Monthly Archives: September 2015

Why heart, in storytelling, is stronger than horror

Every day in local news, we fill our broadcasts with stories of horror.

We discuss fires, crimes, murders, and more. We present images that, under any normal circumstance, would be described as unsettling … and yet rarely do they provoke a reaction. Rarely do we receive e-mails decrying those stories; rarely do viewers seem fazed by them. Perhaps many have become numb to them.

Last week I produced a story that broke through. I received comments after it aired, from both viewers and my WXIA-TV colleagues, that the piece was unsettling, difficult, and heart-rending — and far more powerful because of those qualities. The piece, I was told, drew its power from not shock and awe but something seemingly more elusive in present-day local TV news:


No, this was not a story about a local crime or a disturbing piece of video.

This was a story about a 100-year-old woman … in the final stage of her life.

Days earlier we had received an e-mail. A woman named Grace Beck, the viewer wrote, was set to celebrate her centennial birthday that Sunday. Her family and aides had prepared an old-fashioned birthday party at her nursing home. Knowing of Grace’s love for music and her church, they had arranged for a special performance — by her old church’s two-year-old bluegrass band.

It sounded, I thought, both precious and powerful. I flagged the e-mail and reached out to its sender.

Then I learned the upsetting back story.

Grace, I discovered, had become stricken with both macular degeneration — a condition that causes blindness — and dementia. She received hospice care and barely stayed awake for more than a few hours.

Her 100th birthday, I was told, would likely be her last. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring three favorite storytellers

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.

A sweet surprise awaits you (9/22/15, 99% Invisible): The pieces in this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” have a common strength: they all lead the audience on a journey.

Roman Mars and his team at 99% Invisible have practically perfected this structure, at least in podcast form. I have written about 99% Invisible so many times I have little left to say, but as long as Mars keeps producing exquisite episodes like this, I will continue to shout him out.

I don’t want to spoil this journey, but as you listen, appreciate the narrative build: from an innocuous story about Powerball to the rise of the fortune cookie to its surprising, serious, and historic background. Every few minutes brings a new twist, constantly rewarding and informing the attentive listener.


3 podcasts I love in 2015

I am usually late to the game on cultural phenomena.

I started binge-watching 24 on Netflix when the show was already in its fifth season.

I first became enthralled with Mad Men seven years after it first hit the airwaves.

I didn’t start listening to the Beatles until 30 years after they broke up.

(Granted, I was not alive for the first eleven of those years, but still …)

Every now and then, though, I find myself ahead of the curve. Such is the case with podcasts.

I have been sampling and subscribing to podcasts since slightly after their inception, which Wikipedia pegs as somewhere in the 2004-05 range. Ten years later, the field seems to be catching up; podcasts continue to inch closer to mainstream use, and several of them have become legitimate moneymakers for their producers.

(Mine, by the way, is not one of them. I don’t make any money from the Telling The Story podcast; I simply do it, much like I write this blog, for the joy and value it brings.)

Last Saturday, facing a five-hour road trip by myself and feeling overloaded on recent music, I decided to scour the landscape for new podcasts. I was not disappointed. Ten days of binge-listening later, I find myself again excited for the future of a medium that finally seems to be getting its legs.

Here are three podcasts I’d recommend to anyone interested in a mind-expanding good time: (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Bush v. Trump, life, & the sax

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.

A once-sunny Jeb Bush, bristling in the long shadow of Donald Trump (9/2/15, New York Times): I rarely use this space to post stories about politics, but in this case I made an exception.

How many think pieces and “hot takes” have been written about Donald Trump? None, I will argue, is as fascinating as Jonathan Martin’s study of the Presidential hopeful arguably most affected by Trump’s current dominance: Jeb Bush.

For everyone dismissing Trump’s candidacy, the fact remains that he has legitimately affected the Republican race for the past few months. He has obviously altered Jeb Bush’s approach, as Martin illustrates beautifully in this story for the New York Times.

People often wonder if campaign reporting fails to live up to its purpose. In this case, Martin’s article succeeds strictly because of time spent with the candidate, as he details numerous instances where Bush seems to deviate from his script and make an off-the-cuff remark about Trump.



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