3 GREAT STORIES: Starring shutdowns, games, and iPhones

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.

In the future, in this space, I would like to focus more attention on storytelling through straight reporting.

Recently, while searching for stories for this column, I have found myself gravitating toward pieces of analysis, in-depth research, and opinion. To be frank, these are the pieces that (A) typically catch my eye, (B) get shared more on social media, and (C) truly increase my understanding of stories in the mainstream.

I often, as a result, overlook the value of straight-ahead reporting.

Readers and viewers rely on the media for a seemingly simple need: to be kept properly informed. During stories like this month’s government shutdown, journalists must struggle with trying to provide an appropriate amount of context with the story’s nuts and bolts. How do they do this objectively? How do they maintain the trust of both sides of a divided audience? How do they explain a complicated matter to a population often too attention-divided to listen?

I give major kudos to the reporters who toe these lines the best, and I want to make a stronger effort to use this space to support that.

But I also believe, with stories such as the shutdown, people can benefit most by developing a wider understanding. They should stay updated on day-to-day events, but they should also make an effort to learn why those events are occurring.

Perhaps this is why I most appreciate stories like the ones below, not just on the shutdown and debt ceiling fight but even on the launch of the new iPhone. After each piece, readers walk away with a greater perspective on what’s happening right in front of them.

Understanding the game being played in Washington (10/4/13, Harvard Business Review): Want a perfect example of that perspective?

Check out this article.

Justin Fox explains the current debt ceiling fight through classic game theory. He describes the actions of the President and Congress through the lens of a game — a lens that actually brings everything much more into focus.

Early on, Fox demurs that he wrote the piece out of “an attempt to find a way to think about the government shutdown and looming debt ceiling fight that didn’t make me want to bang my head against a wall.” But, he goes on, “My reading made the dynamics at work in Congress and at the White House a bit clearer — and thus slightly less maddening, if not less ominous.”

If you are looking for a crash course on how we got here and why our political leaders are making their current decisions, this is it. I also like how Fox, in addition to writing a thorough and easily digestible article, responds thoughtfully to the entry’s comments. Good journalists should relish the chance to defend and explain their work, as Fox does here.

A federal budget crisis months in the planning (10/5/13, New York Times): If Fox’s piece makes the situation slightly less maddening, this article will — for many — amp the anger right back up.

In this widely read and commented-on piece, writers Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire take the government shutdown back to, they argue, its roots. They describe how numerous hard-line conservatives engineered a plan back in the winter and then executed it to create our current situation.

Credit both writers for providing such an exhaustively researched look at long-range politics. Part of that is digging deep for information, and part is simply asking those involved. Many of the plan’s leaders talk freely about it with the writers, who also cite earlier interviews and include web links throughout the piece that shine further light on the matter.

Inside the Apple store: Product launch (10/10/13, McSweeney’s): Let’s lighten the mood a bit with everyone’s favorite subject: iPhones.

A month ago, I hat-tipped anonymous Apple Store employee J.K. Appleseed for a behind-the-curtain look at the store itself. It seemed remarkably subversive and, as I called it then, “an exposé of the most enjoyable kind”.

This follow-up is not as enjoyable, necessarily, but it is enlightening. Appleseed takes us through the lead-up and follow-through of the product launch of Apple’s new iPhone. The employee does not provide as many Apple-based revelations as he/she did in the first piece; instead, Appleseed provides a more compelling story about him/herself.

Watch as Appleseed gets a little too enthralled with being on the inside of the launch, which the author admits late in the piece before taking a step back:

I’m not the kind of guy who camps out for tickets or iPhones, but I recognize tidal waves. I haven’t figured out if I hate or love my place in them. I just look forward to regular time, whatever that means—days that aren’t just before nor just after some crazy thing.


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

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