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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring New York(er), New York (Times)

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.

Leslie Jones and Twitter’s troll economics (7/23/16, New Yorker): This article is the latest in a weekly James Surowiecki column called “The Week in Business”.

That title sounds beyond boring.

Surowiecki’s work is anything but.

He covers three topics in this column, the title one dealing with how Twitter polices its members. It’s a multi-layered discussion, especially for those of us who use Twitter on a regular basis. The crux of his column? This paragraph:

The fight underscored the peculiar nature of Twitter as a quasi-public space, and the challenges that this presents to the company as it tries to grow its stagnant user base. Twitter isn’t, after all, a coffee shop, and much of its appeal stems from its free-for-all nature. Tough speech codes run the risk of alienating users who relish the possibilities presented by the service’s relative lack of oversight. At the same time, many, perhaps even most, Twitter users have grown alienated by the disproportionate toxicity that a minority of users can spread, and in particular by the kind of pack harassment that is often directed at “controversial” figures, many of whom are visible minorities or women. (That’s largely why the site also produces a steady flow of articles about, or by, people who have quit Twitter.)

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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 carillon bells, typos, & James Foley

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 voice of Baylor (8/20/14, KCEN-TV): Maybe this story started with an unfair advantage.

It is about the carillon bells that ring atop a magnificent building at Baylor University. It is also about the woman who plays them, but the bells are clearly the stars of the show.

Because once they start chiming, they have a hypnotic effect.

Reporter Chris Davis and photojournalist Bryan Wendland produce a story of nearly four minutes length. Given the feature-like subject matter and relative lack of substance, they could have easily told the story in half the time.

But half the time would miss the point.

This story flies by, mainly because everything flows so beautifully: Davis’ short sentences, quick sound bites, nicely timed edits and beautifully framed shots, and, of course, the bells, which provide the constant soothing energy that moves the piece.

In many ways, the bells have the effect on the viewer that they have on everyone in the story. That’s pretty impressive. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Malaysia Airlines & Tom Emanski

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.

After the crash (7/18/14, New Yorker): In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, more questions existed than answers.

The best reporting involved a certain amount of restraint — namely, resisting the temptation to jump to conclusions.

Credit the New Yorker’s David Remnick, then, for this column the following day. He provides perspective by interviewing a former PR man for Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin, choosing to take a macro view of the crisis in Ukraine rather than specifically dissecting the crash. And before U.S. government officials — and even President Obama — weighed in with their thoughts, Remnick warned of the dangers of assuming before investigating:

But let’s stop here and register the proper cautions and caveats: There has been no investigation, no conclusive proof. (And there won’t necessarily be a proper and convincing investigation, either, considering the deliberately chaotic and militarized state of eastern Ukraine these days, and Russia’s clear interests.) We shouldn’t pretend to know for certain what we don’t.

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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 “Mercer 78, Duke 71”

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 significant role of the media is to chronicle the major events of our society.

If something captures the attention of the nation this week, I should ideally be able to look back in five years and remember how we all discussed and covered it.

And I should also be able to relive how the various spectacles and sideshows that surrounded it.

In the moment, though, we tend to share the spectacles and sideshows as much as the actual events.

This past Friday, 14-seed Mercer stunned the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Online the following day, I saw a slew of articles getting shared about it — not about the game, but about what made it more than a game.

Here are three such stories that did their job exceedingly well:

Duke loses, world wins (3/21/14, New Yorker): How strange for staffers at the New Yorker to see this article atop its “Most E-Mailed” list.

Despite some strong competition in the Top 5, this was Number 1.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013, written 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.

Having done the “3 Great Stories” segment every week since starting this block in February, I now face the challenge of picking my favorites.

But I have picked them, and here they are.

I will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year next week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite written pieces of 2013, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) After Bloomberg (8/20/13, The New Yorker): He is routinely mocked for being bland and boring, but New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is sneakily candid. He regularly weighs in on national topics and critiques the President, among other leaders, and yet he does not get the notoriety for outspokenness that a Chris Christie might receive.

In his final year of office, one would expect, his candidness will lead to numerous in-depth retrospectives — hopefully as memorable as this one.

Ken Auletta of the New Yorker produces this 8,000-word gem about Bloomberg, and it is special because it blends the mayor’s own words with the appropriate context and commentary. Auletta writes with an obvious point of view, but he generally uses it to color Bloomberg’s words, not overpower them. This paragraph is a perfect example:

I asked Bloomberg if he could imagine joining the President’s Cabinet. In theory, he said, “it would be fascinating to be Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, jobs like that. Secretary of the Treasury, you want someone who’s a real economist”—and someone “who is maybe less opinionated.” Bloomberg thinks of himself as a team player, as long as it’s his team.

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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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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring two tales of heartbreak and one of the World Series

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 most powerful stories I saw this week were also the most heartbreaking.

Some people have true difficulty reading tales of heartbreak; they struggle with the depressing content, particularly when that content does not include a call to action or a way to channel their anger or frustration.

I understand that completely, but I try to look at it differently. I try to appreciate these stories for their place in our wide world; I cannot necessarily do anything about them, but I can at least be informed and aware of them.

I have included two such stories this week, along with a far more frivolous essay about the World Series, for good measure …

Hidden city (10/21/13, New Yorker): Even in terms of difficult stories, this one is a struggle.

New Yorker writer Ian Frazier puts together nearly 10,000 words about the rising number of homeless in the Big Apple. I — like many, I’m sure, who read this piece — was stunned by that fact. I grew up in the shadow of New York City and still visit it 3-4 times a year. I see fewer traces of homelessness every time I go, but obviously I suffer from the same bias as many quoted in Frazier’s story.

I take this problem personally, having once chronicled my own by-choice 24-hour stay at an Atlanta homeless facility. Frazier tells the story without much dressing or fanfare; he simply tells it as it is, which is plenty horrifying already.

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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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