newspaper

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the power of a good headline

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.

In an advice column for journalists published more than a decade ago, Rick Reilly wrote about the importance of the lead. If you don’t grab your audience in your first paragraph, Reilly said, they will not stick around to appreciate all the content that follows.

One could easily extrapolate that concept to include the headline.

These days, headlines are huge. We are bombarded with them and make snap judgments about whether to click on articles based on them. Content providers across the globe are trying to figure out the ways to get their headlines noticed and search-able, let alone just plain interesting.

This week, I present “3 Great Stories” that captured me with their headlines — and then kept me with their content:

Inside the race to rescue a health site, and Obama (11/30/13, New York Times): This is a near-perfect headline.

It sets the stakes for the story — and what high stakes they are! It also sets the standard for the article’s content; a reader can expect right away to be treated to a look behind the tightly closed doors of the White House.

The article does not disappoint. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael D. Shear begin the piece by delving into a critical October meeting in which President Barack Obama was fully alerted to the problems of the Affordable Care Act’s web site. Stolberg and Shear begin their article from a place of major tension, gripping the audience early and holding it for seven web pages worth of paragraphs.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The printed, foreign affairs 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.

After submitting three local TV news features for your approval last week, I wondered, “What would be the complete opposite of such stories in the media realm?”

My decision: print stories about international affairs.

(Granted, I did not spend too much time on this question. And that means one of you readers may correct me on whether these are indeed the “complete opposite”, a la George’s salmon-tuna situation on Seinfeld.)

As George would say, “Good for the tuna.”

In the meantime, check out the masterful storytelling — and, in one case, story-obtaining — in these three pieces from last week.

Bin Laden raid reveals ‘state failure’ (7/9/13, Al-Jazeera.com): Here is that example of story-obtaining, and it is a biggie.

The investigative unit at Al-Jazeera received a copy of a report, commissioned by the Pakistani government, to determine how Osama bin Laden could live in Pakistan for nearly nine years undetected.

Like any modern-day journalistic outfit, they take the correct first step and make the entire report available for viewing online. But beyond that, this piece by writer Asad Hashim — one of nearly a dozen that accompanied the release of the report — details the report’s blunt words about the government’s incompetence throughout bin Laden’s time in the country. The commission even coined a phrase for it: “Governance Implosion Syndrome.”

The commission’s report is scathing; give credit to Hashim and the Al-Jazeera crew for distilling it into manageable, yet quite shocking, terms.

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Newspaper photographers, and how the Sun-Times, iPhones, & Internet relate

An interesting discussion took place on Twitter after I posted my most recent podcast.

I interviewed Matt Detrich, a staff photographer for 15 years with the Indianapolis Star, about the role of traditional photography in the changing newspaper landscape. The podcast seemed especially relevant since, a few weeks earlier, the Chicago Sun-Times fired all of its photographers. Newspaper officials will instead rely on freelancers to cover major events and reporters to shoot photos and video with their phones.

Said Detrich, among other things: “I really can’t wrap my head about why they would dismantle one whole department … and such a special department for a newspaper.”

A few days later, Tom Spalding — a former Indy Star employee and current board member at Indy Social Media, a social media web site — Tweeted this:

Fourteen minutes later, Spalding’s fellow Indy Social Media board member Chris Theisen responded with this:

That led to the following exchange between Detrich, Thiesen, and Spalding:

My response to each of these Tweets? I agree.

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PODCAST EPISODE #4: Matt Detrich, staff photographer, Indy Star

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Last month, a group of work colleagues and I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The museum features numerous exhibits, many of which are both informative and absorbing. But one exhibit stood out above all:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning photos.

On the first floor of the Newseum, one can see “the most comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos ever assembled,” according to the museum’s web site. It is an impressive sight: iconic photographs, one after the other, often as chilling as they are impressive.

We all loved the Pulitzer exhibit. We all stood spellbound at the gallery for far longer than we expected. Deep down, I think, journalists truly appreciate the value of the photograph.

And then, there’s this.

As the month of May came to a close, management at the Chicago Sun-Times made the decision to lay off its entire photography staff. They would instead rely on national feeds, freelancers, and reporters who would shoot photos with their camera-phones.

Is this a one-time thing or a sign of the times? Regardless, the landscape is undoubtedly changing for the newspaper photographer.

That brings us to this week’s Telling The Story podcast.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Matt Detrich: “My stomach just dropped” when the Sun-Times fired its photographers

In the world of journalism right now, there is one big story.

And it is this.

The Chicago Sun-Times shocked the newspaper world when it laid off its entire photography staff last month. It left many photographers feeling both disrespected and misunderstood.

It also left many wondering what could become of their jobs.

This seemed like a great topic for the fourth episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

Matt Detrich is a staff photographer with the Indianapolis Star; he has worked there for 15 years. Like most photographers I know — heck, like most journalists I know — he takes an awful lot of pride in his work. Now, however, he is incorporating the iPhone into his work; he is shooting video in addition to photos; and he is proactively changing with the times, sometimes against his purist heart.

“My stomach just dropped,” Detrich said, when he heard the news about the Sun-Times.

Come back to tellingthestoryblog.com Wednesday at 8 AM to hear the full podcast with myself and Detrich. We dig deep about the Sun-Times’ decision, the transition to a more immediate and web-based industry, and the misconceptions about a photographer’s day-to-day life.

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PODCAST EPISODE #3: Anne Herbst, assistant chief photographer, KDVR-TV

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Try to follow the career path on this one.

Anne Herbst studied journalism in college with the intentions of being a newspaper reporter.

Her professor said she was better at shooting video, so she became a staff photographer at a TV station.

She got hired as a staff photographer at KUSA-TV in Denver — one of the top shops in the country for video journalism — but gradually began writing her own stories … to which reporters would then put their voices.

She left KUSA to become a solo video journalist at the Denver Post. If you’re scoring at home, Herbst went from a TV station to a newspaper and went from being a traditional photographer to doing everything herself.

This past year, she returned to TV as the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV, Denver’s FOX affiliate.

Herbst is a hallmark of developing numerous skills and leveraging one’s talent to find high-quality positions in the field of journalism. She has charted her own course in many ways, always finding ways to progress and improve.

Oh, and it helps that Herbst is really, really good at her job.

She has twice been named NPPA Photographer of the Year for the West region — always the most competitive in the country. She has won numerous NPPA awards as a solo video journalist, as well. Watch some of her work, and you will see why.

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