tragedy

Mighty Ivy, Jerry & Susie, and finding three dimensions in tragedy

“Find the emotion.”

TV reporters and photojournalists hear that refrain often. Our medium, after all, lends itself less to in-depth analysis and more to visceral video. As such, we often receive assignments that offer the greatest potential to witness raw feelings.

But rarely are we asked to push beyond those feelings.

We are told to put our most emotional moments at the front of our stories, not set them up with context. We are sent to horrific scenes and given little time, both on site and in newscasts, to get a sense beyond the basic. We are pushed to keep things moving.

So often, though, such a philosophy produces reports that only connect on a surface level – and, while powerful in the moment, are almost immediately forgotten.

I want my stories to be remembered. More importantly, I want the people in my stories – the ones who open themselves to news coverage at extremely vulnerable times – to be remembered.

This past month, I received two specific opportunities to tell such stories. I tried to produce pieces that would provide both powerful moments and the depth and poignancy to earn them.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Marvin Gaye, stocks, & Roanoke

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.

How Marvin Gaye’s NFL tryout changed his career (8/21/15, ESPN.com): I cannot believe I had never heard this story.

Marvin Gaye, Motown legend and one of the great soul singers of all time, once tried out for the NFL? For the Detroit Lions?

Really???

Really. Apparently Gaye’s dalliance with pro football is a well known story of that era, but credit ESPN.com writer Justin Tinsley for re-telling it in a thorough, powerful way. It follows the artist through the torturous moments of his singing career that led him to a different avenue … albeit for a brief, one-tryout-long amount of time.

Like any great piece of this nature, Tinsley not only lands the necessary interviews but writes with both interest and compassion. He serves as a great conduit for this remarkable tale.

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PODCAST EPISODE #33: Katie Stern, photographer, KOMO-TV

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If you follow the Telling The Story podcast, you have heard several guests describe the process of covering a huge story.

But I have never interviewed a guest who had to cover such a story while dealing with the massive personal tragedy it brought.

Everyone at KOMO-TV went through it last March, when the station’s helicopter crashed in downtown Seattle, killing photographer Bill Strothman and pilot Gary Pfitzner. The journalists and employees in the KOMO newsroom suddenly needed to bring the news of a major story while processing their own emotions.

Katie Stern had worked at KOMO for nearly a decade when the crash occurred. She sprung into action and spent the morning as the roving photographer, collecting B-roll and gathering interviews around the scene; then she set up for live shots with reporter Denise Whitaker. All the while, she fought back tears and, she says, at one point could not keep a steady shot because her hands were trembling.

Stern is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

I received the immense privilege of listening to Stern last month when she spoke at the NPPA Northwest Storytelling Workshop. She shared the stage with Bill Strothman’s son, Dan, and the duo reflected upon the experience with composure and eloquence. Their presentation kept the audience silent and attentive; we were all confronted with the potential of finding ourselves in a similar scenario.

But regardless if any of us ever cover a personal tragedy, journalists everywhere can take major lessons from Stern on how to cover tragedies in general.

“I think that talking about trauma and journalism — and how the two are forever intertwined — is so important,” Stern said on the podcast. “Slowly we’re starting to talk about it more. I think there’s a stigma that comes with showing any kind of emotion as a journalist, and I’m really hoping we can wash that away.”

I completely agree.

I greatly appreciate Stern’s time and appearance on the Telling The Story podcast, and I hope you find her words meaningful and instructive.

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