in the spirit of vacation, I have chosen stories on the opposite side of serious.

Perhaps I am speaking too broadly. After all, the stories in question deal with millions of dollars, ancient traditions, and behind-the-scenes heartache. But mostly, these are not front-page matters. They are in-depth looks at lighter fare.

How Bobby Bonilla landed the luckiest baseball contract ever (7/1/13, Celebrity Net Worth): This is one of those stories that actually ran a full month ago — but that I saw last week for the first time.

Bobby Bonilla is a former Major League Baseball star who these days, despite having long ago ended his career, receives a million-dollar check every July from the New York Mets. Sports aficionados know all about the famous contract, but few people know about how it came to be.

Enter Brian Warner of Celebrity Net Worth.

Warner details the behind-the-scenes details of Bonilla’s deal, including the unlikely role of notorious Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. This is not the best-written article you will ever see, but it is informative and thorough. Sometimes, for matters like this, “informative” and “thorough” are what make the difference.

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