jon shirek

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Atlanta icons & an Alabama firefighter

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.

#GoodbyeBrenda: 11Alive bids farewell to an Atlanta icon (2/8/17, WXIA-TV): This past week, my newsroom in Atlanta lost a legend.

Longtime anchor Brenda Wood officially retired from local TV news, signing off Wednesday for the final time. I have used this space quite a bit in recent weeks to commemorate Wood and her work in Atlanta.

But I can think of no person better to honor such an icon than our newsroom’s other storytelling standout.

Jon Shirek is a phenomenal writer and a generous soul; I have interviewed him both on my Telling the Story podcast and for my book, The Solo Video Journalist. In this story, he does his homework and encapsulates the career of our colleague with sensitivity and admiration.

It’s a fitting tribute. After all, Wood never lacked command as an anchor; Shirek never lacks it as a writer.

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Introducing “The Solo Video Journalist”, my how-to book for aspiring MMJs

I am a television news reporter for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, Ga., the 10th largest TV market in the country. But I am also my own photographer, shooting and editing the video that becomes my pre-produced reports. From the start of my day to the finish, I am almost always on my own.

And I represent a growing reality in TV news.

The term “multimedia journalist” gets thrown around in the news business, but in television it has a clear meaning. It refers to a journalist who produces a report from start to finish, combining the jobs of a traditional reporter (researching, interviewing, writing) with those of a traditional photographer (shooting, editing). We now occupy a substantial part of TV newsrooms; per the latest survey, roughly nine of every ten local network affiliates use them in some capacity. When aspiring television journalists go to college, they are warned they will almost certainly start their careers – and likely spend a good chunk of them – as one-woman and one-man bands.

Yet no book exists that offers a comprehensive overview of what the job entails, with the insights and authorship of journalists working in the business.

So I wrote one.

I am proud and excited to announce the release of The Solo Video Journalist, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is a how-to guide for a position in TV news that is long overdue for such analysis: the multimedia journalist, or MMJ.

(… or backpack journalist, or VJ, or any number of titles bestowed upon this position through the years. I went with “solo video journalist” because I think that term most accurately describes the job: producing video stories and journalism on one’s own.)

I have held this title since I entered the business more than a decade ago, and I have remained astounded at the lack of explicit instruction exists for those who do it. So many, both inside and outside the business, continue to envision newsrooms full of traditional reporters and photographers, neglecting the vital role MMJs have come to play.

The reality is far different.

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PODCAST EPISODE #13: “Best Of” Advice Edition, 2013

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This year has been a blast.

Since launching the Telling The Story podcast in April, I have interviewed twelve great journalists and storytellers about their work.

With the year wrapping up, I decided to take a look back.

I compiled some of the best moments from the past year into a “Best Of” advice edition of the Telling The Story podcast. Hear from eight terrific storytellers about their thoughts on what makes a great storyteller, such as:

  • Jon Shirek: my first podcast guest and my co-worker at WXIA-TV in Atlanta
  • Anne Herbst: a versatile news photographer and now assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV in Denver
  • Matt Detrich: a longtime staff photographer at the Indianapolis Star
  • Andrew Carroll: the author of the fascinating new book, Here Is Where
  • Roman Mars: the esteemed host of 99% Invisible, and my most popular podcast guest to date
  • Erin Brethauer: multimedia editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times, and — for a week this year — the overseer of the New Yorker’s Instagram account
  • Tomas Rios: a self-described paid-lance sportswriter whose work has appeared in Slate and Deadspin
  • Rachel Hamburg: a recent graduate of Stanford and the managing editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project

It’s a solid group of storytellers, and they offer some great advice.

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My Thanksgiving thank-you column

I started this blog nine months ago not knowing what to expect.

I was not sure whether anyone would read it; I was not sure I would be able to commit to it; and I was not sure if doing it would ultimately feel as rewarding as I hoped it would be.

Nine months later, I am happy to answer “Yes” to all three questions.

