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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring the NBA, Zach Lowe, & honks

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.

Trading places: Warriors’ Harrison Barnes investigates Marcus Thompson’s Oakland roots (5/22/16, The Mercury News): Amidst the sea of coverage of the NBA playoffs, this NBA story — which has zero to do with the playoffs — stands out.

Marcus Thompson II is a writer for the San Jose Mercury News. Harrison Barnes is a starting forward for the Golden State Warriors. For one afternoon, they switch roles … to poignant results.

The premise: Barnes wants to learn more about Thompson’s roots, specifically the neighborhood in Oakland where Thompson grew up. In those days, Thompson says, Sobrante Park was a rough neighborhood, and the writer recounts anecdotes from his childhood in a way that makes him feel emotionally vulnerable.

This article is all kinds of powerful. But so is the accompanying 10-minute video, made by Thompson and Courtney Cronin, that follows Thompson and Barnes on their tour of Sobrante Park. Kudos to all involved.

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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: The “riding the wave of long-form writing” edition

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.

Seems like the pendulum, in the written world, is heading back towards long-form journalism.

Major web sites — including ones that generally traffic in web clicks, like Slate and BuzzFeed — have devoted entire sections to long reads. One web site even calls itself “LongReads” and commits itself strictly to long-form work.

This excites me. I have made plain my love for this brand of storytelling.

But I especially appreciate its current, if brief, resurgence, because it comes at a time of quick hits, snippets, and an overall overload of online content.

Here now, three great long-form stories from this past week:

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet (1/6/14, Pacific Standard): This article has been getting a lot of attention this week … and rightly so.

Amanda Hess dives into the topic of Internet abuse, specifically as it relates to women, who receive a disproportionately high amount of it. She mixes her own experience with those of countless other female journalists and bloggers; she exposes the potential logistical issues in reporting abuse and counteracting it; and she buttresses everything with sobering statistics.

Consider this paragraph, where Hess breaks down what one might experience should she bring her claims of abuse to the police:

The Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, whether you are in London or Palm Springs, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction. And your cop will probably be a man: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2008, only 6.5 percent of state police officers and 19 percent of FBI agents were women. The numbers get smaller in smaller agencies. And in many locales, police work is still a largely analog affair: 911 calls are immediately routed to the local police force; the closest officer is dispatched to respond; he takes notes with pen and paper.

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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: On Facebook, journalism, & downtown Atlanta

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.

As the year nears its end, so does this segment — at least in a sense.

This entry is the final 2013 edition of “3 Great Stories” that focuses on original content. In the next two weeks, I will publish my favorite stories of the past twelve months, much as I did during the first six months of the year.

So, without further ado, here are three great stories from last week, a strong week in a very strong year for storytelling:

On second thought … (12/13/13, Slate): If you read this blog regularly, you know I am no stranger to using my life experiences — even my Facebook timeline — as inspiration for entries.

Naturally, I enjoy when other journalists do it, too … especially when they, as I try to do, springboard that inspiration into compelling work that affects a wider audience.

Jennifer Golbeck of Slate’s Future Tense blog does that here. She uses a friend’s question on Facebook — about whether the social media service tracks what you write, even if you don’t post it — and researches her way to a provocative think-piece about user privacy. She finds a study in which the authors, both Facebook employees, freely admit to mining our un-posted writing and using it for their own research.

Golbeck articulates, at her entry’s end, why Facebook users should be alarmed by this:

Facebook studies this because the more its engineers understand about self-censorship, the more precisely they can fine-tune their system to minimize self-censorship’s prevalence. This goal — designing Facebook to decrease self-censorship — is explicit in the paper. So Facebook considers your thoughtful discretion about what to post as bad, because it withholds value from Facebook and from other users. Facebook monitors those unposted thoughts to better understand them, in order to build a system that minimizes this deliberate behavior.

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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: 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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PODCAST EPISODE #9: Tomas Rios, paid-lance sportswriter

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Full disclosure #1: A month ago, I had never heard of Tomas Rios.

Full disclosure #2: I invited him to appear on my podcast off the strength of one article — a piece he wrote last month called “A Brief History of Bad Sports Writing”.

Full disclosure #3: I was very impressed with the result.

