Monthly Archives: June 2014

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Kendrick Lamar, Jeff Bezos, & the subway

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.

Kendrick Lamar, Hip-Hop’s Newest Old-School Star (6/25/14, New York Times): In terms of traditional print journalism, few outlets are doing it as well right now as the New York Times.

This is not meant as a backhanded compliment, or an indication that somehow the capital-T Times is not advancing with the lowercase-T times.

But when media critics ponder how storytelling can survive in such a frenetic landscape, they should point to articles like this, where Times writer Lizzy Goodman uses her backstage access to rapper Kendrick Lamar to pen a multi-dimensional, poignant, and powerful portrait.

Similar artist profiles often read like press releases; you can smell the transaction of access for favorable coverage. Not here. Goodman parallels Lamar’s no-frills music with his similar approach behind the scenes, and she documents numerous revealing moments — such as when, while on tour with Kanye West, the two hip-hop stars only meet once, and it seems like a far bigger deal for their entourages and videographers than for the artists themselves. (more…)

The all-around wisdom of “Think Big, Start Small, Act Now”

I do not remember much else from the book.

A few years ago, I read Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which pushed forth the idea of a green revolution that could jump-start the American economy. The book received middling reviews, including this beauty of a line from Slate reviewer Gregg Easterbrook: “There are so many buzz phrases in Thomas Friedman’s new book that it practically vibrates in your hand.”

These days, long after having read the book, I have retained only one of its buzz phrases — and it has nothing to do with green energy.

It has everything to do with life and how to get the most from it.

The phrase comes from not Friedman but one of his interview subjects: Barnabas Suebu, the governor of the Indonesian province of Papua. (I should confess, I did not remember his name either until Googling his quote just now.) Talking about his efforts to effect change on his province, Suebu espouses the following philosophical gem:


That statement has stuck with me. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the NBA Finals and Iraq

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.

It’s no secret: I love professional basketball.

And I soak in the NBA Finals.

I continue to be heartened by the amount of quality coverage that results from the world’s greatest sporting events. Here are two examples from last week, as well as a shattering photo gallery from the Big Picture:

Spurs make Heat’s Big Three look obsolete in Finals rout (6/16/14, Sports commentators and writers are nothing if not prolific.

They can create storylines, react (and often overreact) to results, and draw larger themes from individual examples.

But so few actually do it very well.

Michael Rosenberg has penned some of the strongest analysis of this year’s NBA playoffs, and he does so again here following Game 5 of the Finals, where the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat to win this year’s championship, 4 games to 1.

Rosenberg wisely chooses to look ahead as much as he looks back, comparing the impending free agency of Miami’s star players with their similar summer of 2010, when LeBron James first joined the team. He adds personality and flair but never oversells his points. He simply provides proper analysis of an oft-analyzed franchise. (more…)

What it’s like when your story goes viral

On Friday, a man named Bryant Collins saved the life of a 15-month-old baby girl, whom he spotted on the side of a highway.

On Monday, I interviewed Collins about his unexpected opportunity to become a hero.

Neither of us expected what happened next.

In a span of 25 hours, the story of Bryant Collins — and the baby he rescued — grew from my NBC affiliate in Atlanta to NBC Nightly News, going extraordinarily viral along the way. I have never seen anything like it, at least with one of my own stories.

And if I had to pick a story of mine to go viral, I might just choose this one.

We learned of it at around 10:30 Monday morning. Collins, we were told, had been driving his van down a small-town Georgia highway when he spotted a baby a few feet from the road. He slammed the brakes, got out, and confirmed it.

Then Collins called 911, and he stayed with the baby, Emily Pickens, until emergency crews arrived and took care of the situation.

An exciting pitch, for sure.

The only problem? Collins lived in Madison County, which is a nearly two-hour drive from Atlanta. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring ATL, EW, and the inventor of Twister

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 always appreciate when a journalist can frame a familiar subject in a completely new light.

This applies to major issues, of course, but it also relates to more seemingly frivolous topics.

If a common thread exists among the following three stories from last week, it would be the storyteller’s ability to bring new appreciation to seemingly simple matters.

How you know where you’re going when you’re in an airport (6/12/14, The Atlantic): For the second straight year, I have purchased a book based on nothing but a brief passage.

Last year it was Andrew Carroll’s brilliant Here Is Where. This year it is David Zweig’s Invisibles.

