3 GREAT STORIES: Starring India, SNL, & Soldierstone

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.

Fulfilling a promise, Jewish center in India reopens after terror attack (8/26/14, New York Times): Here is an example of what the New York Times often does so well.

Writer Gardiner Harris tells the story of a Jewish center in India that had been “attacked and gutted during a 2008 killing rampage by Pakistani gunmen”. A week ago, the center re-opened, with a group of Hasidic men from Brooklyn having flown to Mumbai to help dedicate it.

The facts of the story are interesting on their own. But Harris elevates them by surrounding them with context, a summary of Jewish history in India, and personal perspectives. Sometimes, as journalists, we complete a story and wonder if we have covered everything worth mentioning in our tiny allotted window.

This is a complete story, and Harris — with his editors, for giving him the space — deserves credit for a job thoroughly done.

The glue (8/27/14, Grantland): Speaking of thorough, the folks at Grantland have devoted much of their resources to a full week honoring Saturday Night Live. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the NBC show, and Grantland’s writers responded with a bevy of think-pieces and reflections.

This one was the best.

Bryan Curtis, who I have name-checked before in this space, recounts the career of Phil Hartman, the versatile, ultra-reliable actor who took the SNL stage for nearly a decade. For many of Curtis’ younger readers, Hartman likely holds little weight; he reached his comedic zenith in the early 90’s and died suddenly in 1998. This piece, thankfully, serves dual audiences — a contextual biography for younger readers, and a thoughtful remembrance for older ones. Curtis examines Hartman’s legacy and concludes thus:

“Here’s why it’s difficult to properly appreciate Phil Hartman. Because his characters were 20 percent droid. Because he reminded you more of your dad than your best pal. Because Hartman’s biggest gift was a kind of comedic graciousness, which he used to hide the show’s seams and to make other funny people look good.”

The mystery of Soldierstone (8/24/14, KUSA-TV): Television, being a visual and aural medium, allows a journalist to play with pacing in distinct ways.

Take, for example, this magnificent story from KUSA-TV’s Kevin Torres and Chris Hansen. The piece is more than three minutes long, which is an eternity in local TV news. It could have easily been done in 90 seconds, as Torres and Hansen tell the story of a monument to veterans that is tucked away in the Rio Grande Mountains, its location a mystery to most.

But Torres and Hansen earn their three minutes through beautiful pacing.

The story is told so slowly, but that allows its poignancy to stand out, which it does through every line of script from Torres and every sweeping shot from Hansen. Right from the start, this story is simply captivating, and it stays that way for the whole journey.

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

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