Monthly Archives: April 2014

PODCAST EPISODE #17: Ryan Shmeizer, on why we love lists

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I know you can’t help it.

I can’t help it, either.

I am a journalist by trade, a person who values the craft and importance of storytelling, and a big believer in complex, rich reporting … and I can’t help it.

I always click on lists.

You know the articles: “6 Great Moments in Seinfeld History”, “The 27 Best Foods for a Picnic”, “32 Reasons To Love Summer”. These days, lists populate the web.

That is because we click on them.

My guest on this edition of the Telling The Story podcast explains why.

Ryan Shmeizer is not a professional journalist. He is a venture capitalist in New York who only recently decided to display his writing for the world.

And on his first try, he scored big.

Writing on the Medium platform, Shmeizer wrote a piece called, 10 Reasons You Will Read This Medium Post”. One by one, he delineated the reasons why we click on lists and then read them to completion.

The article was quickly named an Editor’s Pick on Medium and proceeded to go relatively viral. I recently mentioned it as one of my 3 Great Stories of the week.

On the podcast, Shmeizer offers the same insight and analysis as he does in his writing. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Atlanta, U.S. cities, & uniforms

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.

I have always found American cities majestic.

Recently, I have often wondered how they got here.

For example, could we today build another New York City, specifically, the spectacle of bunched skyscrapers known as Manhattan? Probably not, right? Modern cities — meaning those growing in the age of the automobile — spread outward, not upward.

I am fascinated by this stuff. I am reading a great book right now called Regime Politics, by Clarence N. Stone. It discusses how Atlanta’s city government and business elite worked together to transform the city during the latter half of the 20th century. Since I live in Atlanta and, as a journalist, often examine its strengths and weaknesses, I have found myself fully engaged by this book.

Here are three great stories from last week in journalism, all of which — at least partially — answer the question: How do cities work?

How to fall in love with your city (4/22/14, Bitter Southerner): I’ll admit it: This story warmed my Atlanta heart.

A friend recently turned me on to the Bitter Southerner, a new web site that publishes one article a week about Southern culture. The articles share two traits:

1) They focus on a positive, uplifting part of the South, a region that often gets negatively stereotyped.

2) They look gorgeous.

I enjoyed the site’s story two weeks ago about Atlanta Braves great Hank Aaron, and I found myself captivated again this week. Writer Chuck Reece examines the #weloveatl Instagram movement, which has encouraged numerous Atlantans to submit more than 50,000 photographs that showcase what makes the city great.

The movement is powerful; so is Reece’s well-written and well-presented story. (more…)

5 lessons learned from 5 years reporting in Atlanta

Last week I celebrated a very special anniversary:

My Atlanta-versary.

I have officially lived and worked in Atlanta, Ga. for five years. I have not lived anywhere this long since high school, and I have enjoyed the chance to truly settle down and plant roots in a major U.S. metropolis.

(That chance, by the way, is by no means a guarantee when one dives into the field of broadcast journalism. I have appreciated that fact from the moment I arrived in ATL.)

In both journalism and life, my time in Atlanta has been pivotal.

My first few TV jobs came with a seemingly endless variety of responsibilities and opportunities. I worked in both news and sports, filled numerous roles in each department, learned my strengths and weaknesses, and developed my identity as a journalist and storyteller.

When I was offered a job at WXIA-TV in Atlanta, I noticed a few obvious differences. I would only work in news, not sports, and I would be surrounded by a staff of veteran journalists, most of whom largely served specific roles had logged far more miles than their newest colleague.

My life outside the newsroom also changed dramatically. Always one to explore the regions where I lived, I found myself bombarded by the excitement of a bustling big-market city. Even five years later, Atlanta never fails to keep me busy and engaged, with opportunities to blossom socially and civically.

Combine those changes with the natural maturity of an adult in his late 20’s and 30’s, and it adds up to an invaluable half-decade in the Peach State.

So what exactly have I learned? I could never fit it all into one article, but here are five major lessons from the last five years that have strengthened my work as a journalist: (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring FSU, lists, & Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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.

