kevin torres

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.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring India, SNL, & Soldierstone

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.

Fulfilling a promise, Jewish center in India reopens after terror attack (8/26/14, New York Times): Here is an example of what the New York Times often does so well.

Writer Gardiner Harris tells the story of a Jewish center in India that had been “attacked and gutted during a 2008 killing rampage by Pakistani gunmen”. A week ago, the center re-opened, with a group of Hasidic men from Brooklyn having flown to Mumbai to help dedicate it.

The facts of the story are interesting on their own. But Harris elevates them by surrounding them with context, a summary of Jewish history in India, and personal perspectives. Sometimes, as journalists, we complete a story and wonder if we have covered everything worth mentioning in our tiny allotted window.

This is a complete story, and Harris — with his editors, for giving him the space — deserves credit for a job thoroughly done. (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…)

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.

(more…)