npr

3 podcasts journalists should check out in 2016

If I haven’t made it clear before, I love podcasts.

I wrote about them last year. I wrote about them again last year. I even wrote about them three years ago when I first started this blog.

(And, of course, I maintain my own podcast, which just released its 40th episode and will post another new one next week.)

Very rarely, though, do I actually listen to podcasts that deal with what I do for a living.

Compelling journalism and storytelling podcasts are not necessarily hard to find; witness the innovative work regularly done by NPR, Gimlet Media, and others. But rarely do those podcasts actually address journalism and storytelling. I started my Telling The Story podcast in part because I sensed a void in podcasts that featured media members discussing their craft. Three years later, the podcasting world has expanded dramatically, with various newcomers mixing with old standbys to create a diverse mix for listeners to sample.

Here are three podcasts that, I feel, offer perspective that informs my work as a journalist:

On The Media

Speaking of NPR and old standbys, this has long been my main choice for intelligent discussions of the media landscape.

On The Media bills itself as a “weekly investigation into how the media shapes our world view”. Hosts Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone regularly prove up to the task, in their abilities to both frame topical news from a journalist’s lens and snag many of the newsmakers and news producers directly involved.

The podcast updates every Friday, though recently Gladstone and Garfield have begun adding shorter “extras” during the week. I particularly enjoyed Gladstone’s conversation last week with the makers of “fake news”, like the Daily Show and its ilk.

Social Media Social Hour

This one is a bit of a diamond in the rough … and it may not seem to directly translate to journalists and storytellers.

But for folks who do what I do — and who want to know how to spread their work across various social networks — it’s a winner.

The Social Media Social Hour podcast is hosted by Tyler Anderson, who runs a social media marketing company called Casual Fridays. (The link above, in fact, directs to the Casual Fridays blog.) Each week Anderson — sometimes solo but often with a guest — unfurls the complicated web of social media in a digestible, accessible way for anyone to understand.

His target audience may be entrepreneurs and marketers, but these days that umbrella somewhat includes journalists, who must constantly promote their work on Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

Surprisingly Awesome

Here is another podcast that, on the surface, might not seem directly related to journalism and storytelling … and yet its basic premise is essentially a storyteller’s primary building block.

Presented by Gimlet Media, the Surprisingly Awesome podcast delves into seemingly boring subjects that have an extraordinary back story or secret. It is hosted by Adam Davidson and Adam McKay, the latter of whom just took home an Oscar for writing and directing the Best Adapted Screenplay-winning The Big Short.

I loved the idea of this show from the beginning, but I especially love the vigor with which its hosts peel back the layers of whatever they happen to be discussing. I was hooked by their episode about the 1990s pop hit “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba, whose back story left me stunned.

As a journalist, I find essential the ability to take a news event and explain to people why it matters. This podcast regularly awakens my spirit.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Batman, Oregon, & Tamir Rice

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.

Batman (1/9/15, NPR’s This American Life): Whenever I listen to This American Life on NPR, I marvel at its producers’ ability to consistently find truly fascinating stories.

They then turn those stories into enthralling hour-long programs.

This month’s “Batman” episode fills the bill. I actually rolled my eyes a bit at the title and constant references to the super-hero, which seemed somewhat forced and even subjective in glamorizing the program’s main subject.

But that subject — a blind man who can ride bikes and hike, among other things — and the program’s overall examination of the capabilities of the blind make for a superb listen. Producers Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller weave their way through a story that absorbs from start to finish.

(more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #25: John Kirtley, photographer, WLOS-TV

Play

Roughly seven minutes into this episode of the Telling The Story podcast, guest John Kirtley said the following:

“No one said this was easy. If it was easy, the world of storytelling wouldn’t be such a unique thing.”

During an already honest interview, this was a particularly honest moment. So often in this business, we try to maintain an optimistic, even idealistic, point of view. But Kirtley made his opinion perfectly clear: this job is difficult.

And to do it well, and to do it regularly? Even tougher.

“It’s practice; you know that. You gotta work on improving a little detail each time, and eventually you’re going to get to the point where it all adds up.”

Kirtley has seen things add up. He has worked in numerous cities in his ten-year career, but he has found a home in Asheville, N.C., where he has now become the assistant chief photographer at WLOS-TV. He has also claimed seven regional Emmy awards.

He joins me for Episode #25 of the Telling The Story podcast.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013, 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.

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 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 2013, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) Cut and run (11/1/13, Radiolab): This entire segment from NPR’s Radiolab is tremendous, but I will tell you the moment when I truly appreciated the storytelling here:

I had listened to about five minutes of the story, which is essentially a lesson as to why Kenyan runners always dominate long-distance running. The show’s producers and reporters kept teasing out the answer, providing possible (and then debunked) explanations and expressing their own bewilderment, while keeping their real hypothesis in the distance. I was listening while sitting at my computer, and I realized at that moment that, if I really wanted to learn the answer, I could probably just Google it and be done.

