Monthly Archives: December 2013

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013, 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.

Having done the “3 Great Stories” segment every week since starting this block in February, I now face the challenge of picking my favorites.

But I have picked them, and here they are.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year last week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite audio/video pieces of 2013, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) Cut and run (11/1/13, Radiolab): This entire segment from NPR’s Radiolab is tremendous, but I will tell you the moment when I truly appreciated the storytelling here:

I had listened to about five minutes of the story, which is essentially a lesson as to why Kenyan runners always dominate long-distance running. The show’s producers and reporters kept teasing out the answer, providing possible (and then debunked) explanations and expressing their own bewilderment, while keeping their real hypothesis in the distance. I was listening while sitting at my computer, and I realized at that moment that, if I really wanted to learn the answer, I could probably just Google it and be done.

But I didn’t want to Google it. I didn’t want to spoil the big reveal. I wanted to stay on the Radiolab ride, because the story until that point had been so interesting and well-told.

Turned out the reveal was pretty great — and also gruesome. Ladies and specifically gentlemen, please do not listen to the back half of this segment on an empty stomach.

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My favorite entries of 2013

From a career standpoint, I will remember many things about 2013.

I did a great deal of traveling, took part in several extraordinary long-form projects, and continued to grow as a journalist and storyteller.

On top of that, I started this blog.

I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to develop the “Telling The Story” blog, particularly because of the dialogue it has generated. I look forward to continuing it as 2013 ends and 2014 begins.

For now, here is a look at my favorite entries from the year that was. I will take next Wednesday off for the new year, and then I will ramp up the content for 2014.

Without further ado, my five favorite pieces from 2013:

Introduction: The Storyteller’s Manifesto — This is the piece that started it all. If you want to know the spirit behind this blog, this is the entry to read.

Ten years later: what I learned (and didn’t learn) at J-school — Upon my ten-year anniversary of my final class at college, I look back on my evolving feelings on what I learned there. This got a lot of reaction from my friends in both the journalism and Northwestern University communities.

The search for Evan Gattis, and the journey of journalism — This is one of those examples of my behind-the-scenes journey as a storyteller. In this case, the journey involves a trip across the state of Texas to tell the story of a rising Major League baseball star.

The Emily Bowman story, and finding honesty amidst heartbreak — Thousands have read this story that looks at another of my pieces for WXIA-TV, this time on the tragic story of a Georgia teen named Emily Bowman. It’s worth a read to learn more about the inner conflicts often faced by journalists.

5 lessons from the Best American Sports Writing of 2013 — I posted this entry earlier this month. Journalists can always learn from other journalists; here, take a look at what I learned from some of the best written work in sports journalism.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013, 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.

Having done the “3 Great Stories” segment every week since starting this block in February, I now face the challenge of picking my favorites.

But I have picked them, and here they are.

I will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year next week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite written pieces of 2013, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) 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 #13: “Best Of” Advice Edition, 2013

Play

This year has been a blast.

Since launching the Telling The Story podcast in April, I have interviewed twelve great journalists and storytellers about their work.

With the year wrapping up, I decided to take a look back.

I compiled some of the best moments from the past year into a “Best Of” advice edition of the Telling The Story podcast. Hear from eight terrific storytellers about their thoughts on what makes a great storyteller, such as:

  • Jon Shirek: my first podcast guest and my co-worker at WXIA-TV in Atlanta
  • Anne Herbst: a versatile news photographer and now assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV in Denver
  • Matt Detrich: a longtime staff photographer at the Indianapolis Star
  • Andrew Carroll: the author of the fascinating new book, Here Is Where
  • Roman Mars: the esteemed host of 99% Invisible, and my most popular podcast guest to date
  • Erin Brethauer: multimedia editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times, and — for a week this year — the overseer of the New Yorker’s Instagram account
  • Tomas Rios: a self-described paid-lance sportswriter whose work has appeared in Slate and Deadspin
  • Rachel Hamburg: a recent graduate of Stanford and the managing editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project

It’s a solid group of storytellers, and they offer some great advice.

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3 GREAT STORIES: On Facebook, journalism, & downtown Atlanta

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.

As the year nears its end, so does this segment — at least in a sense.

This entry is the final 2013 edition of “3 Great Stories” that focuses on original content. In the next two weeks, I will publish my favorite stories of the past twelve months, much as I did during the first six months of the year.

So, without further ado, here are three great stories from last week, a strong week in a very strong year for storytelling:

On second thought … (12/13/13, Slate): If you read this blog regularly, you know I am no stranger to using my life experiences — even my Facebook timeline — as inspiration for entries.

Naturally, I enjoy when other journalists do it, too … especially when they, as I try to do, springboard that inspiration into compelling work that affects a wider audience.

Jennifer Golbeck of Slate’s Future Tense blog does that here. She uses a friend’s question on Facebook — about whether the social media service tracks what you write, even if you don’t post it — and researches her way to a provocative think-piece about user privacy. She finds a study in which the authors, both Facebook employees, freely admit to mining our un-posted writing and using it for their own research.

