Monthly Archives: January 2018

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring a pair from the Marshall Project

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 volunteer (1/18/18, The Marshall Project): I have long admired the Marshall Project’s gripping coverage of the complexities around criminal justice. This piece, from staff writer Maurice Chammah, displays so much of what makes the site shine.

Chammah tells the story of Scott Dozier, a Nevada death row inmate who waived his legal appeals and, essentially, requested he be killed by the state. The problem? The state wasn’t prepared, and officials have spent the past year seesawing over Dozier’s case. Chammah finds a powerful subject and case study in Dozier, but mostly he exposes the chaos in the world around the inmate, particularly, in Chammah’s words, “states that want the harshness of death sentences without the messiness of carrying them out.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #59: Eric Mennel, senior producer, Gimlet Media

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My first podcast of the year was inspired by a podcast I found late last year.

I have listened to Gimlet Media’s StartUp Podcast on and off since its inception. This past December I rediscovered it thanks to a five-part series called StartupBus. The premise? Per Gimlet’s web site: “This past summer, 20 strangers got on a charter bus headed from New York to New Orleans. For three days they had one goal: Build and launch companies from inside the bus. And then? Compete against each other.”

Sound like a reality show? It did to Eric Mennel. The Gimlet senior producer pitched StartupBus as an episode, got on the bus, and realized after two days he had struck audio gold. He turned it into a five-part series, with one episode for each day of the competition.

Think about the challenge. Mennel faced the curse of few limits; he had plenty of time and roughly two dozen people who could potentially become main characters in his story. He needed to find them, figure out the main stories, remain open to new events, record it all, and then – upon returning – winnow an absurd amount of audio into 150 minutes of content.

Mennel succeeded. He joins me on Episode #59 of the Telling the Story podcast.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the value of photos in TV storytelling

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.

Stains on the sidewalk: picturing Baltimore’s murders (1/9/18, WBFF-TV): Turns out a photo can make for some poignant video. Turns out a year’s investment in a project can pay off in six stellar minutes.

Reporter Paul Gessler and photographer Jed Gamber of WBFF-TV spent twelve months tracking the mission of Amy Herbert, a photographer with a school project. Her plan? Document each Baltimore homicide from the previous year, exactly one year later. Herbert graduated but continued the work. Gessler and Gamber continued to check in. They found moments and scenes that are displayed in their final product: a powerful piece to kick off 2018.

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I’m back in J-school. And I’m back to being unsure of myself.

I arrived on the University of Georgia campus with a steadily growing to-do list.

Pick up paper towels. Run to Target. Try to go to bed early. Check my work e-mail in case of an emergency.

I had just driven 90 minutes from midtown Atlanta to downtown Athens. I work full-time as a TV reporter but this past August began a 2 ½-year MFA program in narrative nonfiction at UGA’s Grady School of Journalism. Each semester kicks off with a mandatory weeklong residency on-campus; this past Sunday, we all converged on campus from across the country. The program directors threw us a welcome dinner, and on the walk back, I asked a classmate about his plans for the night. He said he would head to the hotel bar and hang out as late as anyone wanted.

Not me. I planned to make my Target run and retreat to my room for a hopeful eight hours of sleep.

My classmate shook off that idea. He heralded the week as a chance for us hungry writers to revel together in our ambitions, to encourage and inspire each other. He closed with a line that would flatter any hopeful Hemingway: “This is like Paris in the Twenties!”

I needed to hear that … because my first semester felt like Times Square at rush hour.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring leftover gems from 2017

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.

Terry Crews: How to have, do, and be all you want (12/10/17, Tim Ferriss Show): I spent much of December catching up on podcasts, and I couldn’t stop listening to this one.

The Tim Ferriss Show often features engaging guests, but actor/former NFLer/furniture designer (?) Terry Crews captivates from Minute 1 to Minute 100. Ferriss knows how to prod a guest into a revealing story, but in this case he recognizes when to sit back and let Crews dominate. The guest provides piles of anecdotes about his childhood in Michigan, struggles with family and Hollywood, and words of inspiration for anyone needing a boost. (more…)

Pondering over pancakes: a story of gratitude to open 2018

I could have eaten anywhere.

I could have walked a half-mile to the birthplace of General Tso’s chicken. I could have hopped on the D train to America’s oldest pizzeria. New York City overflows with restaurants, and I had just touched down. But I left my hotel, walked to 57th and 9th, and opened the door to an old friend.

Morning Star Restaurant does little to stand out. Its white awning and blue lettering seem faded. Its pancakes require a healthy pour of syrup. But one summer, 16 years earlier, I ate there repeatedly. I popped in before, during, or after my shifts as an intern at WCBS-TV.

In college I deified New York. I lived with my parents in suburban New Jersey and itched to someday call The City my home. For three months, three days a week, I traveled 40 minutes by bus and 20 minutes on foot to reach the station. I passed the bars on Eighth Avenue and envied the adults on the other side of the glass. They drank, smiled, and percolated in perfectly tailored shirts and ties. They had “made it”.

I couldn’t enter the bars. But I could wolf a stack of pancakes at Morning Star. Sixteen years later, I felt the urge to do it again, this time in triumph.

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