3 GREAT STORIES: Starring hearing, fatherhood, & photography

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.

Veteran gets overdue hearing aids after VA delay (5/18/15, KARE-TV): Like any great investigative piece, this epic from KARE-TV’s A.J. Lagoe and Gary Knox details the process of research, phone calls, and interviews that ultimately lead to results.

But unlike many investigative pieces, this one shines brightest from its human center.

Reporter Lagoe and photographer Knox tell the story of Denny Madson, who has been waiting more than a year for VA-approved hearing aids. Madson wants the devices for one overarching reason: so he can hear his wife, Darlene, who is suffering in the hospital and can barely speak above a whisper.

Lagoe’s script and Knox’s camerawork set up some touching moments between the couple, including the happy ending. This is a textbook example of how to personalize an otherwise visually challenging story.


Embracing the unpredictable, and producing better stories

The pitch was a slam dunk.

We had been seeking potential stories for our November ratings period — promotable pieces that would provide those moments everyone shares and discusses the following day. Since I specialize in those emotional epics, I had been tabbed with securing them.

And then the e-mail came in.

A 92-year-old World War II Veteran, who happened to be the e-mailer’s father, would soon receive the chance to fly in the very type of plane he flew during the war. The man, named John Tarabula, was celebrating 69 years of marriage to his wife, Jo.

The e-mail caught the attention of many in the 11Alive newsroom, and I volunteered to do the story. No matter what happened on the actual flight, we assumed, the piece would practically write itself.

It didn’t.

I arrived at the Tarabula household the morning of the flight, planning to interview John and Jo and shoot some footage of the couple before heading out to the airfield.

Within minutes, I learned John had no intention of going up in that plane. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring India, SNL, & Soldierstone

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.

Fulfilling a promise, Jewish center in India reopens after terror attack (8/26/14, New York Times): Here is an example of what the New York Times often does so well.

Writer Gardiner Harris tells the story of a Jewish center in India that had been “attacked and gutted during a 2008 killing rampage by Pakistani gunmen”. A week ago, the center re-opened, with a group of Hasidic men from Brooklyn having flown to Mumbai to help dedicate it.

The facts of the story are interesting on their own. But Harris elevates them by surrounding them with context, a summary of Jewish history in India, and personal perspectives. Sometimes, as journalists, we complete a story and wonder if we have covered everything worth mentioning in our tiny allotted window.

This is a complete story, and Harris — with his editors, for giving him the space — deserves credit for a job thoroughly done. (more…)

The theory and reality of “the right to write”

I was recently told about a group of friends in New York who get together regularly to discuss Socratic questions.

Essentially, they meet at a bar or restaurant, and one member of the group will toss out a question, typically about matters of philosophy or life. Then, the group discusses the question.

It’s a simple idea — and, in the right light, kinda cool.

Sometimes I think it might be a worthy idea for journalists. I have lamented before how we can easily get caught up in the day-to-day grind of the business without examining its larger questions and possibilities. Maybe we all need to take a little time, individually and collectively, to think big.

I read an article this past weekend that got me thinking big … or, perhaps more accurately, thinking Socratic.

Roxana Robinson of the New York Times wrote a column for the newspaper’s Opinionator blog, entitled “The Right to Write”. She discusses a seemingly simple question: “who has the right to our stories?” (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Veterans Day and an Atlanta documentary

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 generally try to avoid using this space to promote the work of my colleagues at WXIA-TV in Atlanta. It would almost be too easy; the reporters at my station constantly impress me with their thought-provoking and emotional work.

This week I made an exception.

One of the “3 Great Stories” of the week is a long-form documentary that ran on our station on Friday. We tackled a harrowing topic in a big way, and our work made a tangible impact.

But first, I found myself divided on two terrific stories involving veterans — stories that would seem to contrast each other in terms of mentality.

Help veterans by taking them off the pedestal (11/10/13, The Atlantic): Veterans Day brings with it a cavalcade of celebrations, ceremonies, and commemorations of those who served in the U.S. military. It also typically brings, from a storytelling standpoint, reflexive pieces that unquestionably honor those who risk their lives in our country’s name.

Rarely does one find a story that questions that mindset — and does so with thought-provoking effectiveness.

But that’s what Alex Horton, a one-time infantryman in Iraq, does here.

Horton makes a compelling argument that, by putting veterans on a pedestal, our society is unintentionally hindering them. We tend to view veterans, Horton says, in one-dimensional terms — either as sacrosanct heroes or risky choices to serve us in civilian life. I particularly appreciated an early paragraph where he recounts discussions with members of the Greatest Generation:

I once talked to a World War II veteran about the experience of attending college after coming home, and asked if it was jarring to sit next to those who never served. I wondered if veterans huddled together under the umbrella of mutual understanding and thought less of civilians who never shouldered a rifle. His answer was surprising. They were proud of their time in uniform, he said, but for many, the war interrupted their lives, and education was a return to normalcy. Instead of a victory lap, they were more interested in getting back on track.

Very deep stuff here … bringing complexity to what is often viewed in simpler terms.