3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Finding characters and dissecting cereal boxes

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.

Towards the end of last week’s podcast with KDVR photojournalist Anne Herbst, the two-time NPPA Regional Photographer of the Year offered this piece of advice to young journalists about storytelling:

“I’ll get these really wonderfully shot stories … and I don’t care about them at all because there’s not a compelling person,” Herbst said. “You can have all these pretty shots of mountains and sunsets, but in the end what you remember is the person and the story.”

With that in mind, I selected several stories this week that thrived because they found a great person within them. The authors do not provide a whole lot of flair in their storytelling; instead, they let their characters do most of the talking. And because they do, their stories shine.

(Oh, and if that’s not your bag, I also chose an enjoyable, semi-fascinating story about cereal boxes …)

Raising the flag in Bethel Acres after tornadoes (5/28/13, KFOR-TV): Here’s a bonus story from the Moore, Okla. tornado — a topic I covered in last week’s 3 Great Stories.

But this story is as good as they come.

Reporter Sara Celi mostly hangs in the background here, putting the focus on the people of Bethel Acres, specifically a staff sergeant of the Air Force who walks stoically at the start of the story, clutching an American flag in his hand.

His name is Alan Burch. His quest, to hang and fly the flag in the middle of the wreckage, is beautiful — as is the show of support from the community members who aid him.

Photographer Norris Kyles documents the action step by step as Burch and his team accomplish their mission. Then he cuts to a shot of Burch saluting Old Glory. In that shot, Burch’s trademark stoicism gives way to a swell of pride in his eyes. It’s a touching moment.

Man carries sign and smile for local car wash (5/8/13, WKYT-TV): I wish the headline of this story did a better job of conveying the beauty behind it.

Yes, this story is about a man — named Derald, and unwilling to give his last name — who causes commotion on a Lexington intersection advertising with a sandwich board for a local car wash.

Yes, Derald does indeed carry a smile.

But he truly shines as a character when we hear about his history: he was homeless for a long while, but he relentlessly pursued employment until he finally got a chance.

Kudos to reporter Kristen Kennedy and photojournalist John Wilson for crafting a lovely story that celebrates perseverance and empathy.

The mysteries of the cereal box (5/28/13, The New Republic): OK, no characters here … unless you count Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam.

Here’s some lighter fare to finish off this week’s 3 Great Stories: an inquisitive look at the two types of tops to cereal boxes, penned by master of minutiae Paul Lukas.

I am a sucker for stories that offer a detailed explanation to everyday items — call it a product of watching Seinfeld for the past two decades. Lukas not only product-tests the two types of tops — slotted and slot-less, in case you were wondering — but asks experts and develops hypotheses in the process. It’s an entertaining read, and you will probably reference it to your friends when looking for idle chatter.


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

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