new york times

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring violins, cheat codes, & Cuba

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.

Only in Indiana: The Awakening (4/6/16, WTHR-TV): One of the best storytelling tandems in local news just produced a gem.

Reporter Kevin Rader and photographer Steve Rhodes always craft powerful, joyous stories for WTHR-TV’s “Only in Indiana” segment. In this case, they turn their gaze to a young boy named Elias, blind and deaf since birth, and his “awakening” with a musical instrument.

To say much more would mean spoiling a truly beautiful piece. Rader offers tender narration while Rhodes provides his usual exquisite editing; I have profiled these two before, and I have no doubt I will mention them again in this space before too long.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2015, audio/video edition

Every week, I will 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.

This is one of my favorite moments of the year.

Every December, I look back at my “3 Great Stories” posts from the past year and decide on which stories, I feel, rose above the rest.

It always reminds me of how much magnificent work gets done every year. Here, for example, is my best-of list from 2014.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year last week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite audio/video pieces of 2015 — and an honorable mention — along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

HM) Elsa’s story (7/17/15, Denver Post): “Wow.”

That was all I could say after watching the “Elsa’s Story” documentary presented this week by the Denver Post.

The video accompanies a powerful article of the same name about 9-year-old Elsa, who “insisted as soon as she could speak that she was a girl, even though she was assigned male at birth.” The story truly revolves around the evolving acceptance of Elsa’s parents, specifically her mother, who essentially narrates the 16-minute documentary.

Sixteen minutes may seem like a long time to stare at a computer screen or focus on one’s cell phone, but the time pays off. The documentary’s length allows the viewer to process its images and words, in some ways journeying along with Elsa’s mother as she describes her struggle to understand Elsa’s maturation.

The video is full of poignant moments, most of which come from home movies of Elsa through childhood. Credit the Post’s Mahala Gaylord for the video and Jen Brown for the article — and the Post itself for investing such time and resources into a standout story.

#3) One-legged kicking coach inspires high school team (10/28/15, KARE-TV): If this story doesn’t win all kinds of awards next year, I will be stunned.

KARE-TV storyteller extraordinaire Boyd Huppert has done it again, this time thanks largely to the photography and editing of Kevin Sullivan. The visuals here are just stunning, from the blink-and-you-miss-them angles of football practice to the picturesque landscapes of Friday night football. They provide, for this story, a gorgeous aesthetic.

Huppert, as always, brings the piece’s soul.

He unfolds the story of a man named Larry, with one arm and one leg, who coaches kicking for a local high school football team. Huppert delivers the story with touching turns of phrase and that sing-song, lullaby-like cadence that immediately hooks a viewer.

This is beautiful work by all involved.

#2) Mondawmin Monday (4/27/15, WBFF-TV): There have been numerous stories and reports from Baltimore, some instructive and some less so, about the protests and riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.

So much of the images and video have arrived as a stream — stations providing non-stop coverage and constant immediacy, which absolutely has its place in situations like this. But this story, from FOX 45 Baltimore’s Kathleen Cairns and Jed Gamber, shows the power of editing and context.

Given time — and a four-block radius — to document Monday’s action, reporter Cairns and photographer Gamber find themselves in the midst of smoking tear gas, a burning car, and numerous protesters and police. They capture it all with a sense of poignancy and objectivity; Gamber shoots and edits some powerful moments, and Cairns shows wise restraint with her script, stepping back and simply connecting the dots of those aforementioned moments.

This is one of the most haunting, powerful stories I have seen this year.

#1) South Carolina officer is charged with murder of Walter Scott (4/7/15, New York Times): There is no doubt about it.

The most powerful piece of storytelling this year came from a citizen’s cell phone camera*.

A South Carolina man captured video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting a man named Walter Scott five times in the back, killing him. The clip launched an arrest, an avalanche of coverage, and a new chapter in the conversation on law enforcement.

As for the accompanying article, New York Times writers Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo wisely let the video do most of the talking, playing it straight and telling a thorough story. The Times received the video from the Scott family’s lawyer, and it sure made its mark.

*I debated whether to categorize this as written or audio/video, but I went with the latter because the video is truly the story here. This piece had such resonance because of the cell phone camera video, not the accompanying article.

 

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Adele, Drake, & Taylor

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.

Adele: Inside her private life and triumphant return (11/3/15, Rolling Stone): I usually resist articles like these.

I usually possess no interest in reading them.

I usually skip profiles of musicians because they seem so phony: carefully stage-managed attempts by pop stars to appear “real” and “authentic”, promoted by writers and magazines who claim to have received earth-shattering revelations. I clicked on this article, a Rolling Stone cover story about Adele, with low expectations (despite a major affection for Adele’s music).

I was wrong.

Brian Hiatt writes a piece that is compelling from start to finish, thanks in large part to its subject. Adele holds back little and swears a lot, but she mostly projects an image free of pretense, showing a naked acknowledgement of the many puppet strings of the music industry. Whereas many pop stars, in articles like these, reflect on more gossipy drama, Adele discusses motherhood, sexism, and journalism. Hiatt composes a piece that sets up these moments and flows beautifully from quote to quote.

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3 podcasts I love in 2015

I am usually late to the game on cultural phenomena.

I started binge-watching 24 on Netflix when the show was already in its fifth season.

