3 GREAT STORIES: Playing catch-up from March

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.

Devil’s Rope (3/17/15, 99% Invisible): I took a few weeks off in March to go on vacation and retool the web site.

But I continued to watch, read, and listen to great journalism and storytelling.

I decided to use this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” to play catch-up and spotlight several pieces that stood out to me last month. This podcast, from the terrific Roman Mars, follows the 99% Invisible formula to beautiful effect, outlining a historical problem (cattle and buffalo wandering too freely during the 19th century, as Americans moved to the Great Plains) and teasing the eventual solution (the invention of barbed wire). That solution, of course, opens the door to a whole host of angles and anecdotes that fill the rest of the episode.

As I listened, I kept thinking, “I really don’t care that much about barbed wire. But I can’t turn this off!” Mars and his team are such potent storytellers, and I always enjoy listening to 99% Invisible from that standpoint alone.

Sing me a story (3/24/15, WTVF-TV): Much like a classic episode of 99% Invisible, this piece — from Nashville’s CBS affiliate — is a victory for craft, where an already powerful story is elevated by those in charge of telling it.

Reporter Jason Lamb and photographer Catherine Steward develop a beautiful rhythm on this story, which is about … well, so many things, really. I do not want to spoil the subject matter or big moments, but I will just say that Lamb and Steward, through a mixture of poignant writing and precise editing, identify those moments and set them up in ways that pay off for the viewer.

That is such a critical component of feature reporting. When executed well, it leads to work like this.

That way we’re all writing now (3/6/15, Medium): The web site Medium has gradually become one of my favorite sites — a place of bubbling thought and inventive storytelling that always leaves me satisfied.

Exhibit A: this piece from Clive Thompson on the evolution of writing. The author and journalist for Wired and the New York Times comes off like a hip William Safire (this is meant as a total compliment, by the way), breaking down the language of our texts and Tweets while enthusiastically championing the changes in our collective syntax.

Thompson obviously knows his way around a sentence, but he imbues his knowledge with a joyful spirit, emphasized early in the piece with this paragraph:

Me—I’m in! Mind you, I’m a fan of all the betentacled linguistic lifeforms that have emerged from our cambrian explosion online. These days, people write insanely more text than they did before the Internet and mobile phones came along. So the volume of experimentation is correspondingly massive and, for me, delightful. One joy of our age is watching wordplay evolve at the pace of E.coli.

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

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