3 GREAT STORIES: Starring storytelling through photographs

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.

Being on vacation has a way of making you appreciate our golden age of photography.

I just returned from a week in Italy — my first time visiting the legendary and exquisite cities of Rome and Florence — and was again reminded of how easily I can capture the moments of my life. For all the photos I took of the profound scenery (like the one above), I also took a large amount with the goal of recording memories. And because I possessed a strong digital camera with a 3,000-photo memory card, I did all these with great ease and little concern for whether I would run out of film.

To be honest, I didn’t really need the camera or the memory card. I could have taken all those photos on my cell phone.

But for all the free-wheeling sharing of photography that occurs today, I still find myself frozen with awe when I see a truly beautiful picture. I have begun subscribing to feeds that curate photography in a powerful way, and on certain weeks, those feeds provide some of the most memorable stories I see.

Without further ado, here are three great photography posts from last week. Are they newsworthy or timely? Not necessarily. Instead, they are timeless, as a great photograph should be.

Daily life: September 2013 (10/2/13, The Big Picture): I have mentioned The Big Picture many times, and they deserve a mention in any column that touts excellence in photography.

Entries like these are huge reasons why.

The editors at The Big Picture obviously possess keen eyes for photos, but they also possess the ability to properly curate those photos. Witness their monthly “Daily Life” series, specifically this week’s post showing images from the past month. The 34 photos have little that tie them together, apart from two qualities: they all fall into the category of “daily life”, spanning an array of places across the globe to do it, and they all feature masterful craft behind the camera.

Put them all together, and you have a rewarding product.


3 GREAT STORIES: Starring MLK, the March, and dreams

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 had a fascinating mini-discussion this week with a storyteller for whom I have great respect.

Like many reporters this week, he put together a piece about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Wednesday was, of course, the 50th anniversary of the speech from the March on Washington. This reporter — no doubt noting the flood of stories that had already been and would be done — tried something different. He hit the streets and got interviews with residents about how King’s speech impacted them, both 50 years ago and today, but he also had them hold a large picture frame. Once back in the newsroom, his editor cropped Dr. King’s speech into the frame so that it looked as if the speech was playing inside of it.

To me, it seemed forced.

When I watched the story, I felt his interviews seemed unnatural on several levels. For one thing, the people he was interviewing seemed awkward trying to speak sincerely while holding a bulky picture frame. Secondly, the video playing in the frame both visually and mentally distracted me from the content of the interviews.

But most importantly, I felt the reporter was using a gimmick on a subject that did not require it. To me, the “I Have a Dream” speech is so powerful on its own — and people’s emotions and reactions so visceral even 50 years later — that it did not require trickery. It required elegance and poignancy, and it required a more subdued approach that allowed the speech to, well, speak for itself.

The beauty of storytelling is, of course, there are no right answers. What works for some may not work for others. I should point out that the reporter who did this story has built an ultra-successful career out of stories that beautifully capture the human spirit, so he is no stranger to understanding what makes for a powerful moment. I, for one, am a huge fan of his work.

In this case, though, we disagree. When I chose my “3 Great Stories” for this week, all directly or indirectly MLK-related, I found they reached me by simply illuminating their subjects’ natural power.

Revisiting Martin Luther King’s 1963 Dream speech (8/28/13, The Big Picture): In doing my own stories recently on the Civil Rights movement, I found the raw materials to be extremely absorbing. From old footage to newspaper headlines to poignant photographs — both iconic and not — I found myself enthralled by the history of everything.

Leave it to the Big Picture blog to capture that history and present it in a glorious display.

Here, the editors post a collection of 20 photos, mainly from the March on Washington but also from the Civil Rights movement in general and a few present-day shots for good measure. Photo galleries like these are Rorshach tests — you interpret them however you choose — but, for me, this particular gallery provides some great introductory context to that time period and the struggles involved.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Covering the Moore, Oklahoma tornado

Every week, I will 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.

This seems to be way too familiar an occurrence.

Tornadoes take hold mainly during the springtime, and this year they have struck numerous states across the South and Southeast. The latest one, an EF5 tornado that leveled buildings and homes across Moore, Okla., left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured.

The hardest part in dealing with these tragedies, I think, is trying to make sense of them. The same applies to covering them as journalists.

This week, I picked out three examples from the coverage of the Moore tornado in which the journalists and storytellers did not try to impose their own beliefs or wills on the situation. They simply conveyed it and let the horror — and the emotions that followed, both positive and negative — speak for itself.

