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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring clickbait, death row, and a $75 truck

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.

The virologist (1/5/15, New Yorker): Happy new year, journalist and storyteller friends!

Want to start 2015 with a startling look at your industry?

Andrew Marantz fires a fastball high and tight in this long-form piece from the New Yorker’s first issue of the year. The writer profiles a content creator of a different brand: a 27-year-old named Emerson Spartz who, per the article, “has been successfully launching web sites for nearly half his life.”

What are these web sites? They are cold, hard generators of clickbait.

To read about Spartz’s operation is to peek into a calculated industry that shadows the journalistic experience while utterly ignoring its ethics. In this case, Marantz is as brutal a storyteller as Spartz is a content creator, refusing to hold back and expertly matching the tone of his work with the personality of his subject. Come for the sobering look at the industry, but stay for a well-written and thought-provoking piece of journalism.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Amazon, Isaiah Austin, & insurance

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.

The War of the Words (December 2014, Vanity Fair): It lasts six web pages and covers so much, but this story impresses me most because of its restraint.

Writing for Vanity Fair, Keith Gessen discusses the landscape surrounding the current battle between Amazon and book publishers, who feel they are being squashed by a behemoth. He gives a great summary of the current disputes; more importantly, he provides powerful context.

Isn’t it funny how Amazon was initially seen as a force of good for the publishing industry, a counterpoint to the giant chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders? Now Amazon is the giant, and in many ways, Gessen writes, its ascendance represents the more cyclical nature of business rather than a sea change. This poignant paragraph sums it up:

The dispute between Amazon and the publishers is a dispute between an e-commerce giant and companies that have for generations been printing text on paper. In some respects it is also a dispute between the East Coast and the West Coast. It is definitely a dispute between hyper-capitalism and cultural conservation. But in the end it is a dispute that comes down to different visions of the future of the written word.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring LeBron, Seinfeld, & a special friendship

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.

LeBron: I’m coming back to Cleveland (7/11/14, Sports Illustrated): Sometimes telling a great story is simply about having the thing that everyone wants.

For two weeks, LeBron James had it.

Every sports fan — and plenty of non-sports fans, too — wanted to learn where the NBA’s greatest player would spend the rest of his career. Would he stay with the Miami Heat, the team with which he won two championships over the last four years? Or would he take his talents elsewhere?

James decided to go to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and he announced his decision with a poignant, well-thought article on SI.com. He gave the scoop to Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins, who transcribed James’ comments and turned them into a cogent work of writing.

The web site will likely draw record traffic this weekend, and it should. LeBron James gave everyone a reason to click. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the value of buried treasures

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.

New York’s shadow transit (7/2/14, New Yorker): I am a big fan of buried treasures.

Not the Scrooge McDuck kind, mind you, though those are great too …

No, I’m referring to the storytelling kind.

Find me something I have never seen before, and present it to me in a compelling fashion, and I will offer my full attention.

In this case, Aaron Reiss of the New Yorker delivers this fascinating look at the “shadow transit” systems that operate throughout New York City, enabling the poor and underserved to navigate the Big Apple. Reiss spotlights each system, one-by-one, borough by borough, even into New Jersey. The whole thing is a great history lesson, both well written and craftily presented for a Web audience. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring ATL, EW, and the inventor of Twister

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 always appreciate when a journalist can frame a familiar subject in a completely new light.

This applies to major issues, of course, but it also relates to more seemingly frivolous topics.

If a common thread exists among the following three stories from last week, it would be the storyteller’s ability to bring new appreciation to seemingly simple matters.

How you know where you’re going when you’re in an airport (6/12/14, The Atlantic): For the second straight year, I have purchased a book based on nothing but a brief passage.

Last year it was Andrew Carroll’s brilliant Here Is Where. This year it is David Zweig’s Invisibles.

And this passage is what got me to click “PURCHASE”.

Zweig tours the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and studies the meticulous ways in which its designers enable it to function without error.

(Almost without error, anyway. This is an airport we’re talking about.)

This particular selection is not long, but it remains informative and well written. A reader can choose to take the preferred next step — buying the book — or walk away having still gained a nice perspective into the inner workings of airports. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #14: Dave Schwartz, sports anchor, KARE-TV

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“What is it like to cover the Olympics?”

