3 GREAT STORIES: Starring elevators, the Paralympics, & Busta Rhymes Island

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.

I recently read an intriguing interview with Nate Silver in which the so-called “stats superstar” talks about his new web site, FiveThirtyEight, under the ESPN platform. In regards to data journalism versus traditional journalism, Silver says this:

This is data journalism, capital-D. Within that, we take a foxlike approach to what data means. It’s not just numbers, but numbers are a big part of this. We think that’s a weakness of conventional journalism, that you have beautiful English language skills and fewer math skills, and we hope to rectify that balance a little bit.

Silver makes a great point. Analysis pieces typically downplay the importance of numbers, research, and scientific techniques. They often rely more on forceful opinion and personality.

At the same time, numbers without context mean little — and can be dangerously misinterpreted.

I am excited to see what Silver & Co. have up their sleeves for FiveThirtyEight … and whether their model will penetrate the traditional journalistic model in any tangible way.

And now, your 3 Great Stories from the week that was:

Sochi 2014 Paralympics (3/12/14, The Big Picture): First, I must return to an old favorite, the Big Picture blog on boston.com, and its most recent photo gallery.

Featured here are 34 photos from the Paralympic Games in Sochi, which weeks earlier hosted the Olympics to much greater fanfare. The photos work on such a visceral level because they capture athletes in their most emotional forms, from deep focus to victorious euphoria.

And yet, of course, these athletes look different. A skier is missing a hand. Curlers are in wheelchairs. Except for these factors, any of these snapshots would fit in perfectly with a photo gallery from the Olympics themselves.

What a beautiful reminder that the physically impaired are as emotionally alive as any of us. I found myself moved by nearly all of them, particularly #2, #16, #21, #29, and #33.

How the elevator transformed America (3/2/14, Boston Globe): When I read this article, I thought it had to have been the transcript of an episode of 99% Invisible.

But if Roman Mars and his team of extraordinary storytellers have not yet covered the history of the elevator (and they may have done so already, but I could not find such an episode), they should use this article as an outline.

And if you have never stopped to fully appreciate the impact of the elevator on modern society, you should click on the above link and enjoy.

Leon Neyfakh of the Boston Globe lists all the ways in which elevators are influential (basically enabling the existence of the skyscraper), awkward (often providing a uniquely dissonant social experience), and unappreciated. Architecture buffs will love this article for its perspective and sharp thought; the rest of us will love it for documenting both our uneasy relationships with elevators — the section about elevator etiquette is priceless — and our reliance on them.

One man is an island (3/11/14, 99% Invisible): Speaking of 99% Invisible, its latest episode is one of my all-time favorites.

It starts with a Hall of Fame hook: a reporter named Sean Cole, while researching a story, stumbled on a Google Maps address for “Busta Rhymes Island”.

Rest assured, the island — much like the rapper — is very much real.

It sits near the Massachusetts suburb of Shrewsbury. Search it on Google Maps; you will absolutely find it.

I will not spoil this episode any further, other than to say it answers every question you could possibly ask, while blending in the beautiful storytelling that has become the show’s calling card.

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

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