3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Finding characters and dissecting cereal boxes

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.

Towards the end of last week’s podcast with KDVR photojournalist Anne Herbst, the two-time NPPA Regional Photographer of the Year offered this piece of advice to young journalists about storytelling:

“I’ll get these really wonderfully shot stories … and I don’t care about them at all because there’s not a compelling person,” Herbst said. “You can have all these pretty shots of mountains and sunsets, but in the end what you remember is the person and the story.”

With that in mind, I selected several stories this week that thrived because they found a great person within them. The authors do not provide a whole lot of flair in their storytelling; instead, they let their characters do most of the talking. And because they do, their stories shine.

(Oh, and if that’s not your bag, I also chose an enjoyable, semi-fascinating story about cereal boxes …)

Raising the flag in Bethel Acres after tornadoes (5/28/13, KFOR-TV): Here’s a bonus story from the Moore, Okla. tornado — a topic I covered in last week’s 3 Great Stories.

But this story is as good as they come.

Reporter Sara Celi mostly hangs in the background here, putting the focus on the people of Bethel Acres, specifically a staff sergeant of the Air Force who walks stoically at the start of the story, clutching an American flag in his hand.

His name is Alan Burch. His quest, to hang and fly the flag in the middle of the wreckage, is beautiful — as is the show of support from the community members who aid him.

Photographer Norris Kyles documents the action step by step as Burch and his team accomplish their mission. Then he cuts to a shot of Burch saluting Old Glory. In that shot, Burch’s trademark stoicism gives way to a swell of pride in his eyes. It’s a touching moment.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Covering the Moore, Oklahoma tornado

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 seems to be way too familiar an occurrence.

Tornadoes take hold mainly during the springtime, and this year they have struck numerous states across the South and Southeast. The latest one, an EF5 tornado that leveled buildings and homes across Moore, Okla., left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured.

The hardest part in dealing with these tragedies, I think, is trying to make sense of them. The same applies to covering them as journalists.

This week, I picked out three examples from the coverage of the Moore tornado in which the journalists and storytellers did not try to impose their own beliefs or wills on the situation. They simply conveyed it and let the horror — and the emotions that followed, both positive and negative — speak for itself.

A tornado hits Moore, Oklahoma (5/20/13, The New Yorker): A month ago, I praised Amy Davidson of theĀ New Yorker for her coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. In that case, I appreciated her ability to take a stand about a difficult issue.

In this case, I appreciate her abilities to simply capture the details and atmosphere of a scene.

Davidson wrote this story as the specific information about the tornado was still developing; the twister’s death count and EF rating had yet to be officially determined. She doesn’t run for her lack of answers; she embraces them. Davidson aggregates the most piercing details from the first day of the tornado and presents them in a clear and sympathetic way, acknowledging both the potential big-picture ramifications and the immediate, visceral reactions.