The only obviously common thread between the three stories below is that they were all written.

I offer no TV pieces this week, nor anything from radio or video. I have selected three pieces that appeared on the Internet this week; one is the online edition of a print story, one is a web exclusive, and one is a republished magazine interview from 33 years ago.

The only other common thread? They are all insightful and memorable.

A star player accused, and a flawed rape investigation (4/16/14, New York Times): Wow.

This is how you research, write, and present a piece of investigative journalism.

Instantly one of the most widely spread articles of the week, Walt Bogdanich’s in-depth look at the Jameis Winston rape investigation produces incendiary highlights throughout. From interviews with relevant parties to a timeline of the events in question, Bogdanich offers a thorough look at what was done — and what was missed — throughout the aftermath.

No wonder the article has invoked such a reaction — both from Florida State, where Winston just led the football team to a national title, and from readers, many of whom followed the Winston coverage intently last fall. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #16: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press

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This is a story of faith.

Not religious faith, mind you. Not “the Cubs will one day win the World Series” kind of faith.

This is about Field of Dreams-type faith … the faith that, “If you build it, they will come.”

In this story, “you” is Brian Kaufman, a 31-year-old, Emmy Award-winning photographer and videographer for the Detroit Free Press.

“It” refers to his remarkable, nearly single-handedly produced documentary, “Packard: The Last Shift”, which premiered last month at the inaugural Freep Film Festival.

“Building” that documentary took four years … and a whole lot of faith.

The Packard Plant, the subject of Kaufman’s documentary, is a former auto manufacturing factory in Detroit that has been abandoned for years. It has become a city landmark, both in the negative (a blight on the city, a once-beautiful building wasting away) and positive (a haven for artists, a visual masterpiece). It has recently been at the center of a whole lot of news.

Kaufman arrived in Detroit in 2008, having (like most of us) never heard of the Packard plant. But he became smitten by its story and its twisted beauty.

So he went there. And he shot video. And then he went back, over and over again, with no promise that his material would ever find an audience — all while handling a fast-paced daily workload at the Free Press.

Kaufman’s commitment turned into a dynamic long-form story in 2012, but he knew he had more to offer. When the Free Press last year announced its intentions to host a film festival, it knew exactly where to turn for an original production.

Kaufman is my guest on the latest episode of the “Telling The Story” podcast. You will be amazed by his technical know-how, but you will be inspired by his perseverance, which resulted in a tremendous accomplishment: a riveting, powerful, 70-minute documentary that stemmed from one person’s vision.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring animals and David Letterman

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.

Being assigned a local TV news feature story about animals is like starting Monopoly with an extra $2,000 and three “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

Basically, you’re a mile ahead in a three-mile race.

Animals — particularly when placed in an eccentric context — almost always provide the kind of necessary flair, both visually and aurally, for a light-hearted feature. Attend a morning pitch meeting at my station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, and watch as the mere mention of an animal-related story elicits swoons from half the crowd.

(It also typically brings out groans from the other half.)

But if animals provide great feature material, the storyteller must still finish the job and produce a compelling piece.

Here are two strong examples of that from last week — as well as a thoughtful farewell piece to a late night titan:

A sign of spring at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (4/7/14, TWC Rochester): Unfortunately, only Time Warner Cable subscribers can actually watch this piece on its Rochester affiliate’s web site.

Thankfully, the story’s teller, multimedia journalist Seth Voorhees, liberated it onto YouTube, to which I have linked above.

Voorhees pens a piece about a local cemetery where, every spring, more than a dozen deer show up and, essentially, hang out. As most storytellers might do, he starts by discussing the cemetery and then, 30 seconds in, reveals the deer.

But pay attention to how Voorhees does this. Story-wise, he first introduces a character named Terri Wolfe; she is an older woman who regularly visits the cemetery. As a viewer, I have no idea how Terri fits into the story. Is it about her? A lost loved one of hers? Some feature of the cemetery? This misdirection makes the surprise of the deer more effective.

