3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Kendrick Lamar, Jeff Bezos, & the subway

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.

Kendrick Lamar, Hip-Hop’s Newest Old-School Star (6/25/14, New York Times): In terms of traditional print journalism, few outlets are doing it as well right now as the New York Times.

This is not meant as a backhanded compliment, or an indication that somehow the capital-T Times is not advancing with the lowercase-T times.

But when media critics ponder how storytelling can survive in such a frenetic landscape, they should point to articles like this, where Times writer Lizzy Goodman uses her backstage access to rapper Kendrick Lamar to pen a multi-dimensional, poignant, and powerful portrait.

Similar artist profiles often read like press releases; you can smell the transaction of access for favorable coverage. Not here. Goodman parallels Lamar’s no-frills music with his similar approach behind the scenes, and she documents numerous revealing moments — such as when, while on tour with Kanye West, the two hip-hop stars only meet once, and it seems like a far bigger deal for their entourages and videographers than for the artists themselves.

Brick by brick (6/26/14, Columbia Journalism Review): Speaking of iconic figures with intriguing futures, Jeff Bezos has been the subject of much media attention since he purchased the Washington Post last year.

This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review and writer Michael Meyer, gives as open a window yet into what Bezos and the Post leadership might be planning.

But even with that window, little light is shed.

Meyer rarely pins down his interview subjects in terms of revealing specifics about the Post’s future. But he reports the story thoroughly, in part thanks to inside access to major meetings, and he uncovers an interesting potential source of dissonance in Bezos’ plans: while he talks of competing nationally and internationally as a major player in journalism, he has made moves to this point that suggest a significantly different vision of such dominance.

The most revealing sound bite comes from Bezos himself, during a Q&A with staff. “All businesses need to be young forever,” said the billionaire. “If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s.”

Preserving Car No. 60, 60 years after it stopped running (6/27/14, TWC Rochester): Sometimes great TV storytelling can look deceptively simple.

Take this story, for example, from Seth Voorhees of TWC Rochester; it is a pretty straightforward piece about a local project to preserve artifacts from the city’s long-gone subway system.

If anything, the topic sounds a little boring.

But Voorhees imbues the story with life. The one-man band seeks out beautiful visuals of the old subway system, culls both informative and emotional sound bites from his interview subjects, and puts it all together with fast, snappy editing.

Basically, he takes a potentially standard news story and makes it anything but.

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

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