Monthly Archives: May 2015

Down with Periscope? I’m still working on it

It always comes down to time.

As journalists and storytellers, we are constantly faced with limits to our time: every story has a deadline, every shoot has an end, and — particularly in TV and radio — every word we speak takes up valuable space in our story’s window.

But that says nothing of our limits in dealing with free time. How much do we choose to invest? Do we work a little longer to make a story just right? Do we get up early to call sources?

And do we attempt to master every new wave of technology that comes through the universe?

I have been a journalist for 12 years, and in that seemingly short span, I have already seen the rise of Facebook, Twitter, apps, Instagram, and Vine on social media. In each case, we as a journalism community seemed to go through a similar cycle: early resistance, followed by sweeping infatuation, ending with a happy medium of incorporation. Some outlets have fared better than others; Twitter remains the go-to way to update breaking news in a flash, while Facebook has become the place to build devoted followings and start conversations. Instagram and Vine have seen less success in the journalism community; Vine in particular seems to have fallen spectacularly after such an invigorating start. I possess a Vine account but rarely use it; I know few journalists who remain committed to it.

Now comes Periscope.

And now comes that same cycle. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring hearing, fatherhood, & photography

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.

Veteran gets overdue hearing aids after VA delay (5/18/15, KARE-TV): Like any great investigative piece, this epic from KARE-TV’s A.J. Lagoe and Gary Knox details the process of research, phone calls, and interviews that ultimately lead to results.

But unlike many investigative pieces, this one shines brightest from its human center.

Reporter Lagoe and photographer Knox tell the story of Denny Madson, who has been waiting more than a year for VA-approved hearing aids. Madson wants the devices for one overarching reason: so he can hear his wife, Darlene, who is suffering in the hospital and can barely speak above a whisper.

Lagoe’s script and Knox’s camerawork set up some touching moments between the couple, including the happy ending. This is a textbook example of how to personalize an otherwise visually challenging story.

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PODCAST EPISODE #30: Kathleen Cairns, reporter, WBFF-TV

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Before you listen to this podcast, watch this video:

This is a compilation from the tremendous, NPPA award-winning photography team at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, profiling the extraordinary week surrounding the death and funeral of Freddie Gray.

When major stories break — and then last for seven straight days of intense coverage — one can ultimately lose sight of all of the moments that comprise it. But during a tumultuous week in Baltimore, the WBFF team stood out for its riveting images and poignant coverage, which come together in the piece above.

That story also sets the table for Episode #30 of the Telling The Story podcast, featuring one of the station’s reporters, Kathleen Cairns.

“It doesn’t matter if your shift ended,” Cairns told me. “You go for the story.”

That’s how Cairns and photographer Jed Gamber, who had both just finished their shift the Monday of Gray’s funeral, found themselves untethered to a live truck when riots broke out. While the rest of the news team stayed live with continuous coverage, Cairns and Gamber collected compelling video and put together this memorable story, which I shouted out recently on this blog:

Cairns has served as a reporter in Baltimore for 25 years, and she has won numerous awards during that quarter-century. In this case, she brought wisdom, tenacity, and — most importantly — context to a volatile story.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring ATL, Mad Men, & a new heart

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.

If we win again, we’ll be one again (4/21/15, Bitter Southerner): This one falls under the category of, “I only heard about it this week, but it actually came out nearly a month ago, but that’s OK, because it’s wonderful.”

Leave it to the Bitter Southerner to bring forth a beautifully written article from a veteran journalist about the changing landscape of Atlanta sports. Ray Glier discusses how, as baseball’s Braves prepare to move out of the city and into the nearest suburbs, basketball’s Hawks have seen a renaissance this year, on the court and in the stands.

Glier wrote all this before the Hawks advanced to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, and his prose, in retrospect, seems all the more prescient. Glier blends the right amount of lofty wordplay and contextual background, while the web site’s Gregory Miller provides magnetic photos.

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5 active, insightful journalism blogs from educators

These are five “classes” you should audit immediately.

As a TV reporter in a major market, I can easily get myopic about my job if I so choose. I can focus on the inner workings of Atlanta, the politics of my station and its competitors, and whatever story happens to sit in front of me at the time.

But I always aim to fight that instinct. Instead, in addition to working hard on my various stories, I strive to both improve my skills and examine my industry.

I find, in the blogosphere, a perfect catalyst.

One need not look far to find a sea of worthy blogs about journalism, and some of my favorites come from those who teach. Professors and educators often provide perspectives that are both thoughtful and prescient; in many ways, they get paid to look ahead. I always appreciate those who take time to instruct not just their students, but anyone with the Internet and an open ear.

