Monthly Archives: January 2014

MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Some final thoughts before Sochi

From the beginning, I knew it was going to be different.

The 2014 Winter Olympics have long carried a different air about them than the 2010 Games. I covered those Olympics in Vancouver, and I remember my anticipation for how they would unfold. I expected a madcap, dizzying three weeks in Canada, featuring daily discoveries and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Sure enough, within days I was chronicling the local foodspotting NBC celebrities, and wholly enjoying the long days and crazy hours.

Here is what I wrote back then:

This is one of those assignments where you know exactly what you are signing up for when you accept it. You know the days are going to be long, the free time is going to be short, and the days off are going to be none. But you also know you are going to have an amazing, unique experience and receive access most would crave.

If those Olympics were wild and free, these Olympics appear to be anything but.

This time, I thought I knew exactly what I was signing up to do, especially since I had already done it once before. But this time, the Olympics are in Russia, not Canada. This time, the Games were preceded months in advance by controversy surrounding the Russian government, from its policies on gay rights to its behind-the-scenes machinations involving the Games.

And this time, most disturbingly, the Olympics have been besieged by threats of terrorism.

A quick Google search shows how serious these Games have become.


3 GREAT STORIES: Starring sparkling photos and an OKCupid genius

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 my final edition of “3 Great Stories” before I leave for the Olympics, I decided to keep it simple.

“Simple”, as in two beautiful photo albums and one enjoyable, quirky story.

In all cases, these stories should stop you in your track.

Sochi’s indigenous people (1/22/14, Big Picture): So many terrific pieces — and some terrifying ones — have been written about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

This photo album from the Big Picture (shot by photographers from Reuters) finds a unique, powerful angle.

Here are 23 photos of Sochi villagers, and they capture everyday life in a poignant manner; call it “Russian Gothic”. You will see a elderly woman with her great-granddaughter, a pair of animal farmers, villagers looking at artwork and watching a play rehearsal, and even a man taking a photo with an iPhone (it’s not all Gothic in Sochi).

Considering all we know about the place that will host the Olympics in two weeks, I found this gallery refreshing because it showed me what I did not know.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: A tale of two Atlanta bosledders

The state of Georgia, with its scorching summers, may not seem like a hotbed of the bobsled.

And yet, in the past five years, the Peach State has produced two of America’s best.

Getting to know them has been a fascinating part of my Olympics journey.

I met Elana Meyers in 2009, months before she won the bronze medal in bobsled in the 2010 Winter Games. I followed her through the journey, from training in Lake Placid through her post-medal celebration in Vancouver. I interviewed family members and learned a great deal about her path to Olympic success.

But in the past four years, I have received a fuller picture.

Meyers is an active presence on Twitter and in the blogosphere. In fact, so are many of her teammates and fellow Olympians. And these athletes, unlike those in the major American sports, use their online platform to go into great detail about their lives.

And the lives of winter sports athletes are extremely atypical — and, some might say, full of contradictions.

First, consider this: Athletes like Meyers are professionals and among the best in the world at their sports. They shine on the world’s largest stage every four years; they receive access to some of the most advanced sporting equipment and technology; and they get to travel the world annually during their sports’ seasons.

Now, consider this: Athletes like Meyers often have to work part-time jobs to raise money for extra gear. They have a six-month off-season in which many study at online universities for their degrees. They rarely receive endorsements, have to hunt for sponsors, and, except for the Olympics, toil in anonymity despite their elite level of competition.

Perhaps that’s why athletes like Meyers put themselves out there online. They offer a window to anyone who is interested into their truly unique existences.


3 GREAT STORIES: Starring travel, salt flats, and a loyal soldier

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.

What is the most effective way to inform others about travel?

Is it through a photo gallery? A beautifully written essay? A video?

As the media landscape keeps trending toward multimedia and interactive storytelling, storytellers of all genres are presented with the challenge of mastering it all. Perhaps one story is best told through the written word, perhaps another through audio or video, and yet another as a combination.

This is particularly true with travel stories, where the visuals are often stunning but the experiences are often complex and powerful.

Take a look at two different ways of telling similar stories, along with one heartfelt memorial to a “ragged soldier”:

Impossible Rock (January 2014, National Geographic): Here is what you might call the “traditional” way to tell a travel story.

Mark Synnott of National Geographic documents his journey to the top of a mountain in Oman with a pair of twenty-somethings; all three are avid climbers, though Synnott fills his pack with a little more trepidation.

