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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring candles, Peru, & a dozen scientists

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.

Hundreds gather in Roseburg to mourn shooting victims (10/2/15, KING-TV): On its own — and, really, that’s all that matters — this is a powerful story of the upsetting, unfiltered emotions of a community after last week’s school shooting in Oregon.

What makes it more impressive, from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, is how quickly this story was produced: from start to finish, in 70 minutes.

KING5 reporter Alex Rozier and photographer Dan Renzetti were dispatched to Oregon to find compelling stories, and they discovered one here in a candlelight vigil at a nearby park. Renzetti makes some beautiful maneuvers in his shooting and editing; I found particularly poignant his allowing a candle to naturally light one interview subject. Rozier writes the piece with care and context.

I would love to hear their takes on this, but I imagine the compressed time frame forced a certain level of precision and focus. Regardless, Rozier and Renzetti produce a package that brings home the emotions of a tragic situation.

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PODCAST EPISODE #29: Clive Thompson, writer, Smarter Than You Think

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Reading Clive Thompson is a markedly different experience than hearing Clive Thompson.

On paper (or more likely, online), his work is measured and precise. The freelance journalist has written about technology and language for Wired, New York Times magazine, the Washington Post, and a handful of other publications. He is the author of Smarter Than You Think, a terrific book about how technology has affected the way we think, remember, and operate — for the better.

I have already written about Thompson twice this year for a pair of noteworthy stories that pair appreciation for history with enthusiasm for the future. In each article, he appears in full command of the language he studies so much, and his energy hits home largely because it is harnessed and presented in such a thoughtful way.

In an audio interview setting, that energy comes unbound.

Thompson joins me on Episode #29 of the Telling The Story podcast, and he comes ready to play. Discussing the evolution of language, his career as a writer, and his advice for aspiring journalists, Thompson blazes through sentences with nary a breath in-between. He carries a passion that extends everywhere, from extolling the virtues of AOL Instant Messenger to testifying his love for guitar pedals.

In other words, if you hold on tight to this interview, you will enjoy the ride. And you will gain some great insight from one of the more decorated and enjoyable writers working today.

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A storyteller’s trip to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni

My journey to one of the world’s most stunning sights began with an innocent click.

Really, it began because of this web site.

I launched the Telling The Story blog in February 2013 to inspire journalists and storytellers, using not just my work but that of others around the world. I included a weekly series called “3 Great Stories” to spotlight the best pieces I watched, heard, or read that week.

I began to relish my regular quest to unearth such gems, and I regularly scanned different outlets to expand my reach.

In January 2014 I discovered Medium.

Advertised initially as a long-form version of Twitter, the site had become — at its best — a beacon of creativity where both young and established writers posted their work. I started scouring its headlines until I stumbled upon this one:

Salar de Uyuni: my trip to see the world’s largest mirror

It was accompanied by this photo:

Salar post photo

My eyes widened, and my index finger raced to the mouse to click on the link.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Playing catch-up from March

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.

Devil’s Rope (3/17/15, 99% Invisible): I took a few weeks off in March to go on vacation and retool the web site.

But I continued to watch, read, and listen to great journalism and storytelling.

I decided to use this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” to play catch-up and spotlight several pieces that stood out to me last month. This podcast, from the terrific Roman Mars, follows the 99% Invisible formula to beautiful effect, outlining a historical problem (cattle and buffalo wandering too freely during the 19th century, as Americans moved to the Great Plains) and teasing the eventual solution (the invention of barbed wire). That solution, of course, opens the door to a whole host of angles and anecdotes that fill the rest of the episode.

As I listened, I kept thinking, “I really don’t care that much about barbed wire. But I can’t turn this off!” Mars and his team are such potent storytellers, and I always enjoy listening to 99% Invisible from that standpoint alone.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring health care, ideas, & hot air

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.

Newly insured, many now face learning curve (8/2/14, New York Times): Cutting through the political muck can be difficult these days.

As a news consumer, one often needs to search through a variety of opinion pieces and commentaries, knee-jerk and otherwise, before hearing about the “reality on the ground”, so to speak.

Credit to writer Abby Goodnough for offering an example of journalism that informs.

While political foes continue to fight over the Affordable Care Act, newly insured Americans must ignore all that and learn the ins and outs of their new health care. Goodnough presents a thorough, well-researched story about the challenges faced by all involved. She peppers her story with powerful individual anecdotes like this:

Last week, Salwa Shabazz arrived at the office of a public health network here with a bag full of paperwork about her new health insurance — and an unhappy look on her face. She had chosen her plan by phone in March, speaking to a customer service representative at the federal insurance marketplace. Now she had problems and questions, so many questions.

