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.
The following three stories are great examples of where craft meets character.
So often, without a good character or human element, a story simply does not feel relatable. We, as viewers and readers, tend to require connection on a personal level to the stories we enjoy.
A great storyteller knows how to use the proper tools to illuminate that connection.
The three examples below come in different formats: print and TV, long-form and short-form, with narration and without. Each journalist profiles a unique individual or group — but makes his story more powerful with some sophisticated crafting.
Huey Lewis’ old, weird America (6/25/13, Grantland.com): Author Steven Hyden wastes little time pointing out what becomes relatively obvious about the famous singer Huey Lewis:
His career is basically a time capsule.
Lewis gives an interview to Hyden while promoting the 30th anniversary re-release of his highest-selling album, Sports. (Lest we forget, in the 80’s you could release a #1 album with a title like Sports.) Hyden muses about how Lewis (A) “unchanged from the handsome, confidently smirking cool-dad figure,” (B) “consciously or not makes his living by constructing a public version of himself that hasn’t existed since the original Knight Rider was canceled,” and (C) “represents an archetype that is not only absent from the pop charts, it’s one that is nearly impossible for a young person to imagine ever being popular.”
Hyden interjects his own memories and revelations into the story, which is a wise move. The Huey Lewis story is one of nostalgia, and we like to share our nostalgia. Hyden does a beautiful job of toeing the line; he provides some personal color, allowing us as readers to reminisce communally, while never overdoing it to the point where he might take the spotlight away from Lewis.
Ham-ing it up on Field Day (6/28/13, KHQ-TV): On the other hand, sometimes stories are best told without a narrator.
Photojournalist Jordan Caskey lets the pictures doing the talking in his story on Ham Radio Field Day in Spokane, Washington. More specifically, he lets the ham radio operators do the talking. Together they are a colorful bunch — personalities around whom one can easily build an enjoyable story.
But Caskey goes further; he finds ways to accentuate their quirks. My favorite part is how, in some spots, the ham radio operators basically finish each other’s sentences thanks to Caskey’s editing. This is advanced storytelling; Caskey not only noticed in the field that the operators spoke so similarly about what they loved, but he also figured out an effective and creative way to work that into his story.
As a result, much like Hyden albeit in a different way, Caskey enhances the story without overpowering it — storytelling craft at its finest.
Top chef quits posh restaurant to cook for soup kitchen (KARE-TV): Speaking of storytelling at its finest, here is another stellar entry from Boyd Huppert and Jonathan Malat.
I wish I could break down all of the wonderful techniques used by the Twin Cities duo in this story, but it would take too long. Just know this: their piece, about a local chef who quits the Capital Grille to make high-quality cuisine at a local soup kitchen, runs a little longer than three minutes and never, ever drags.
But Huppert and Malat do it without a whole lot of flash, quick edits, and music. They succeed in their attention to detail; Huppert spins gorgeous lines of prose at every turn, while Malat makes every shot count and quietly moves the story forward with his attentive camerawork.
These two are craftsmen, and sometimes they seem to make art disguised as journalism.
RELATED: 5 lessons from the NPPA’s best video stories of 2012
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Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at email@example.com.