Golbeck articulates, at her entry’s end, why Facebook users should be alarmed by this:

Facebook studies this because the more its engineers understand about self-censorship, the more precisely they can fine-tune their system to minimize self-censorship’s prevalence. This goal — designing Facebook to decrease self-censorship — is explicit in the paper. So Facebook considers your thoughtful discretion about what to post as bad, because it withholds value from Facebook and from other users. Facebook monitors those unposted thoughts to better understand them, in order to build a system that minimizes this deliberate behavior.

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The death of Nelson Mandela, and the speeding cycle of news

At around 5:00 EST on Thursday, my news feed on Facebook filled up about the same topic.

Nelson Mandela had passed away.

For the next hour or so, friends shared the news of the civil rights leader’s passing; several of them posted a favorite quote or moment from Mandela’s life.

And then, a few hours later, my news feed was virtually Mandela-free.

Everybody seemed to have moved on — mostly to Carrie Underwood and NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music. Nelson Mandela may not have been the last thing on people’s minds, but, it seemed, he was no longer the first.

The next morning, Mandela was no longer the top story when I checked various news updates and home pages.

At that moment, I wondered: Does the news world — heck, the world itself — move too quickly? I was not sure, but I found it hard to believe that the death of an international legend could so swiftly lose its power and impact.

But then, something else arrived.

Stories.

Stories with perspective.

Stories like the pieces I mentioned in my “3 Great Stories” column earlier this week. Stories like the long-form obituaries and personal memories that perhaps got lost in the shuffle when they were initially released.

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3 GREAT STORIES: All about Nelson Mandela

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.

In the days following the passing of Nelson Mandela, I have been extremely impressed with its coverage.

Perspective pieces have come from every direction, with many writers and media outlets stepping up to the challenge of memorializing a man as complex as Mandela.

I could change the name of this column to “12 Great Stories” this week, but instead I will focus on the three that provided unique takes and perhaps were overlooked:

Nelson Mandela: Tribute to an icon (12/5/13, Mail and Guardian Online): The most definitive and thorough coverage of Mandela’s passing has naturally come from his homeland.

The Mail and Guardian Online created an entire site as a tribute to Mandela, an eternal hero in his native land of South Africa. Obviously, with Mandela at 95 years old and recently in failing health, many publications prepared ahead of time for this occasion. In this case, the “Tribute to an icon” site has virtually everything one could want.

This applies to history both past and present.

The site unearths video and photos from decades ago, but it also includes plenty of social media options and guestbooks for South Africans (and others) to leave their memories of Madiba. Combine those elements with powerful articles and essays, and you have unquestionably comprehensive coverage of a national icon.

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5 lessons from the Best American Sports Writing stories of 2013

Eleven years ago, a book about journalism, writing, and storytelling blew my mind.

I was, at the time, a senior in the journalism school at Northwestern University. I loved to read, and I loved to write, so naturally I found my interest piqued when I noticed a certain anthology at the bookstore: the 2002 edition of Best American Sports Writing.

Upon reading the first two articles, I had received enough inspiration to fuel me for the rest of college.

The Best American Sports Writing anthology is a collection of the top written sports stories of a given year, selected by a guest editor noted as a prominent sports journalist. In 2002, that editor was Rick Reilly, and he wrote in his introduction a 10-step advice column for how to become a better writer. I still look at it today when I am in a rut, and I even referenced it this past week in my “3 Great Stories” column.

Following Reilly’s intro was the book’s first selection, an article by Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke entitled “Her Blue Haven”. You can still find it online today.

The article details Plaschke’s correspondence with an LA Dodgers blogger who has cerebral palsy; she writes her blog entries with a head pointer because she cannot harness her hands well enough to type with her fingers.

It is, to this day, one of my all-time favorite stories.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the power of a good headline

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.

In an advice column for journalists published more than a decade ago, Rick Reilly wrote about the importance of the lead. If you don’t grab your audience in your first paragraph, Reilly said, they will not stick around to appreciate all the content that follows.

One could easily extrapolate that concept to include the headline.

These days, headlines are huge. We are bombarded with them and make snap judgments about whether to click on articles based on them. Content providers across the globe are trying to figure out the ways to get their headlines noticed and search-able, let alone just plain interesting.

This week, I present “3 Great Stories” that captured me with their headlines — and then kept me with their content:

Inside the race to rescue a health site, and Obama (11/30/13, New York Times): This is a near-perfect headline.

It sets the stakes for the story — and what high stakes they are! It also sets the standard for the article’s content; a reader can expect right away to be treated to a look behind the tightly closed doors of the White House.

The article does not disappoint. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael D. Shear begin the piece by delving into a critical October meeting in which President Barack Obama was fully alerted to the problems of the Affordable Care Act’s web site. Stolberg and Shear begin their article from a place of major tension, gripping the audience early and holding it for seven web pages worth of paragraphs.

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