Developing the “Telling The Story” blog has been a great experience so far. And while it has mostly been a solitary experience — I run a relatively autonomous ship over here — it has allowed me to engage with people in a variety of ways across the media landscape.

At this time of taking stock and giving thanks, I would like to give my thanks — both verbally and through links — to the many people who have helped enrich both the blog itself and my personal experience in writing it:

Thanks to my bosses. This blog exists in part because of the blessings of the higher-ups at my full-time job. I am proud to say that I have done some of my best work yet for 11Alive/WXIA-TV this year, and I think I have improved as a storyteller because I constantly examine storytelling in this space.

Thanks to my podcast guests. I am greatly appreciative of the 13 individuals who have taken their time to be interviewed for my Telling The Story podcast. Of those 13, eight of them had never met or spoken with me before, and in many cases I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly they responded and set up an interview.

Case in point: my most recent guests, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, the filmmakers behind the powerful documentary American Promise. I watched the film on a Saturday night, contacted them Sunday morning, heard back less than an hour, and interviewed them that Tuesday.

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“Telling The Story” podcast guests on: changes in journalism

I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I figured I would use my usual Wednesday space to put together some of the stronger exchanges and sound bites from the first six episodes of the “Telling The Story” podcast.

Next week, I will post the highlights on the topic of advice for young journalists and storytellers. This week, here are three segments on the changing landscape of journalism, which is a frequent topic here on the blog:

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“We can be those outsiders, telling a story that’s important”: Jon Shirek was my first guest on the “Telling The Story” podcast, and he remains a storyteller and co-worker who I greatly admire. In this segment, Shirek talks about how storytelling has changed in the past three decades — and how, in his words, we are still “outsiders on behalf of outsiders.”

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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“[The iPhone] does have a role in what we do”: In the aftermath of the Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to fire its photography staff, I called up veteran Indianapolis Star photojournalist Matt Detrich for an honest and insightful discussion of the future of newspaper photography. Detrich spoke mostly of his disappointment in the Sun-Times’ decision, but in this exchange, he did offer some positive words about the potential for the iPhone camera.

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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PODCAST EPISODE #1: Jon Shirek, reporter, WXIA-TV

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Let the next chapter begin.

Two months after kicking off the Telling the Story blog, I am proud to introduce the Telling the Story podcast. This will continue the discussion about how journalists — and all of us — reach the world. Each episode of the podcast will feature an esteemed storyteller, answering questions and conversing about both the craft of storytelling and its role in the changing media landscape.

I could not be more thrilled to begin the podcast with one of my favorite storytellers: WXIA-TV reporter Jon Shirek.

Jon is a friend and colleague of mine. We have worked together for four years at the NBC affiliate in Atlanta; of course, I arrived just as Jon was beginning his fourth decade at the station. He is, I would say, the most respected and veteran storyteller in a newsroom that houses many great ones.

He also recently made a big change. Five years ago Jon was asked to become a backpack journalist, meaning he would have to shoot and edit his own stories instead of working with a photographer. He warily accepted the challenge, and he continues to crank out terrific work.

This is no small feat. Young journalists today are told in college they will have no choice but to shoot their own stories. Jon had been working with a photographer for several decades before he was asked. To learn the skills while remaining a great storyteller has been an impressive achievement, one that often gets taken for granted in the WXIA newsroom.

“I think it has made me a better reporter in a lot of ways,” Jon told me. “It has helped me economize my approach to stories so that I have a better idea, while I’m talking to somebody, the direction the story needs to go.” That said, he notes, “I am still a work in progress. I cannot pretend to be a photographer after five years.”

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Jon Shirek on how “good storytelling will always be good storytelling”

Tomorrow, we begin a new chapter at the Telling the Story blog.

The Telling the Story podcast.

I am excited to bring the discussion to audio form, starting with a great first guest. Jon Shirek, a reporter and my colleague at WXIA-TV in Atlanta, joins me for a 30-minute discussion about backpack journalism, the changes in local news over three decades, the crafting of storytelling, and the challenges of leaving a journalistic legacy.

His one sentence that sums it all up? “Good storytelling will always be good storytelling.”

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