roman mars

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring pop songs, pizza, & football

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.

Hit charade (October 2015, The Atlantic): How much do you want to know about how a chef prepares your meal? What about how a litany of behind-the-scenes employees prepare your favorite songs?

The answers to the latter come from this absorbing article, written by Nathaniel Rich for The Atlantic (with a major hat-tip to author John Seabrook, whose book The Song Machine supplies much of Rich’s material). With no concern for spoiling or party-pooping, Rich dives into the factories that produce, with seeming cold-hearted machinery, an increasing number of the hits that grace the Billboard charts.

Much of this story’s success derives from its thoroughness; Rich, through Seabrook, dives into the subject with great detail. It shows in paragraphs like this, including some wit from a writer basically saying Santa Claus isn’t real:

Pop hitmakers frequently flirt with plagiarism, with good reason: Audiences embrace familiar sounds. Sameness sells. Dr. Luke in particular has been accused repeatedly of copyright infringement. His defense: “You don’t get sued for being similar. It needs to be the same thing.” (Dr. Luke does get sued for being similar, and quite often; he has also countersued for defamation.) Complicating the question of originality is the fact that only melodies, not beats, can be copyrighted. This means a producer can sell one beat to multiple artists.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring three favorite storytellers

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 sweet surprise awaits you (9/22/15, 99% Invisible): The pieces in this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” have a common strength: they all lead the audience on a journey.

Roman Mars and his team at 99% Invisible have practically perfected this structure, at least in podcast form. I have written about 99% Invisible so many times I have little left to say, but as long as Mars keeps producing exquisite episodes like this, I will continue to shout him out.

I don’t want to spoil this journey, but as you listen, appreciate the narrative build: from an innocuous story about Powerball to the rise of the fortune cookie to its surprising, serious, and historic background. Every few minutes brings a new twist, constantly rewarding and informing the attentive listener.

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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: Playing catch-up from March

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.

Devil’s Rope (3/17/15, 99% Invisible): I took a few weeks off in March to go on vacation and retool the web site.

But I continued to watch, read, and listen to great journalism and storytelling.

I decided to use this week’s edition of “3 Great Stories” to play catch-up and spotlight several pieces that stood out to me last month. This podcast, from the terrific Roman Mars, follows the 99% Invisible formula to beautiful effect, outlining a historical problem (cattle and buffalo wandering too freely during the 19th century, as Americans moved to the Great Plains) and teasing the eventual solution (the invention of barbed wire). That solution, of course, opens the door to a whole host of angles and anecdotes that fill the rest of the episode.

As I listened, I kept thinking, “I really don’t care that much about barbed wire. But I can’t turn this off!” Mars and his team are such potent storytellers, and I always enjoy listening to 99% Invisible from that standpoint alone.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring James Brown, Times Square, & airports

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 whitewashing of James Brown (8/5/14, Huffington Post): Each of the “3 Great Stories” this week were alerted to me by others, each through social media.

I read about this article from one-time “3 Great Stories” honoree Tina McElroy Ansa, who Tweeted about it a few days ago. I became a big fan of Ansa’s when I discovered a speech of hers on The Moth, and she recommended a powerful piece here.

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard pens an op-ed for the Huffington Post about the startling lack of black voices behind biopics of black figures. Using the new James Brown movie as a starting point, Howard dissects an all-too-familiar situation =:

Indeed, all the producers, writers, and the director of the James Brown movie are white. No black people were hired until a few weeks before the cameras started rolling, the actors. In fact, several of the people involved in this whitewash are British.

The opening of Get On Up has triggered several articles to this effect, and they make powerful and valuable statements. Howard does several things here: (A) fight for his idea about Brown’s legacy, (B) lament the “Hollywood apartheid” against black filmmakers, and (C) provide enough background and hard data to make both points. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2014 (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 May, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

Young cancer patients find comfort in therapy dogs (5/14/14, WTVF-TV Nashville): Here is a tragic example of a headline submarining a great story.

I can only hope viewers of Nashville’s NewsChannel5 were able to watch the piece without the above spoiler. I was fortunate enough to do so, and I was surprised and rewarded when, two minutes into a powerful profile of a young boy with cancer, a dog pops up.