For me, Synnott is most effective in this piece when describing the non-climbing parts of the trip, such as his interplay with the locals. Within these asides and vignettes are moments that could not possibly be fully captured with a photo. They are best told verbally.

He describes the hike with similar gusto, but here I really benefited from the story’s attached photo gallery. (I am assuming, of course, that photos were featured far more prominently in the magazine story than they are online.) A link in the top left corner of the page directs the reader to the work of photographer Jimmy Chin, whose dramatic snapshots truly drive home the daring nature of the climbers.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Preparing for Sochi, remembering Vancouver

I have some exciting news to share.

In a few weeks, I depart to Sochi to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics.

I have known about this for a few months, but only in the past few weeks has it truly started to feel real. I will be representing my station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, as well as other stations in the Gannett family. We received our press passes and flight schedule in the mail this past week, and we have started to discuss in-depth how we will cover this gargantuan event.

As I look forward to the Olympic experience, I cannot help but think back to my last one.

In 2010 I was one of several journalists selected by our company to cover the Vancouver Olympics. I had arrived in Atlanta less than a year earlier, and I remember my sincere shock in being given the Olympic assignment.

The experience exceeded my expectations.

Nearly four years since, here is what stands out:


3 GREAT STORIES: The “riding the wave of long-form writing” edition

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.

Seems like the pendulum, in the written world, is heading back towards long-form journalism.

Major web sites — including ones that generally traffic in web clicks, like Slate and BuzzFeed — have devoted entire sections to long reads. One web site even calls itself “LongReads” and commits itself strictly to long-form work.

This excites me. I have made plain my love for this brand of storytelling.

But I especially appreciate its current, if brief, resurgence, because it comes at a time of quick hits, snippets, and an overall overload of online content.

Here now, three great long-form stories from this past week:

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet (1/6/14, Pacific Standard): This article has been getting a lot of attention this week … and rightly so.

Amanda Hess dives into the topic of Internet abuse, specifically as it relates to women, who receive a disproportionately high amount of it. She mixes her own experience with those of countless other female journalists and bloggers; she exposes the potential logistical issues in reporting abuse and counteracting it; and she buttresses everything with sobering statistics.

Consider this paragraph, where Hess breaks down what one might experience should she bring her claims of abuse to the police:

The Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, whether you are in London or Palm Springs, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction. And your cop will probably be a man: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2008, only 6.5 percent of state police officers and 19 percent of FBI agents were women. The numbers get smaller in smaller agencies. And in many locales, police work is still a largely analog affair: 911 calls are immediately routed to the local police force; the closest officer is dispatched to respond; he takes notes with pen and paper.


The toughest question to answer for college journalists

It never fails.

Whenever I speak to a group of young journalists or communications students, I always receive a question or two that either stump me or touch me emotionally.

This past week, I had the pleasure of conducting a leadership forum for scholars of the Posse Foundation. The organization provides scholarships and support for up-and-coming leaders who, as they put it, “might have been overlooked by traditional college selection processes.” I spoke at the winter conference for Posse’s Atlanta chapter, spending nearly an hour with a few dozen students interested in communications as a whole.

I offered my advice for how to get ahead, answered important questions about how to network and build a strong portfolio, and had a genuinely interesting back-and-forth with a group of students who, I believe, will be quite successful in their chosen fields.

But, I found, the toughest questions they asked had nothing to do with how to “make it” or “get ahead”.

They dealt with how to balance one’s life in the process.

First, a student asked the following: “Since you work in such a stressful business, how do you still manage to have a life and not let work run your life?”

It’s a great question — and a difficult one to answer.


3 GREAT STORIES: The “back from break, no more lists” edition

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.

Lists. They’re everywhere.

And never are they more everywhere than at the end of a year.

This past week, submerged in a sea of year-end lists from my favorite media outlets, web sites, and blogs, I mused the following on Twitter:

I quickly received a response from a viewer who assured me, yes, someone had indeed created such a list (at least for music).

I, of course, am just as responsible for the year-end list-mania as anyone. And I am not by any means against it; I appreciate the opportunity to look back on a year’s worth of great work, be it in music, movies, writing, or journalism.

But I also like when everyone gets back to work and starts creating again.

Here are three stories, from this past week, to start your year off right (even if they are all from the end of last year):



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