In the article, Rios takes aim at the “hot take” brand of journalism that has, he says, infested the sports media landscape. He traces it back to its evolutionary roots, bringing the reader on a journey from Grantland Rice to Dick Young to various modern-day writers, whom Rios willfully calls out by name.

Rios is my guest on Episode 9 of the Telling The Story podcast. We go deep into the discussion of modern sports journalism, and he holds back just as little in our podcast as he does in the article. Rios and I don’t agree on everything, but I admire the critical way in which he views the field, his work included.

But I also delve into another subject with the 29-year-old, whose work has also appeared on the Slate and Deadspin web sites, among others:

He talk about life as a freelancer.

Rios is a self-described “paid-lance sports writer” — that is to say, he is a freelance writer who no longer works for free. He began his career writing mainly about combat sports (UFC, MMA, etc.) and did so regularly until he found himself in a verbal showdown with comedian and UFC announcer Joe Rogan.

Or, as Rios puts it, “[Rogan] went on some crazy psychotic online rant and used some homophobic slurs against me and used his pull behind the scenes to cost me some work.”

Rios left the writing scene for a while but came back more determined. He says he has become an infinitely better writer today, and he says he has finally reached a point where he can give up his day job and actually make a living as a freelance writer.

His — like that of every freelancer, I suppose — is a unique story. It is worth hearing, especially for young writers trying to forge their own career path.

Among Rios’ other notable sound bites from the podcast:

  • On the influence of the “hot take”: “More and more reporting is failing to put things into the proper context. [It’s] putting them inside of these narratives that are easily digestible and allow us to make judgments about the people involved.”
  • On finding your voice as a writer: “I really don’t think about the audience very much. In my earlier writing, I felt like I had to pull back on what I wanted to say a little bit … and now, I just try to write as organically as I can.”
  • On his advice for young writers: “One thing they should be looking for in terms of their writing is good editing.”

Listen to the podcast at the top of the page or download it and listen to it later. And subscribe to the podcast – and rate and review it – on iTunes!

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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.

PODCAST PREVIEW: Tomas Rios: Hot takes are “the most ubiquitous form of sportswriting”

This episode of the Telling The Story podcast requires a bit of reading in advance.

Several weeks ago, a freelance sportswriter named Tomas Rios — who generally writes about MMA, UFC, and combat sports — unveiled a piece for Pacific Standard magazine called “A Brief History of Bad Sports Writing”.

Check it out.

In the article, Rios essentially takes several legends of sportswriting history to task, criticizing the early 20th-century likes of Grantland Rice for deifying athletes and the mid-century likes of Dick Young for holding athletes to unfairly high standards.

How have those legends affected today’s sportswriting? Says Rios, it has plagued the medium with a disease called the “hot take” — namely based on the judging and moralizing of athletes’ off-the-field decisions.

“What you end up with now in sportswriting is,” Rios says, “because writers have seen that it will land you that feature columnist’s spot, they start to mimic it. And all of a sudden it’s become the most ubiquitous form of sportswriting.”

I invited Rios to be my guest on the podcast this week because I found his article both thorough and passionate; he provided well-thought analysis in a genre that often lacks it. I figured I would bring him on for an even deeper conversation.

Rios did not disappoint.

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3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Groupon, the Heimlich, and the first presidential press conference

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 probably would have ignored the following three stories had I not known who produced them.

I would have shrugged at the prospect of reading 3,000 words about the daily deals company Groupon.

I would have laughed at the notion of spending 25 minutes learning about the man behind the Heimlich maneuver.

And I would have yawned at the idea of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first presidential press conference.

But I respected the authors behind the stories, so I gave each one a shot. And wow, was I rewarded.

As a reader and viewer of journalism, I truly appreciate when someone can expand my knowledge about a subject with a thorough, well-researched work of storytelling. I highly recommend each of the articles below. If their topics don’t tickle your fancy at first, just allow them a few paragraphs (or, in the case of the Heimlich story, a few minutes) to lure you in.

Greed is Groupon (3/13/13, The Verge): This is a long one, but it’s worth it. Writer Ben Popper mostly ignores the rise of the daily deals giant Groupon and heads straight to the behind-the-scenes details surrounding its fall. Surely you have checked out sites like Groupon and wondered, “How do these guys make any money?” As Popper’s piece shows, sometimes the company leaders don’t quite have the answer, either.

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