But I didn’t want to Google it. I didn’t want to spoil the big reveal. I wanted to stay on the Radiolab ride, because the story until that point had been so interesting and well-told.

Turned out the reveal was pretty great — and also gruesome. Ladies and specifically gentlemen, please do not listen to the back half of this segment on an empty stomach.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the art of the “reveal”

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.

Think about a time when you had a big surprise to tell someone.

When you finally saw that person, did you blurt out the surprise right away, or did you make the person wait a little bit?

Chances are, you did the latter. Sometimes, of course, we cannot contain ourselves, but mostly we — consciously or not — try to raise the level of anticipation before we share our big news. Perhaps we ask, “Are you ready?” Perhaps we drag out our words (“Iiiii juuuust waaaanted to tell youuuuuu I’M HAVING A BABY!”). And most likely, perhaps we provide a little prologue or story before our announcement.

At that point, we all become storytellers.

The “reveal” is a time-honored journalistic tradition, to the point that it can often seem lame or stale. (e.g. “What Johnny didn’t know was …”) But the best storytellers know exactly how to tease and build the moment to give their reveals the most punch.

Here are a two examples from last month that do just that (and one stunning photo gallery about fall foliage):

Cut and run (11/1/13, Radiolab): This entire segment from NPR’s Radiolab is tremendous, but I will tell you the moment when I truly appreciated the storytelling here:

I had listened to about five minutes of the story, which is essentially a lesson as to why Kenyan runners always dominate long-distance running. The show’s producers and reporters kept teasing out the answer, providing possible (and then debunked) explanations and expressing their own bewilderment, while keeping their real hypothesis in the distance. I was listening while sitting at my computer, and I realized at that moment that, if I really wanted to learn the answer, I could probably just Google it and be done.

But I didn’t want to Google it. I didn’t want to spoil the big reveal. I wanted to stay on the Radiolab ride, because the story until that point had been so interesting and well-told.

Turned out the reveal was pretty great — and also gruesome. Ladies and specifically gentlemen, please do not listen to the back half of this segment on an empty stomach.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2013 (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.

I am on vacation — and out of commission — through this week, so I figured I would use these weeks to post “Best Of” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

Last week I posted my three favorite written stories of the year so far. This week, without further ado, my three favorite audio/video pieces from January through June (although, it seems, they are all audio piecces), along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

Jason Collins interview (4/30/13, The B.S. Report): Jason Collins was all over the news in late April, starting with his coming-out announcement on Sports Illustrated’s web site — a wonderfully written and powerful piece in its own right. After it, he did several interviews and was the subject of a slew of articles.

In the process, Collins became an elevated figure. Many of the pieces about him last week talked more about what he represents than who he is.

For me, one interview stood out for going in the opposite direction.

Bill Simmons is, of course, the most popular writer at ESPN and Grantland.com, but he has proven to be a deft and skilled interviewer on his B.S. Report podcast, during which he regularly gets notable subjects to reveal unique insights into themselves. Simmons did a one-hour podcast with Collins the day after his announcement, and it is a seminar on how to conduct an interview. He keeps things light in many spots, chats basketball — including Collins’ ability to bend the rules and frustrate big-name opponents in the process — and does the seemingly impossible in the process: finds out details about Collins’ experience that had not yet been revealed in the tons of articles and columns written the previous day.

A detail that stunned me? Collins got a congratulatory phone call from Tim Hardaway, the former NBA player who once famously said, “I hate gay people.”

Simmons is a polarizing figure in sports media, but he has always been a terrific storyteller. His best attribute? He knows how to connect with people, whether his massive audience or his interview subjects. Here, while everyone else treated Collins as a hero, Simmons treated him as a human … and obtained the most human coverage of Collins as a result.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Bill Gates, finding meaning, and giving back

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.

I’ll be honest: I found the coolest story I read this week in an in-flight magazine.

Perhaps I have just been traveling too much.

I have taken two trips, involving six flights, for work in the last two weeks. Eventually I found myself with nothing to read, so I picked up the US Airways in-flight magazine … and I found a gem.

The famed author Andrew Carroll gave the magazine an abridged introduction to his just-released book, Here is There. I found it engrossing. In the article, Carroll recounts a few true but hard-to-believe stories from U.S. history, such as:

  • the time the brother of John Wilkes Booth saved the life of the son of Abraham Lincoln
  • how a group of Confederate rebels tried unsuccessfully to set Manhattan on fire

Carroll is a terrific storyteller, and I have since purchased Here is There and am awaiting its arrival in the mail. I decided to include his abridged introduction as an honorary great story this week, and — believe it or not — the in-flight magazine version can only be found in virtual magazine format online.

