breaking news

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring breaking news at WBFF

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.

Man in animal costume shot after making bomb threat at Baltimore’s FOX45 (4/28/16, WBFF-TV): This past Thursday, a major news story played out in front of a TV station’s eyes … or, more accurately, its parking lot and lobby.

According to the story, a man wearing a panda costume set his car on fire in the parking lot of WBFF-TV, Baltimore’s FOX affiliate. Then he demanded “the station air a story he brought with him on a flash drive” and “threatened to blow up the building after being denied entry to the station’s lobby”. The building was evacuated, police arrived, and the suspect was eventually shot but not killed by officers.

And the station’s news department kept working.

The entire newsroom contributed to live coverage, even when they possessed no access to their building. Moreover, they produced compelling work while dealing with the uncertainty of a very real and likely scary situation. I give immense credit to all involved.

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PODCAST EPISODE #30: Kathleen Cairns, reporter, WBFF-TV

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Before you listen to this podcast, watch this video:

This is a compilation from the tremendous, NPPA award-winning photography team at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, profiling the extraordinary week surrounding the death and funeral of Freddie Gray.

When major stories break — and then last for seven straight days of intense coverage — one can ultimately lose sight of all of the moments that comprise it. But during a tumultuous week in Baltimore, the WBFF team stood out for its riveting images and poignant coverage, which come together in the piece above.

That story also sets the table for Episode #30 of the Telling The Story podcast, featuring one of the station’s reporters, Kathleen Cairns.

“It doesn’t matter if your shift ended,” Cairns told me. “You go for the story.”

That’s how Cairns and photographer Jed Gamber, who had both just finished their shift the Monday of Gray’s funeral, found themselves untethered to a live truck when riots broke out. While the rest of the news team stayed live with continuous coverage, Cairns and Gamber collected compelling video and put together this memorable story, which I shouted out recently on this blog:

Cairns has served as a reporter in Baltimore for 25 years, and she has won numerous awards during that quarter-century. In this case, she brought wisdom, tenacity, and — most importantly — context to a volatile story.

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Two-hour turnaround: a storm story

Typically I use this space to showcase longer stories, in both time and preparation.

Not this story.

Here is an example of where good storytelling techniques can help produce a compelling report in a limited amount of time.

How limited? From start to finish, two hours.

Late last month, the Atlanta area got struck by heavy storms that brought rain, lightning, wind, and hail. Like many April showers, this one — to borrow a metaphor from a different month — came in like a lion, flying through the region and causing traffic back-ups on the highways. It also toppled several trees, and I was sent by my WXIA-TV producers to one such incident in Roswell, Ga., where a tree had fallen on a home.

That was all I knew as I arrived at the house at 3:30 PM, but I soon discovered the rest of the story.

And I learned it from the home’s owner: Yolanda Rossi, age 92.

Despite the fact that a tree had knocked out the corner of her dining room, Rossi seemed undaunted by the whole thing and welcomed me into her home with a smile. As she showed me the damage and provided her perspective on the event, I knew I could potentially put together a poignant piece about her experience that day.

I was supposed to be live at 5 PM, but I called the 11Alive assignment desk and asked if the 6 PM show producer would like this story.

That producer said no. The 5 PM producer said yes. (more…)