3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Jason Collins, an inspiring child, and slot machines

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.

It’s an all-A/V edition of “3 Great Stories”.

After paying homage to three great print pieces last week, we turn this week to some outstanding storytelling in podcasts and television. Each case benefits from time — the time to allow an interview to breathe, the time to develop a full story of an individual, or the time to give an in-depth look at a subject you never thought deserved one.

Jason Collins interview (4/30/13, The B.S. Report): Jason Collins was all over the news last week, 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 Tuesday, 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.

Tennis Teen Finds Formula (4/30/13, WLOS-TV): Reporter John Le and photographer John Kirtley make their second appearance in “3 Great Stories”, and they do it with a beautiful tale of homespun inspiration.

I don’t want to give a lot away here: there is a great revealing moment early in the piece that is critical to the story, and I would be doing the story a disservice to talk about it here.

But much like Simmons in the interview above, Le and Kirtley imbue their story with humanity … and that makes all the difference.

No-Armed Bandit (4/30/13, 99% Invisible): I have gushed about the 99% Invisible podcast before, and this past week it did what it does best.

It took a subject in which I had no interest and blew me away with a story about it.

In this case, the subject is slot machines. Until last Tuesday, I had only thought about slot machines as the haven of those people you see in Las Vegas, wearing visors and staring at the video screen at 7 AM. But Roman Mars, who produces and narrates the show, presents an absorbing story about their history, functional design, and allure.

I swear I had no idea I could be held spellbound for 20 minutes listening to the history of slot machines … but that’s what 99% Invisible consistently does, and that’s why it is one of my favorite podcasts.


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

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