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PODCAST EPISODE #32: “Best Of”, Covering the Big Stories

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A few weeks ago I rounded up some of my favorite podcasts that surrounded a specific theme: why we act the way to do as recipients of storytelling.

This week, I continue the “Best Of” tradition with a different topic: how reporters handle the tasks of covering giant stories.

These are not the stories that lead the newscast one night and disappear the next. These are the stories that carry on for days and weeks, often commanding national attention (and the national media that comes with that).

Such brings us to Episode #32 of the Telling The Story podcast: a “Best Of” edition on covering the big stories.

You’ll hear snippets from previous episodes with the following guests:

Dave Schwartz, sports anchor at KARE-TV in Minneapolis, on heading to Russia to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics (5:30-10:18): “I don’t think you could ever be prepared until you get into the situation and have to do it … I was prepared that it was going to be difficult, but I don’t think anyone could have made me feel better about the security until we were down on the ground.”

Claudine Ewing, anchor and reporter at WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, on handling the 2014 “Snowvember” storm that blanketed parts of the city (7:45-11:05): “A storm can really, really change lives for people, and then as reporters we have to be sensitive and then remember: those are also stories that can told, too.”

Kathleen Cairns, reporter at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, on covering the death of Freddie Gray and the protests and riots that followed (4:55-9:00): “As journalists, it doesn’t matter that your shift ended. You keep going. If it’s your day off, and you hear of something big, you jump in the car and go. There are some people who have that and some people who don’t.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #23: Claudine Ewing, reporter, WGRZ-TV

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Challenging. Adrenaline-pumping. Riveting. Exhausting.

These words barely begin to describe working at a local TV station during a story so large it compels round-the-clock coverage.

We experienced it in Atlanta last winter during “Snowmageddon”, where a few inches of snow-turned-ice led to massive back-ups on the highways and left people stuck in their cars for hours.

Local TV journalists in Buffalo went through it last month, when the region was pelted with a different kind of snowstorm.

A seven-foot kind of snowstorm.

The historic snowfall — even by Buffalo standards — created massive issues across the region, and the NBC affiliate, WGRZ-TV, replaced its regular programming with non-stop news coverage. Anchors, reporters, producers, photographers, and staffers across the board worked extra-long shifts — outdoors, too, for the crews in the field.

Situations like these stretch a newsroom to its thinnest.

In this case, half of the WGRZ newsroom could not even get there.

So says longtime reporter Claudine Ewing: “Anybody who lived in the Southtowns could not get in; they just could not get out of their homes. One of our photographers live in Hamburg, and the snow was so high, he couldn’t open the door.”

Ewing is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

For nearly four years, I worked with Ewing at Channel 2 in Buffalo, and I always admired the area’s resilience in the face of brutal weather. The stereotypes about Buffalo’s climate are not entirely true; the region has beautiful summers and lovely fall foliage in early October. But, I must admit, Buffalo winters are no joke, and I remember my disbelief last month upon learning of a snowstorm somehow too powerful for Western New York.

That said, when I tuned into WGRZ’s live-stream online, I admired the composure and straightforwardness of the anchors and reporters, including my former co-worker Ewing.

If you listen to her words, regarding both the historic snowstorm and her general advice for journalists, you will hear a recurring theme: being connected to the community. In order to truly reach your audience, you have to get to know them. Ewing is a native Western New Yorker who now works in the region, but she continues to develop her contacts and get a feel for the people who value her as a media voice.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring November sweeps (Part 2)

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.

Ferguson business keeps windows clear as others board up (11/20/14, KARE-TV): We begin this week with where we left off last week: with a powerful piece about Ferguson, Mo. from the storytelling team of Boyd Huppert and Jeff Christian.

This piece is deceptively straightforward, focusing on a husband and wife who opened a burger bar one day before the shooting of Michael Brown … and have since kept it open, while other businesses have boarded up all around them.

The best TV pieces often thrive on moments — those uninterrupted glimpses that the viewer seemingly experiences right along with the subject of the story. Huppert and Christian find several of those here, helping to bring three-dimensional humanity to the coverage of Ferguson.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Niagara Falls, skydiving, and snails

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.

