3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013, 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.

Having done the “3 Great Stories” segment every week since starting this block in February, I now face the challenge of picking my favorites.

But I have picked them, and here they are.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year last week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite audio/video pieces of 2013, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) Cut and run (11/1/13, Radiolab): This entire segment from NPR’s Radiolab is tremendous, but I will tell you the moment when I truly appreciated the storytelling here:

I had listened to about five minutes of the story, which is essentially a lesson as to why Kenyan runners always dominate long-distance running. The show’s producers and reporters kept teasing out the answer, providing possible (and then debunked) explanations and expressing their own bewilderment, while keeping their real hypothesis in the distance. I was listening while sitting at my computer, and I realized at that moment that, if I really wanted to learn the answer, I could probably just Google it and be done.

But I didn’t want to Google it. I didn’t want to spoil the big reveal. I wanted to stay on the Radiolab ride, because the story until that point had been so interesting and well-told.

Turned out the reveal was pretty great — and also gruesome. Ladies and specifically gentlemen, please do not listen to the back half of this segment on an empty stomach.

#2) Phil & Harvey: the 38-year engagement (8/2/13, StarTribune.com): Leave it to the video department at a newspaper to produce one of the most moving stories of the year.

Phil Oxman and Harvey Zuckman are two men in their 60′s who have been in a relationship together for more than half their lives. But they had never been legally allowed to marry … until this year.

Phil and Harvey become one of the first gay couples to get married in Minnesota, and the video team at the StarTribune follows them as they prepare for their wedding and eventually take part in it. With no narration, and using mostly the words of the two protagonists, this story is a magnificent look into the complexity of emotions facing the men, both in their past and as they look forward. The photographers capture understated yet touching scenes (like the pair’s joy in receiving their legal documents, or the awkwardness with which they argue over their wedding outfits), and they construct a powerful portrait that reaches its climax with a highly-attended, highly joyous wedding.

Give credit to the whole crew behind this one — McKenna Ewen, Baird Helgeson, Janet Reeves, and Jenni Pinkley, according to the credits — for a job extremely well done.

#1) Trends With Benefits (3/22/13, NPR’s This American Life): Get past the pun-based title, and then get ready for a riveting report.

Reporter Chana Joffe-Walt documents the rapid rise in the number of Americans receiving federal disability payments. The episode of “This American Life” has already received intense reaction from those on the right and left. You will react to it as well, as Joffe-Walt combines a mountain of information and statistics with moving individual examples.

Here is an example where a reporter received plenty of time on her assignment, both in terms of production (Joffe-Walt worked on the project for six months) and story length (it’s an hour long). Joffe-Walt makes the most of that time; her numbers are rock-solid, and her examples are powerful while not feeling cherry-picked.

In short, she puts forth a report that keeps you engaged the entire time.


Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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