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PODCAST EPISODE #43: Cheryl Preheim, morning anchor, KUSA-TV

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I may have said this a time or two in the past month:

The Olympics are an extraordinary assignment.

I have had the privilege of covering the event three times, most recently this August in Rio de Janeiro. I find the assignment tests me in a variety of ways, both professionally and personally, and provides both unique challenges and wonderful memories.

I have not been alone. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of journalists descend upon the Olympics every two years, and they are all tasked with providing a window for their readers and viewers that enables a greater connection to both the Games and their host city.

I saw few handle this as deftly as the team at KUSA-TV in Denver. The NBC affiliate (and TEGNA sister station) comes equipped with a team of journalists who consistently make the extra push to tell the best story for their audience.

One of those journalists, morning anchor Cheryl Preheim, is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

I got to know Preheim at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and worked with her again in Rio. In both cases I marveled at her abilities as a storyteller and her disposition as a person. Through a grueling 25 days, she always seemed to find the energy and optimism while putting together great work for her viewers.

Listen to this podcast, and you’ll get a window into what makes Preheim such a strong storyteller — and what makes the Olympics such a daunting yet rewarding assignment.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the NBA, Zach Lowe, & honks

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.

Trading places: Warriors’ Harrison Barnes investigates Marcus Thompson’s Oakland roots (5/22/16, The Mercury News): Amidst the sea of coverage of the NBA playoffs, this NBA story — which has zero to do with the playoffs — stands out.

Marcus Thompson II is a writer for the San Jose Mercury News. Harrison Barnes is a starting forward for the Golden State Warriors. For one afternoon, they switch roles … to poignant results.

The premise: Barnes wants to learn more about Thompson’s roots, specifically the neighborhood in Oakland where Thompson grew up. In those days, Thompson says, Sobrante Park was a rough neighborhood, and the writer recounts anecdotes from his childhood in a way that makes him feel emotionally vulnerable.

This article is all kinds of powerful. But so is the accompanying 10-minute video, made by Thompson and Courtney Cronin, that follows Thompson and Barnes on their tour of Sobrante Park. Kudos to all involved.

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PODCAST EPISODE #38: Chris Vanderveen, reporter, KUSA-TV

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Sometimes we forget the cold hard potential of what we can accomplish in journalism.

Chris Vanderveen is a good reminder.

(As evidenced from his photo above with the Most Interesting Man in the World, he also knows how to keep good company.)

After more than a decade as an award-winning general assignment reporter for KUSA-TV in Denver, Vanderveen applied for a job within his station to join the investigative team. He got it, and he has been throwing journalistic haymakers ever since.

Specifically, Vanderveen has produced stories and led movements that have changed laws.

He brings a storyteller’s sensibility to the often tough-to-digest world of investigative journalism. I-Team stories tend to come across as an overload of numbers and data, except when in the hands of a reporter who can give viewers a reason to care.

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

He is also one of the many tremendous speakers at this year’s NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, being held June 10th and 11th in Atlanta. I am organizing and co-hosting the conference with photojournalist (and one-time podcast guest) John Kirtley of WLOS-TV in Asheville. We welcome anyone looking to improve as a storyteller and receive inspiration from some of the best in the country. Vanderveen has the hardware to back up his credentials, including recently being named a finalist for NPPA Reporter of the Year.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference, Feel free to e-mail me with questions at the address below. In the meantime, enjoy this look into the power of investigative journalism, with great tips on how to do it right.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring paint, police cars, & pics

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.

Young artist not stopped by disease sells $50K painting (10/23/14, KUSA-TV): An on-the-surface slam dunk of a story turns out, indeed, to be just that.

Reporter Kyle Dyer and photographer Andrew Christman of 9News in Denver spin a great yarn here. They tell the story of a young girl who suffers from brittle bone disease — as do her parents. She fights it with a beaming personality and a unexpected ability: painting. Fast forward to a charity event where the young girl, named Anicee, sells two of her canvases for $50,000 each.

It’s a feel-good story that feels better thanks to Dyer and Christman’s storytelling. They weave in some great surprises and genuine moments of joy, and they make it look pretty easy. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring animals and David Letterman

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 assigned a local TV news feature story about animals is like starting Monopoly with an extra $2,000 and three “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

Basically, you’re a mile ahead in a three-mile race.

Animals — particularly when placed in an eccentric context — almost always provide the kind of necessary flair, both visually and aurally, for a light-hearted feature. Attend a morning pitch meeting at my station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, and watch as the mere mention of an animal-related story elicits swoons from half the crowd.

(It also typically brings out groans from the other half.)

But if animals provide great feature material, the storyteller must still finish the job and produce a compelling piece.

Here are two strong examples of that from last week — as well as a thoughtful farewell piece to a late night titan:

A sign of spring at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (4/7/14, TWC Rochester): Unfortunately, only Time Warner Cable subscribers can actually watch this piece on its Rochester affiliate’s web site.

Thankfully, the story’s teller, multimedia journalist Seth Voorhees, liberated it onto YouTube, to which I have linked above.

Voorhees pens a piece about a local cemetery where, every spring, more than a dozen deer show up and, essentially, hang out. As most storytellers might do, he starts by discussing the cemetery and then, 30 seconds in, reveals the deer.

But pay attention to how Voorhees does this. Story-wise, he first introduces a character named Terri Wolfe; she is an older woman who regularly visits the cemetery. As a viewer, I have no idea how Terri fits into the story. Is it about her? A lost loved one of hers? Some feature of the cemetery? This misdirection makes the surprise of the deer more effective.

‘Candidates who really give a crap’ (4/6/14, KUSA-TV Denver): In this story, a couple of Telling The Story favorites take you on a four-minute visit to Animal Town. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #15: Michael Driver, Photographer, KUSA-TV

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Young photojournalists — heck, all photojournalists — need to listen to this podcast.

Last week, after winning my own award as NPPA Solo Video Journalist of the Year, I decided I wanted to interview another of the association’s big award winners for 2013.

I found a photojournalist whose work I have admired and referenced before in the blog: Michael Driver of KUSA-TV in Denver.

Driver was named the NPPA’s 2013 West Top Regional Photographer of the Year, and he beat some of America’s finest photojournalists to do it. The West, largely because of the highly-regarded photographer staffs at KUSA and Seattle’s KING-TV, is usually the most competitive region in the country. Driver arrived in Denver in 2012, eager to make his stamp on the competition.

Then he went ahead and won the whole thing.

Driver produced some magnificent work in 2013; I have included two stories below. First, “I Miss You, Beryl”:

Then, “Before I Die”:

Now Driver joins me on the Telling The Story podcast, and he is as ferocious on the mic as he is behind the camera.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The “back from break, no more lists” 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.

Lists. They’re everywhere.

And never are they more everywhere than at the end of a year.

This past week, submerged in a sea of year-end lists from my favorite media outlets, web sites, and blogs, I mused the following on Twitter:

I quickly received a response from a viewer who assured me, yes, someone had indeed created such a list (at least for music).

I, of course, am just as responsible for the year-end list-mania as anyone. And I am not by any means against it; I appreciate the opportunity to look back on a year’s worth of great work, be it in music, movies, writing, or journalism.

But I also like when everyone gets back to work and starts creating again.

Here are three stories, from this past week, to start your year off right (even if they are all from the end of last year):

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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.

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