I first became enthralled with Mad Men seven years after it first hit the airwaves.

I didn’t start listening to the Beatles until 30 years after they broke up.

(Granted, I was not alive for the first eleven of those years, but still …)

Every now and then, though, I find myself ahead of the curve. Such is the case with podcasts.

I have been sampling and subscribing to podcasts since slightly after their inception, which Wikipedia pegs as somewhere in the 2004-05 range. Ten years later, the field seems to be catching up; podcasts continue to inch closer to mainstream use, and several of them have become legitimate moneymakers for their producers.

(Mine, by the way, is not one of them. I don’t make any money from the Telling The Story podcast; I simply do it, much like I write this blog, for the joy and value it brings.)

Last Saturday, facing a five-hour road trip by myself and feeling overloaded on recent music, I decided to scour the landscape for new podcasts. I was not disappointed. Ten days of binge-listening later, I find myself again excited for the future of a medium that finally seems to be getting its legs.

Here are three podcasts I’d recommend to anyone interested in a mind-expanding good time: (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Bush v. Trump, life, & the sax

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.

A once-sunny Jeb Bush, bristling in the long shadow of Donald Trump (9/2/15, New York Times): I rarely use this space to post stories about politics, but in this case I made an exception.

How many think pieces and “hot takes” have been written about Donald Trump? None, I will argue, is as fascinating as Jonathan Martin’s study of the Presidential hopeful arguably most affected by Trump’s current dominance: Jeb Bush.

For everyone dismissing Trump’s candidacy, the fact remains that he has legitimately affected the Republican race for the past few months. He has obviously altered Jeb Bush’s approach, as Martin illustrates beautifully in this story for the New York Times.

People often wonder if campaign reporting fails to live up to its purpose. In this case, Martin’s article succeeds strictly because of time spent with the candidate, as he details numerous instances where Bush seems to deviate from his script and make an off-the-cuff remark about Trump.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Dee Barnes, Dr. Dre, & Stephen Colbert

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.

Here’s what’s missing from Straight Outta Compton (8/18/15, Gawker): The past week brought a fascinating example of a shifting narrative.

The movie Straight Outta Compton had arrived with much fanfare and positive reviews, as well as a new album from hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. But many began pointing out what the movie had left out: Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women.

The most notorious victim? Dee Barnes, who hosted a hip-hop show called Pump It Up. Barnes has rarely been heard from since her run-in with Dr. Dre, but she amplified her voice in a serious way this week with an opinion piece for Gawker about her experience. She came forward with a honest look at what she went through and continues to face.

In doing so, Barnes provided some much-desired context to a movie based in history.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Bill Cosby, Beijing, & the Vikings

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’m no longer afraid”: 35 women tell their stories about being assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the culture that wouldn’t listen (7/26/15, New York Magazine): Strength in numbers has rarely seemed so personal.

This piece, written by Noreen Malone of New York Magazine with a portfolio by Amanda Demme, may go down as the definitive story about the many accusations of rape facing comedian Bill Cosby. At the very least, it became a viral sensation this past week for its sheer volume: 35 Cosby accusers stand both together and individually, offering their personal recollections while painting a brutal picture of the once-beloved actor.

Two facets of this story stand out. First, the research: one does not simply get 35 women to come forward publicly about this kind of subject. This undoubtedly required time, effort, and trust, which all show in the resulting piece.

But I also admire the thought that went into how the publication would present this. Everything is done both powerfully and tastefully, right down to the cover photo: the 35 accusers all sit on individual chairs, with an empty seat at the end. Malone, meanwhile, provides poignant context throughout her article, which is a difficult but important read.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2015 (so far), audio/video edition

Every week, I will 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.

We have reached the halfway point of 2015, which has brought about some strong journalism about riveting topics. With that in mind, the time is right for some “Best Of” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year so far next week. This week, my three favorite audio/video pieces from January through June, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

South Carolina officer is charged with murder of Walter Scott (4/7/15, New York Times): There is no doubt about it.

The most powerful piece of storytelling this year came from a citizen’s cell phone camera*.

A South Carolina man captured video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting a man named Walter Scott five times in the back, killing him. The clip launched an arrest, an avalanche of coverage, and a new chapter in the conversation on law enforcement.

As for the accompanying article, New York Times writers Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo wisely let the video do most of the talking, playing it straight and telling a thorough story. The Times received the video from the Scott family’s lawyer, and it sure made its mark.

*I debated whether to categorize this as written or audio/video, but I went with the latter because the video is truly the story here. This piece had such resonance because of the cell phone camera video, not the accompanying article.
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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring ATL, Mad Men, & a new heart

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.

If we win again, we’ll be one again (4/21/15, Bitter Southerner): This one falls under the category of, “I only heard about it this week, but it actually came out nearly a month ago, but that’s OK, because it’s wonderful.”

Leave it to the Bitter Southerner to bring forth a beautifully written article from a veteran journalist about the changing landscape of Atlanta sports. Ray Glier discusses how, as baseball’s Braves prepare to move out of the city and into the nearest suburbs, basketball’s Hawks have seen a renaissance this year, on the court and in the stands.

Glier wrote all this before the Hawks advanced to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, and his prose, in retrospect, seems all the more prescient. Glier blends the right amount of lofty wordplay and contextual background, while the web site’s Gregory Miller provides magnetic photos.

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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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