The story, reported by Chris Conte and photographed by Bud Nelson, discusses the effect of therapy dogs on children who get ultra-anxious at hospitals. The dog in this story is adorable enough, but so is the child being helped. Bryce Greenwell, all of five years old, is charming in numerous ways, including his penchant for the phrase, “Like a boss!”

From start to finish, Conte and Nelson keep you hooked. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Atlanta, U.S. cities, & uniforms

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 have always found American cities majestic.

Recently, I have often wondered how they got here.

For example, could we today build another New York City, specifically, the spectacle of bunched skyscrapers known as Manhattan? Probably not, right? Modern cities — meaning those growing in the age of the automobile — spread outward, not upward.

I am fascinated by this stuff. I am reading a great book right now called Regime Politics, by Clarence N. Stone. It discusses how Atlanta’s city government and business elite worked together to transform the city during the latter half of the 20th century. Since I live in Atlanta and, as a journalist, often examine its strengths and weaknesses, I have found myself fully engaged by this book.

Here are three great stories from last week in journalism, all of which — at least partially — answer the question: How do cities work?

How to fall in love with your city (4/22/14, Bitter Southerner): I’ll admit it: This story warmed my Atlanta heart.

A friend recently turned me on to the Bitter Southerner, a new web site that publishes one article a week about Southern culture. The articles share two traits:

1) They focus on a positive, uplifting part of the South, a region that often gets negatively stereotyped.

2) They look gorgeous.

I enjoyed the site’s story two weeks ago about Atlanta Braves great Hank Aaron, and I found myself captivated again this week. Writer Chuck Reece examines the #weloveatl Instagram movement, which has encouraged numerous Atlantans to submit more than 50,000 photographs that showcase what makes the city great.

The movement is powerful; so is Reece’s well-written and well-presented story. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring elevators, the Paralympics, & Busta Rhymes Island

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 recently read an intriguing interview with Nate Silver in which the so-called “stats superstar” talks about his new web site, FiveThirtyEight, under the ESPN platform. In regards to data journalism versus traditional journalism, Silver says this:

This is data journalism, capital-D. Within that, we take a foxlike approach to what data means. It’s not just numbers, but numbers are a big part of this. We think that’s a weakness of conventional journalism, that you have beautiful English language skills and fewer math skills, and we hope to rectify that balance a little bit.

Silver makes a great point. Analysis pieces typically downplay the importance of numbers, research, and scientific techniques. They often rely more on forceful opinion and personality.

At the same time, numbers without context mean little — and can be dangerously misinterpreted.

I am excited to see what Silver & Co. have up their sleeves for FiveThirtyEight … and whether their model will penetrate the traditional journalistic model in any tangible way.

And now, your 3 Great Stories from the week that was:

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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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My Thanksgiving thank-you column

I started this blog nine months ago not knowing what to expect.

I was not sure whether anyone would read it; I was not sure I would be able to commit to it; and I was not sure if doing it would ultimately feel as rewarding as I hoped it would be.

Nine months later, I am happy to answer “Yes” to all three questions.

Developing the “Telling The Story” blog has been a great experience so far. And while it has mostly been a solitary experience — I run a relatively autonomous ship over here — it has allowed me to engage with people in a variety of ways across the media landscape.

At this time of taking stock and giving thanks, I would like to give my thanks — both verbally and through links — to the many people who have helped enrich both the blog itself and my personal experience in writing it:

Thanks to my bosses. This blog exists in part because of the blessings of the higher-ups at my full-time job. I am proud to say that I have done some of my best work yet for 11Alive/WXIA-TV this year, and I think I have improved as a storyteller because I constantly examine storytelling in this space.

Thanks to my podcast guests. I am greatly appreciative of the 13 individuals who have taken their time to be interviewed for my Telling The Story podcast. Of those 13, eight of them had never met or spoken with me before, and in many cases I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly they responded and set up an interview.

Case in point: my most recent guests, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, the filmmakers behind the powerful documentary American Promise. I watched the film on a Saturday night, contacted them Sunday morning, heard back less than an hour, and interviewed them that Tuesday.

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