3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Japan, Kansas City & pop songs

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.

Biracial beauty queen challenges Japan’s self-image (5/29/15, New York Times): The Internet gives us every opportunity to learn about the cultures of others.

When one can survey the work of journalists around the world, one can better learn about all the world has to offer.

The irony here is that the New York Times’ Martin Fackler is very much a traditional journalist; he just happens to be the newspaper’s bureau chief in Tokyo.  His lens brings fascinating stories, such as this one about Ariana Miyamoto, the new Miss Universe Japan who has gained as much attention for her heritage as her accolades.

Fackler’s straightforward yet thorough reporting provide a powerful profile of not just Miyamoto — navigating the waters as a mixed-race resident of “proudly homogenous Japan” — but her country’s culture.

The $295 million mall taxpayers bought Kansas City (5/18/15, NextCity): In contrast to the longstanding New York Times, here is a non-traditional outlet producing incisive work on a specific subject.

NextCity is a non-profit whose “vision is for a world in which cities are not in crisis and are instead, leading the way towards a more sustainable, equitable future.” To that end, its contributors produce compelling work about our biggest urban centers, leading to pieces like this.

Writer Sandy Smith delves into the dilemma facing Kansas City, which offered great discounts to developers during economic struggle but must determine how to respond now during economic improvement. As is often the case with NextCity, Smith uses a case study to extrapolate to universal questions:

But at what point should cities make this decision to stop subsidizing for-profit development? And how do they know when enough is enough? That’s the question being asked in Kansas City and in cities around the nation as downtowns bounce back from years of abandonment only to find that developers still expect the aid they were receiving when downtowns were far less profitable places to be.

Pop music lyrics average a third-grade reading level (5/18/15, SeatSmart): Finally this week, here is a story that quenches one’s thirst for the frivolous.

Writer Andrew Powell-Morse at SeatSmart takes a deep dive into the world of music, exploring the readability of lyrics from the past decade’s biggest songs.

What does he find? The lyrics are so simple, even a third-grader can understand them.

Number crunches about silly subjects only succeed when they double down on their seriousness. Powell-Morse knows he is tackling an inconsequential matter, but he researches his topic with gusto, listing the grade level of each song and using graphs and spreadsheets to show his work.

In short, it’s a blast.

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

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