3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013 (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 June (although, it seems, they are all audio piecces), along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

Jason Collins interview (4/30/13, The B.S. Report): Jason Collins was all over the news in late April, starting with his coming-out announcement on Sports Illustrated’s web site — a wonderfully written and powerful piece in its own right. After it, he did several interviews and was the subject of a slew of articles.

In the process, Collins became an elevated figure. Many of the pieces about him last week talked more about what he represents than who he is.

For me, one interview stood out for going in the opposite direction.

Bill Simmons is, of course, the most popular writer at ESPN and Grantland.com, but he has proven to be a deft and skilled interviewer on his B.S. Report podcast, during which he regularly gets notable subjects to reveal unique insights into themselves. Simmons did a one-hour podcast with Collins the day after his announcement, and it is a seminar on how to conduct an interview. He keeps things light in many spots, chats basketball — including Collins’ ability to bend the rules and frustrate big-name opponents in the process — and does the seemingly impossible in the process: finds out details about Collins’ experience that had not yet been revealed in the tons of articles and columns written the previous day.

A detail that stunned me? Collins got a congratulatory phone call from Tim Hardaway, the former NBA player who once famously said, “I hate gay people.”

Simmons is a polarizing figure in sports media, but he has always been a terrific storyteller. His best attribute? He knows how to connect with people, whether his massive audience or his interview subjects. Here, while everyone else treated Collins as a hero, Simmons treated him as a human … and obtained the most human coverage of Collins as a result.

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.

The Man Behind the Maneuver (3/5/13, NPR’s Radiolab): Did you ever think you would find behind-the-scenes drama in a story about the Heimlich maneuver? The folks at NPR’s Radiolab consistently produce masterful audio stories, and in this one they keep unfolding layers about Dr. Heimlich throughout its 25-minute length. The first surprise? Spoiler alert: he is actually still alive! It gets more interesting from there.



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

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