Here are five of my favorites, all of whom post regular if not semi-regular updates:

Jay Rosen, New York University: The founder of PressThink, Rosen will next year hit his 30th anniversary on the journalism faculty at NYU. His blog succeeds in part because of Rosen’s own knowledge and experience, which comes through whether discussing the White House Correspondents Association or Facebook’s Newsfeed. But Rosen truly stands out because of his willingness to collaborate: his posts nearly always feature links to other articles, alternative perspectives, or background posts that enhance his own reasoning.

Meg Heckman, University of New Hampshire: Here is another great blog for mere thought expansion. Heckman writes about a diverse array of topics, and she finds inventive, informative ways of presenting herself. Her most recent post as of this writing, an inside look into her work as a juror for this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, is a must-read.

Shawn Montano, Emily Griffith Technical College: From the heartland of Colorado comes one of the strongest how-to web sites for anyone who edits video. Montano fills his Edit Foundry blog with real-life, step-by-step examples of editing at its finest; I read every post, and I always walk away with valuable insight.

Joy Mayer, University of Missouri: An associate professor at Mizzou, Mayer constantly offers informative looks at modern-day journalism. She focuses predominantly on technology and community, both of which are rising factors on the current landscape.

Robert Hernandez, University of Southern California: He posts less frequently than the others, but Hernandez makes up for it with lively work that delves into the power of social media, language, technology, and devices. His is a look into the future of journalism — and an entertaining look at that.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com. The photo above is “Different types of pens” by .janneok.Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Mother’s Day, Berlin, & cake

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.

Anna Jarvis was sorry she ever invented Mother’s Day (5/8/15, BuzzFeed): Cinco de Mayo the classic example of a holiday “celebrated” by so many who know nothing of why it exists.

But what about that other May holiday?

I had little knowledge of the origins of Mother’s Day and was fascinated by this article, which explained them. But Joel Oliphint goes further. Writing for BuzzFeed, he examines the life of the holiday’s founder, Anna Jarvis, who crusaded to both make Mother’s Day a reality and then prevent its commercialization. She was portrayed in the media as a eccentric spinster, but was she?

Oliphint succeeds here by applying a modern-day lens to historical questions. He gives Jarvis a fair shake in every debate about her personality and tactics (she even went after non-profits for, she said, coopting Mother’s Day for their own causes), but he refrains from offering knee-jerk sympathy. Beyond that, he writes an article that is simply interesting from top to bottom.

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Two-hour turnaround: a storm story

Typically I use this space to showcase longer stories, in both time and preparation.

Not this story.

Here is an example of where good storytelling techniques can help produce a compelling report in a limited amount of time.

How limited? From start to finish, two hours.

Late last month, the Atlanta area got struck by heavy storms that brought rain, lightning, wind, and hail. Like many April showers, this one — to borrow a metaphor from a different month — came in like a lion, flying through the region and causing traffic back-ups on the highways. It also toppled several trees, and I was sent by my WXIA-TV producers to one such incident in Roswell, Ga., where a tree had fallen on a home.

That was all I knew as I arrived at the house at 3:30 PM, but I soon discovered the rest of the story.

And I learned it from the home’s owner: Yolanda Rossi, age 92.

Despite the fact that a tree had knocked out the corner of her dining room, Rossi seemed undaunted by the whole thing and welcomed me into her home with a smile. As she showed me the damage and provided her perspective on the event, I knew I could potentially put together a poignant piece about her experience that day.

I was supposed to be live at 5 PM, but I called the 11Alive assignment desk and asked if the 6 PM show producer would like this story.

That producer said no. The 5 PM producer said yes. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: On Baltimore, baseball, & sci-fi hoops

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.

Mondawmin Monday (4/27/15, WBFF-TV): There have been numerous stories and reports from Baltimore this week, some instructive and some less so, about the protests and riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.

So much of the images and video have arrived as a stream — stations providing non-stop coverage and constant immediacy, which absolutely has its place in situations like this. But this story, from FOX 45 Baltimore’s Kathleen Cairns and Jed Gamber, shows the power of editing and context.

Given time — and a four-block radius — to document Monday’s action, reporter Cairns and photographer Gamber find themselves in the midst of smoking tear gas, a burning car, and numerous protesters and police. They capture it all with a sense of poignancy and objectivity; Gamber shoots and edits some powerful moments, and Cairns shows wise restraint with her script, stepping back and simply connecting the dots of those aforementioned moments.

This is one of the most haunting, powerful stories I have seen this year.

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