First thing’s first: this web site looks a little bit different.

I am excited to introduce some visual changes to the Telling The Story blog, thanks to an exciting new WordPress theme that will give me numerous options as a blogger and storyteller. Take a look around:

  • Click on the icon in the top-left corner to see a slide-out sidebar full of options.
  • Check out the various posts, and notice the color-coding that now exists for each category.
  • Most of all, enjoy! The content will remain the same — 3 Great Stories every Monday and a fresh commentary or podcast every Wednesday — but with some visual perks and additions.

Without further ado, let’s kick off the second year of the Telling The Story blog with three terrific stories from this past week:

(Not so) frozen Niagara Falls (3/5/14, WGRZ-TV Buffalo): This piece found a soft spot in my heart.

Not only does it come from my former stomping grounds (Buffalo, NY), my former employer (WGRZ-TV, the city’s NBC affiliate), and my former co-worker (reporter Dave McKinley), but it lovingly showcases the area’s greatest claim to fame:

Niagara Falls.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The “riding the wave of long-form writing” edition

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.

Seems like the pendulum, in the written world, is heading back towards long-form journalism.

Major web sites — including ones that generally traffic in web clicks, like Slate and BuzzFeed — have devoted entire sections to long reads. One web site even calls itself “LongReads” and commits itself strictly to long-form work.

This excites me. I have made plain my love for this brand of storytelling.

But I especially appreciate its current, if brief, resurgence, because it comes at a time of quick hits, snippets, and an overall overload of online content.

Here now, three great long-form stories from this past week:

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet (1/6/14, Pacific Standard): This article has been getting a lot of attention this week … and rightly so.

Amanda Hess dives into the topic of Internet abuse, specifically as it relates to women, who receive a disproportionately high amount of it. She mixes her own experience with those of countless other female journalists and bloggers; she exposes the potential logistical issues in reporting abuse and counteracting it; and she buttresses everything with sobering statistics.

Consider this paragraph, where Hess breaks down what one might experience should she bring her claims of abuse to the police:

The Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, whether you are in London or Palm Springs, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction. And your cop will probably be a man: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2008, only 6.5 percent of state police officers and 19 percent of FBI agents were women. The numbers get smaller in smaller agencies. And in many locales, police work is still a largely analog affair: 911 calls are immediately routed to the local police force; the closest officer is dispatched to respond; he takes notes with pen and paper.

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PODCAST EPISODE #2: Ed Kilgore, Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer

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At the end of my latest podcast interview, with my former co-worker and dean of Buffalo sportscasters Ed Kilgore, the former WGRZ-TV sports anchor reminded me of a conversation we once had during a slow moment at work.

Apparently (and I vaguely remember this), I asked Kilgore — in all sincerity — if he felt Tommy Lee Jones had underachieved.

And then, he recalls, we seriously discussed this topic for several minutes.

Such is the spirit of Ed Kilgore. He is a man who enjoys discussion, no matter what the topic. I shared a cubicle with Kilgore during my time at WGRZ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Buffalo, and I always knew I could rope him into a deep conversation if I so desired. Kilgore, like myself, enjoys thinking about and dissecting topics — even a topic as seemingly silly as Tommy Lee Jones’ movie career.

Kilgore joined me for Episode #2 of the Telling the Story podcast. A quick bio: he worked at WGRZ-TV for 40 years before retiring last month. He covered four Super Bowls, the Miracle on Ice, and pretty much every big recent sporting event involving the city of Buffalo. He was inducted in 2010 to the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and he is by far the most famous sports anchor to have graced Western New York.

In the podcast, we touched on very little of this, because the last decade of Kilgore’s broadcasting career was arguably the most interesting in the context of storytelling. He saw his role change, learning how to edit highlights and becoming a force on social media, and experienced a much darker period in Buffalo sports (the NFL’s Bills have not made the playoffs in more than a decade, and the NHL’s Sabres have not played in a Stanley Cup since 1999).

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