And this passage is what got me to click “PURCHASE”.

Zweig tours the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and studies the meticulous ways in which its designers enable it to function without error.

(Almost without error, anyway. This is an airport we’re talking about.)

This particular selection is not long, but it remains informative and well written. A reader can choose to take the preferred next step — buying the book — or walk away having still gained a nice perspective into the inner workings of airports. (more…)

Breen and Emrick are play-by-play’s finest

On the list of those who influence the outcome of major sporting events, Mike Breen and Mike Emrick rank low.

In fact, they don’t affect the outcome at all.

But they absolutely affect the enjoyment.

This is my favorite time of year of sports. Early June marks the championship rounds for the NBA and NHL, where Breen and Emrick, respectively, are the main play-by-play voices on TV.

They are both sportscasting icons.

But they operate in distinct ways, and each is the perfect broadcaster for his sport. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Qatar, Iran, & the last day of school

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 returned from vacation Saturday to some great works of journalism.

I was notified of two stories that placed the spotlight on the cultures of foreign countries — stories of international matters that retained a timeless, universal quality.

And I watched an enjoyable piece about the last day of school.

Without further ado, here are this week’s 3 Great Stories:

Qatar’s World Cup (6/1/14, ESPN): This story is absolutely brutal.

In 17 minutes, it will anger you, frustrate you, and do everything short of flatten your heart.

And it is a masterpiece.

Jeremy Schaap and the ESPN team provide a startling look at the working conditions in Qatar, the country that will host the 2022 World Cup. Qatari leaders pledged to put billions upon billions behind it, all while treating their laborers — according to the interview subjects in this piece — like modern slaves.

Credit ESPN for using its expansive resources to do all the necessary legwork for this story — traveling not just to Qatar but Nepal, sending Schaap and a camera crew to Qatari labor camps and risking their arrests in the process, and allowing 17 on-air minutes for the storytellers to do their jobs.

And they do those jobs remarkably well. This is easily the finest piece of television I have seen so far in 2014. (more…)

LESSONS LEARNED: From role models and inspirations

I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I wanted to use this space as a vehicle for reflection.

Since I started the Telling The Story blog last winter, I have written extensively about lessons about storytelling. Many of those have come from fellow journalists and storytellers, who have been great sources of inspiration throughout my career. Here are three of the moments that stand out to me, along with brief snippets from the posts themselves and minor edits for clarity:

Saying goodbye to Gary Smith, this era’s greatest sportswriter: Many journalists crave the thrill of the deadline, the immediacy of breaking news, or the access of being at the center of a giant story. Others, such as myself, feed off of something else.

We feed off of depth.

We feed off of the desire to tell as full a story as possible and to examine a person or issue from as many viewpoints as we can find. We want to tell the whole truth, educating and informing while bringing our world a little closer.

Any journalist who fits that description, and who knew about Gary Smith, had no choice but to envy him.

Smith wrote just four stories a year for Sports Illustrated. But those stories were always powerhouses because Smith, by the time he wrote them, had become such an expert on their subjects. Rick Reilly once wrote that Smith “has a rule. He’s not done researching a subject until he’s interviewed at least fifty people. That’s why [his stories] are often the most unforgettable of the year. They are meticulous in their depth of reporting, nearly preposterous.”

For most journalists, “preposterous” seems accurate. They would love to interview 50 people for a story, but they don’t get the time. They also don’t get the space to unpack the knowledge such expertise would bring. Smith wrote stories that filled 20 pages; most TV reporters get 90 seconds.

Thankfully, given that kind of real estate, Smith never wasted an opportunity. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2014 (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 May, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

Young cancer patients find comfort in therapy dogs (5/14/14, WTVF-TV Nashville): Here is a tragic example of a headline submarining a great story.

I can only hope viewers of Nashville’s NewsChannel5 were able to watch the piece without the above spoiler. I was fortunate enough to do so, and I was surprised and rewarded when, two minutes into a powerful profile of a young boy with cancer, a dog pops up.

The story, reported by Chris Conte and photographed by Bud Nelson, discusses the effect of therapy dogs on children who get ultra-anxious at hospitals. The dog in this story is adorable enough, but so is the child being helped. Bryce Greenwell, all of five years old, is charming in numerous ways, including his penchant for the phrase, “Like a boss!”

From start to finish, Conte and Nelson keep you hooked. (more…)


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