So you too can now experience the joys of getting inspired by an in-flight magazine, completing with the ads for two-karat tanzanite rings and indoor kart racing.

Enjoy!

And now, the 3 Great Stories of the week:

Bill Gates: ‘Death is something we really understand extremely well’ (5/17/13, Washington Post Wonkblog): This is a classic example of where a story is best served by a straightforward Q&A format.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein goes in-depth with Bill Gates, still the world’s richest person according to Bloomberg News, about his latest ambitious endeavor: the literal eradication of polio across the globe.

But the interview really gets fascinating when Gates discusses the ways in which different countries treat the reality of death. Some of his assertions are simply haunting, such as the following:

When you’re running a poor country health-care system, you can’t treat a year of life as being worth more than, say, $200, $300 or else you’ll bankrupt your health system immediately. So, with very few exceptions, you do nothing for cancer. If you get cancer, you’re going to die.

(more…)

Storytelling podcasts I love … and an announcement!

Let me start with the announcement first.

Later this month I will debut the Telling the Story podcast. This will add to the content already on the Telling the Story blog, and it will allow me to discuss storytelling in a different fashion.

For each podcast, I plan to interview a respected journalist and storyteller to expound upon many of the subjects I discuss on the blog: storytelling process, the changing role of the journalist, great stories and pieces, et cetera. I have not yet decided how frequently I will record the podcasts, but I will likely determine that over the next few weeks.

As this site enters its third month, I am excited about its current growth and look forward to adding the podcast to its arsenal. I hope you all enjoy it as well.

To celebrate that announcement, I thought I would offer three recommendations for podcasts that provide great storytelling. Give these shows a whirl, and then come back here later this month.

99% Invisible

The 99% Invisible podcast bills itself as “a tiny radio show about design”, which reminds me of when Seinfeld used to call itself “a show about nothing”.

Both assertions are true in a very, very loose sense.

Yes, 99% Invisible has tiny roots — it is a PRX public radio show that has relied on Kickstarter campaigns for financing. And yes, it technically deals with design … but in fascinating ways you would never imagine.

(Oh, and just so we’re clear, the 99% reference has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street.)

Take last week’s episode: “The Modern Moloch“. We all drive cars and accept them as unavoidable components of modern-day life. But have you ever thought about how they were first received in the 1920s? Have you ever thought about how cars were once derided as death traps because they killed too many pedestrians playing out in the roads? Have you ever thought about the similarities between the automakers’ response to such criticisms and the NRA’s campaign against gun control?

In short, did you ever think a story from nearly 100 years ago could be so relevant today?

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring blind dogs, disabilities, and the national pastime

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.

Three stories.

Three extremely different examples of storytelling.

One story takes two minutes to watch; the second, roughly ten minutes to read; the third, nearly an hour to hear.

One story is light and heartwarming; the second, informative and mind-expanding; the third, serious and soul-shaking.

One story succeeds through its sweet visuals; the second, through sheer research; the third, through a mix of thorough reporting, detailed interviewing, and personal storytelling.

Each story works, and works well. You may find yourself talking about all of them this week.

Blind Lab Has His Own Guide Dog (3/25/13, NBC’s Today Show): Here’s the thing: I actually did not like a lot of the storytelling in this piece.

Mainly, I could not stand the music, and the story did not need it.

But every time I thought about turning this story off, I was pulled back in by (A) the cuteness of the dogs, or (B) the unfolding of the story. NBC’s Annabel Roberts brings this joyful piece from Wales, U.K., and with the exception of the music, she wisely lets the dogs do the, um, talking.

(more…)

3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring nostalgia, water, and an all-puppy channel!

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.

One of my co-workers, knowing my propensity for telling inspirational, uplifting stories, sometimes calls me “Dr. Feelgood”.

I think he would approve of the following batch of stories.

Two of these stories were published this week; the third actually first aired ten years ago but was re-aired last Friday in podcast form. They represent different forms of media — audio, photo, and the written word — but they all stir up some kind of emotion, from awe to nostalgia to the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from watching puppies. (You’ll see what I mean …)

So get in touch with your inner Dr. Feelgood, and enjoy …

World Water Day 2013 (3/18/13, boston.com/bigpicture): I have mentioned the Big Picture blog three times now in this space, and I will probably have to restrict myself eventually. But this is my favorite of the three I have mentioned: a collection of photographs relating to water. I guarantee you have never seen photos quite like the first four in this gallery.

(more…)