A tornado hits Moore, Oklahoma (5/20/13, The New Yorker): A month ago, I praised Amy Davidson of the New Yorker for her coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. In that case, I appreciated her ability to take a stand about a difficult issue.

In this case, I appreciate her abilities to simply capture the details and atmosphere of a scene.

Davidson wrote this story as the specific information about the tornado was still developing; the twister’s death count and EF rating had yet to be officially determined. She doesn’t run for her lack of answers; she embraces them. Davidson aggregates the most piercing details from the first day of the tornado and presents them in a clear and sympathetic way, acknowledging both the potential big-picture ramifications and the immediate, visceral reactions.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Covering the tragedy in Boston

Every week, I will 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.

By the end of last week, several people I know who had been following the week’s tragic events in Boston told me the same thing:

“I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

That sentiment came to these people — and many others, it would seem, judging by Twitter and the blogs — after a week of being burned by speculation and incorrect reporting by the news media. From my vantage point, this week seemed like a tipping point for major story coverage; more often than not, by week’s end people would only believe what authorities and officials told them. FBI press conferences became the first official reports to be accepted and widely spread, as opposed to leaks of those press conferences.

For the most part, those who discuss journalism marked the week’s reporting as a low point for journalism. I will offer, in this space, three examples of strong reporting during the chaotic week:

The Saudi marathon man (4/17/13, The New Yorker): Amy Davidson chronicles the story of a Saudi Arabian who was incorrectly targeted as a person of interest in the bombing of the Boston Marathon. In doing so, she offers a poignant look at how one life was affected by the targeting of police and the massive coverage of media. Davidson leaves us with more questions than answers, such as this one at the article’s end:

And yet, when there was so much to fear that we were so brave about, there was panic about a wounded man barely out of his teens who needed help. We get so close to all that Obama described. What’s missing? Is it humility?


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring nostalgia, water, and an all-puppy channel!

Every week, I will 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.

One of my co-workers, knowing my propensity for telling inspirational, uplifting stories, sometimes calls me “Dr. Feelgood”.

I think he would approve of the following batch of stories.

Two of these stories were published this week; the third actually first aired ten years ago but was re-aired last Friday in podcast form. They represent different forms of media — audio, photo, and the written word — but they all stir up some kind of emotion, from awe to nostalgia to the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from watching puppies. (You’ll see what I mean …)

So get in touch with your inner Dr. Feelgood, and enjoy …

World Water Day 2013 (3/18/13, I have mentioned the Big Picture blog three times now in this space, and I will probably have to restrict myself eventually. But this is my favorite of the three I have mentioned: a collection of photographs relating to water. I guarantee you have never seen photos quite like the first four in this gallery.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Groupon, the Heimlich, and the first presidential press conference

Every week, I will 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 probably would have ignored the following three stories had I not known who produced them.

I would have shrugged at the prospect of reading 3,000 words about the daily deals company Groupon.

I would have laughed at the notion of spending 25 minutes learning about the man behind the Heimlich maneuver.

And I would have yawned at the idea of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first presidential press conference.

But I respected the authors behind the stories, so I gave each one a shot. And wow, was I rewarded.

As a reader and viewer of journalism, I truly appreciate when someone can expand my knowledge about a subject with a thorough, well-researched work of storytelling. I highly recommend each of the articles below. If their topics don’t tickle your fancy at first, just allow them a few paragraphs (or, in the case of the Heimlich story, a few minutes) to lure you in.

Greed is Groupon (3/13/13, The Verge): This is a long one, but it’s worth it. Writer Ben Popper mostly ignores the rise of the daily deals giant Groupon and heads straight to the behind-the-scenes details surrounding its fall. Surely you have checked out sites like Groupon and wondered, “How do these guys make any money?” As Popper’s piece shows, sometimes the company leaders don’t quite have the answer, either.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: On soccer, adversity, & elections

Every week, I will 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 have focused the first few weeks of “3 Great Stories” on TV pieces, both long-form journeys and well-edited triumphs.

This week, we branch out.

You will find three impeccably told stories here, but they come in different sizes and media. One is a nicely spun local TV yarn, but another is a print masterpiece accompanied by a horrifying photo. The third is all photos, by one of my favorite storytelling arms in the business.

Soccer reigns at King Chavez High School (3/1/13, KNSD-TV San Diego): Greg Bledsoe does what I do — he is a one-man TV band, which means he shoots and edits the videos for his on-air reports — and he does it very, very well. (He also does weather on the side, which is a whole ‘nother batch of awesomeness.) In this story, he captures dawn on the soccer field in San Diego, with a piece that reminded me of the movie Gridiron Gang with its uplifting inner-city athletic-success-story feel.