“I’ve had one doctor appointment since I got this insurance, and I had to pay $60,” Ms. Shabazz told Daniel Flynn, a counselor with the health network, the Health Federation of Philadelphia. “I don’t have $60.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #17: Ryan Shmeizer, on why we love lists

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I know you can’t help it.

I can’t help it, either.

I am a journalist by trade, a person who values the craft and importance of storytelling, and a big believer in complex, rich reporting … and I can’t help it.

I always click on lists.

You know the articles: “6 Great Moments in Seinfeld History”, “The 27 Best Foods for a Picnic”, “32 Reasons To Love Summer”. These days, lists populate the web.

That is because we click on them.

My guest on this edition of the Telling The Story podcast explains why.

Ryan Shmeizer is not a professional journalist. He is a venture capitalist in New York who only recently decided to display his writing for the world.

And on his first try, he scored big.

Writing on the Medium platform, Shmeizer wrote a piece called, 10 Reasons You Will Read This Medium Post”. One by one, he delineated the reasons why we click on lists and then read them to completion.

The article was quickly named an Editor’s Pick on Medium and proceeded to go relatively viral. I recently mentioned it as one of my 3 Great Stories of the week.

On the podcast, Shmeizer offers the same insight and analysis as he does in his writing. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring FSU, lists, & Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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 only obviously common thread between the three stories below is that they were all written.

I offer no TV pieces this week, nor anything from radio or video. I have selected three pieces that appeared on the Internet this week; one is the online edition of a print story, one is a web exclusive, and one is a republished magazine interview from 33 years ago.

The only other common thread? They are all insightful and memorable.

A star player accused, and a flawed rape investigation (4/16/14, New York Times): Wow.

This is how you research, write, and present a piece of investigative journalism.

Instantly one of the most widely spread articles of the week, Walt Bogdanich’s in-depth look at the Jameis Winston rape investigation produces incendiary highlights throughout. From interviews with relevant parties to a timeline of the events in question, Bogdanich offers a thorough look at what was done — and what was missed — throughout the aftermath.

No wonder the article has invoked such a reaction — both from Florida State, where Winston just led the football team to a national title, and from readers, many of whom followed the Winston coverage intently last fall. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring travel, salt flats, and a loyal soldier

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.

What is the most effective way to inform others about travel?

Is it through a photo gallery? A beautifully written essay? A video?

As the media landscape keeps trending toward multimedia and interactive storytelling, storytellers of all genres are presented with the challenge of mastering it all. Perhaps one story is best told through the written word, perhaps another through audio or video, and yet another as a combination.

This is particularly true with travel stories, where the visuals are often stunning but the experiences are often complex and powerful.

Take a look at two different ways of telling similar stories, along with one heartfelt memorial to a “ragged soldier”:

Impossible Rock (January 2014, National Geographic): Here is what you might call the “traditional” way to tell a travel story.

Mark Synnott of National Geographic documents his journey to the top of a mountain in Oman with a pair of twenty-somethings; all three are avid climbers, though Synnott fills his pack with a little more trepidation.

For me, Synnott is most effective in this piece when describing the non-climbing parts of the trip, such as his interplay with the locals. Within these asides and vignettes are moments that could not possibly be fully captured with a photo. They are best told verbally.

He describes the hike with similar gusto, but here I really benefited from the story’s attached photo gallery. (I am assuming, of course, that photos were featured far more prominently in the magazine story than they are online.) A link in the top left corner of the page directs the reader to the work of photographer Jimmy Chin, whose dramatic snapshots truly drive home the daring nature of the climbers.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the new iPhone, Netflix, & the Apple Store

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 have always been fascinated by how big-name corporations try to predict the future.

This is especially true when it comes to technology.

With the tech world changing so rapidly, I continually find myself interested in how the big names in that business try to stay ahead of the curve. Some — like Apple — always seem to be on the right side of that wave. Others always seem to be playing catch-up.

I read three articles this week that offered an enlightening window into two major companies: Apple and Netflix. If you use their products, you will enjoy these pieces.

The secret of iOS7  (9/19/13, I, Cringely): The best tech writers are able to present their own visions of the future. In this case, technology journalist Mark Stephens — known by his pen name, Robert X. Cringely — delivers his predictions about Apple’s predictions.

Cringely dissects the release of Apple’s new iPhones and iOS7 operating system, positing a beautiful theory on where the ground-breaking company might be headed next:

Here’s what I think is happening. At the very moment when Apple critics are writing-off the company as a three- or four- or five-hit wonder, Apple is embracing the fact that desktop computers only represent about 15 percent of its income, making Apple clearly a mobile technology company. As such, it is more important for Apple to expand its mobile offerings than its desktops. So Apple in a sense is about to make the Macintosh deliberately obsolete.

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