3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Twitter, dahlias, and the broadcast clock

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.

As I chose the stories for this week’s “3 Great Stories” segment, I was struck by how different they are.

One is a print piece that takes an actual event from last week and spins it into a rich commentary.

One is a broadcast piece that required months of preparation about a seemingly frivolous topic.

One is an audio segment that lifts the curtain on an important — and rarely noted — journalistic tool.

The one common thread? Each piece is an obvious labor of love.

You can tell, in each case, the author has spent a great deal of time — much of it likely outside of work — delving into the topic of his story. In all three cases, I would argue, that extra time made a positive impact.

Twitter and the death of quiet enjoyment (9/13/13, The Awl): Unlike the other stories listed, I don’t believe this one would have succeeded at all without the author’s passion.

Brent Cox (a writer I have mentioned before) makes a difficult argument here; he discusses movie theater etiquette in the age of Twitter, social media, and constant communication, and he does so by introducing terms (“quiet enjoyment”, “the Conversationalists”) and convincingly backing them up with sound reasoning. He does very little research here; he mostly concocts this story from his own experience and, again, his obviously large amount of thought about the topic.

Without any research on which he could fall back, Cox pens a story that holds up and inspires thought. He fills the article with insights and paradoxes, all about our seemingly conflicting desires to be left alone while staying in constant communication. As he describes it:

We want to be alone, but included. Actually, most importantly, we want to be included, and in fact we cannot properly enjoy the viewing of our favorite (broadcast, and not Netflix’d) TV shows unless there is a conversation in which to be included—even if the “conversation” is a tweet left hanging in the wind.

Person of the Week: Alan Hetzel (9/13/13, WLOS-TV): I do not know if I can convince you to watch this story based on the subject matter: a man who grows dahlias every year and simply gives them away.

But you will notice — and no doubt appreciate — the effort put into this story.

Larry Blunt brings the words, but WLOS-TV photojournalist John Kirtley provides the poignancy. He shot the story over several months, which allows him to time-dissolve shots, like from a snowy plot of land to that same plot with green grass growing. He finds ways to accentuate the beauty of the dahlias — not that the flowers needed much help — and, in less than three minutes, fills the screen with beautiful images.

The Broadcast Clock (9/5/13, 99% Invisible): This week I continue my unabashed professional crush on Roman Mars.

The leader of the 99% Invisible podcast, Mars and his team, including writer Julia Barton and producer Sam Greenspan, put together a beautiful segment this week about the broadcast clock — that rarely mentioned but always looming force in the world of radio. They delve into some of what Mars mentioned during my interview with him, how limiting one’s storytelling time can be both an aid and a detriment.

Of course, he does it with some high-profile guests, magnificent natural sound, and wonderful storytelling. It all adds up to a glorious listen.


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

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