I have heard this question from virtually everyone I know since I came back from Russia three weeks ago.

But before I answer, I generally need to ask a question of my own:

“Which part?”

Reporting from the Olympics combines an array of unique experiences for any journalist. On the list:

  • covering a massive international event
  • corresponding from a foreign country
  • working extremely long hours, with zero days off, for nearly a month

In the case of the 2014 Winter Olympics, you can throw a few more items onto the list, such as concerns about security and privacy in what many consider a hostile country.

I documented my experiences through my numerous on-air stories as well as fifteen blog entries from Russia. But I promised I would use this space, soon after I returned, to showcase the viewpoint of someone else.

Enter Dave Schwartz.

The sports anchor and reporter for KARE-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul worked several seats down from me in Sochi, but in some ways he experienced the Winter Games far differently. He covered numerous local athletes and events, where I typically focused on the Olympic atmosphere. He worked with a partner from his station, while I mostly worked by myself.

And on a personal level, Schwartz spent three weeks in Sochi, ten time zones away from his wife and kids.

Schwartz joined me on the latest episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the importance of exposure

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.

Success as a storyteller comes in many different forms, but to me, it partially occurs when one exposes new or underrepresented viewpoints to a wider audience.

This, at times, is a truly difficult task. Sometimes, I feel, as media consumers, we rely so much on our own eyes and experiences that we naturally give shorter shrift to the filtered, seen-through-the-news experiences of others.

This week’s 3 Great Stories are all pieces that provide powerful insights that do not usually break through to the mainstream.

This is why poor people’s bad decisions make perfect sense (11/18/13, Huffington Post): A quick piece of background: this past week, through a leadership development program, I participated in a “simulated society” exercise, where dozens of us split up into regions and participated for a full day in an alternate world where people were randomly assigned to varying levels of money, power, and location. I was grouped in the poorest, we-have-nothing region.

And it was shocking.

It was shocking to see how people responded when placed outside of their comfort zones. Even in a game format, I felt emotions that I never imagined I would feel if I faced that situation in real life. And in the poorest region, our priorities were so much different than those of the other regions. We were essentially playing a different game — a much more urgent, desperate game.

With that experience under my belt, I possess even greater appreciation for an article like this one from Linda Tirado. She details her experiences as someone who self-describes as poor, and she discusses a similar mindset in real life to what my group saw during our game. I won’t spoil much, but this is a strong piece that gives exposure to a viewpoint rarely found in traditional news.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring sports, maps, and bratwurst

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.

When I first started this blog, I felt nervous about this particular segment.

Would I be able to find “3 Great Stories” every week? Stories that would offer me a new perspective on a familiar subject? Stories that would hit me emotionally as well as informationally? Stories that I would want to share even if I did not write a weekly column about them?

(In the first installment of this segment, you may recall, I only found two great stories.)

As this blog rolls into its seventh month, I am no longer nervous.

In fact, writing this segment is now one of my favorite parts of the week.

I have developed a process and rhythm for finding and absorbing great content. I subscribe to various RSS feeds and bookmark stories that pique my interest. I try to read and watch whatever I can during the week, but knowing how busy I often feel, I typically wind up waiting until the weekend to look at the bulk of the stories.

I love that part.

I love sitting down at my computer, clicking on story after story — print, video, audio, and otherwise — and taking them all in.

Between our busy schedules, our dwindling attention spans, and our penchant for the quick and brief over the measured and deep, we often now have to work to find great storytelling. But amidst the flood of information bombarding our minds, I am constantly flooded by powerful stories.

And I appreciate that such storytelling is still out there, in abundance, waiting to be seen.

Man and Superman (9/6/13, The New Yorker): For all the attention Malcolm Gladwell gets for his books, I still tend to prefer him in small doses.

At least, doses smaller than books.

In this case, Gladwell submits another powerful thinker about the blurred lines of athletic doping. He examines our castigation of Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong amidst our reverence for Kenyan runners, who Gladwell finds are genetically predisposed to succeeding at the sport, and Tommy John, who thrived in Major League baseball largely thanks to bionics. At what point does science end and cheating begin?

I, for one, believe cheating begins once somebody breaks a rule. But Gladwell takes on the rules themselves. In doing so, he offers a beautiful example of how to cover a current news story with in-depth, well researched perspective.

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