‘Candidates who really give a crap’ (4/6/14, KUSA-TV Denver): In this story, a couple of Telling The Story favorites take you on a four-minute visit to Animal Town. (more…)

A video journalism how-to guide, from KUSA-TV’s Michael Driver

Consider this a cheat sheet.

Last week’s podcast with KUSA-TV photojournalist Michael Driver was one of the most-downloaded Telling The Story podcasts to date.

But, as I noted then, Driver was almost too good a guest.

He offered so much advice in such a short period of time, and while we were recording the interview, I kept thinking I could better serve photojournalists — heck, better serve myself — by transcribing all of Driver’s terrific tidbits.

I always enjoy the discussion of journalism, and I have used this blog several times to focus specifically on photojournalism. Check out my spotlight on the best NPPA video stories from 2012 or my podcast with KDVR-TV photographer Anne Herbst. Great photojournalism is an art that often must be sustained and passed down by, not station managers or other journalists, but the artists themselves.

Here is a thorough collection of important advice from Driver, one of the top photojournalists in the country.

BEFORE YOU SHOOT:

Back-time your day: “You need to make sure you know how much time you’re going to have to do this stuff. Give yourself enough time to edit and do the story properly. You have to have a plan in place. If you go in like, ‘We’ll see what happens,’ you’re going to run out of time. We work in a business where deadlines are our enemy. You have to make sure you get everything you can in the quickest amount of time, and then give yourself enough time to work on it.”

Work with your reporter (if you have one): “We’re constantly communicating, constantly talking about what we’re going to do. Talk to your reporter. When you get out to a scene, you’re not going to know exactly what it is. It’s constantly talking about, ‘What elements do we need? What are the visuals we need to tell this story?'”

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Gmail, NY pizza, & the Trix bunny

Frivolity can be a beautiful thing.

And the Internet loves frivolity.

Think of how it has changed journalism and online content. Think of how many articles now are devoted to nostalgia, pop culture, and the highbrow interpretation of seemingly lowbrow material.

Storytellers occasionally get these stories right, and when they do, they succeed with either a detailed behind-the-scenes look, a thorough guide, or a scientific slant. (Sometimes they use a combination of all three.)

Here are three stories from last week that tackle such topics with unquestionable rigor:

How Gmail happened: the inside story of its launch 10 years ago (4/1/14, Time): Mark this one under “detailed behind-the-scenes look”.

And boy, is it detailed. Time writer Harry McCracken travels back a decade to when leaders at Google wanted to invest in an e-mail service.

That service, otherwise known as Gmail, changed our culture.

What’s more remarkable, it did so largely in the same ways its creators predicted.

McCracken shows a screengrab of Gmail at its inception, and it actually looks relatively similar to the product in 2014. More impressively, McCracken identifies the hurdles Google’s programmers faced in creating Gmail, and then he neatly explains how they solved those issues.

This is a long read but a great one.

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PODCAST EPISODE #15: Michael Driver, Photographer, KUSA-TV

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Young photojournalists — heck, all photojournalists — need to listen to this podcast.

Last week, after winning my own award as NPPA Solo Video Journalist of the Year, I decided I wanted to interview another of the association’s big award winners for 2013.

I found a photojournalist whose work I have admired and referenced before in the blog: Michael Driver of KUSA-TV in Denver.

Driver was named the NPPA’s 2013 West Top Regional Photographer of the Year, and he beat some of America’s finest photojournalists to do it. The West, largely because of the highly-regarded photographer staffs at KUSA and Seattle’s KING-TV, is usually the most competitive region in the country. Driver arrived in Denver in 2012, eager to make his stamp on the competition.

Then he went ahead and won the whole thing.

Driver produced some magnificent work in 2013; I have included two stories below. First, “I Miss You, Beryl”:

Then, “Before I Die”:

Now Driver joins me on the Telling The Story podcast, and he is as ferocious on the mic as he is behind the camera.

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