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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2016 (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 are halfway through 2016, which means the continuation of an annual tradition: the “Best Of (so far)” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year so far last 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:

Government mistakenly declares Minnesota man dead (5/10/16, KARE-TV): This story, from talented KARE-TV investigative reporter A.J. Lagoe, is hard to believe.

But it’s not warm and fuzzy. It’s serious and concerning.

Lagoe looks into the case of a Minnesota man named Steven Monno, one of 12,000 people each year who are wrongly declared dead by the Social Security Administration. Monno and his sister attempt unsuccessfully to beat the bureaucracy, so they enlist Lagoe and the investigative team to help straighten out the situation.

Lagoe indeed straightens it out, but he also unfolds a widespread issue and envelops this personal story in a national context. One can hear a certain amount of disbelief in his voice, as if he spent half the time saying to himself, “Really? This happens?”

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Our 3 most popular posts of 2016 (so far)

Allow me to present two important reasons for this post:

  1. We have reached the halfway point of 2016.
  2. I am on vacation this week.

I can think of no better time, then, to run the blog world’s version of a clip show: the three most popular posts from 2016 that have appeared on the Telling The Story blog. Here are the links, with excerpts from each piece:

PODCAST EPISODE #37: Jed Gamber, WBFF-TV & Catherine Steward, WTVF-TV

Awards season is underway in local TV news.

Over the next few months, some of the most prestigious associations in journalism will present lists of winners and honor some of the best reporters and photojournalists in the field.

Photojournalists Jed Gamber and Catherine Steward are off to a great start.

This past week, Gamber and Steward each received one of the highest honors in the craft: being named NPPA Regional Photographer of the Year. Gamber captured the crown for the East region for his work at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, while Steward topped the Central region after a stellar year with WTVF-TV in Nashville. The award they won prizes consistency and versatility and honors an entire year’s worth of powerful storytelling.

Watch their work, and you will quickly see why: these two photojournalists care about awards far less than they care about their audience.

Gamber and Steward are my guests of this episode of the Telling the Story podcast.

They discuss questions of technique, teamwork, and communication, but they speak with such obvious and heartfelt passion. They so clearly believe in the power of storytelling to reach an audience, and they bring that purpose into their work. Any storyteller can learn from what these two have to say.

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5 lessons from the NPPA’s best video stories of 2015

It’s getting harder than ever to keep our viewers’ attention.

That’s what we keep hearing, and that’s why, we are told, we must adapt.

If attention spans are shrinking and devotion to broadcast news is dwindling, local news journalists must expand how we connect with others. I, for example, have talked a lot about the potential of social media to enable our work to reach unforeseen audiences. Maybe we all need to educate ourselves on new platforms and media in addition to our product on-air.

But we cannot forget about that product.

If anything, we need to step it up.

The best stories I saw last year demanded my attention, and I watched zero of them on television. I watched all of them online, via links and recommendations from colleagues and friends. I arrived upon them organically and, when I clicked on the videos, found myself instantly engrossed.

A few weeks ago, the NPPA announced its Best of Photojournalism winners for last year, and I became engrossed again. I have, in several years past, authored blog posts about lessons learned from the competition’s champs, and I feel compelled to do so once more, thanks to some tremendous storytelling from some of the nation’s most talented journalists:

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring breaking news at WBFF

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.

Man in animal costume shot after making bomb threat at Baltimore’s FOX45 (4/28/16, WBFF-TV): This past Thursday, a major news story played out in front of a TV station’s eyes … or, more accurately, its parking lot and lobby.

According to the story, a man wearing a panda costume set his car on fire in the parking lot of WBFF-TV, Baltimore’s FOX affiliate. Then he demanded “the station air a story he brought with him on a flash drive” and “threatened to blow up the building after being denied entry to the station’s lobby”. The building was evacuated, police arrived, and the suspect was eventually shot but not killed by officers.

And the station’s news department kept working.

The entire newsroom contributed to live coverage, even when they possessed no access to their building. Moreover, they produced compelling work while dealing with the uncertainty of a very real and likely scary situation. I give immense credit to all involved.

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PODCAST EPISODE #37: Jed Gamber, WBFF-TV & Catherine Steward, WTVF-TV

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Awards season is underway in local TV news.

Over the next few months, some of the most prestigious associations in journalism will present lists of winners and honor some of the best reporters and photojournalists in the field.

Photojournalists Jed Gamber and Catherine Steward are off to a great start.

This past week, Gamber and Steward each received one of the highest honors in the craft: being named NPPA Regional Photographer of the Year. Gamber captured the crown for the East region for his work at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, while Steward topped the Central region after a stellar year with WTVF-TV in Nashville. The award they won prizes consistency and versatility and honors an entire year’s worth of powerful storytelling.

Watch their work, and you will quickly see why: these two photojournalists care about awards far less than they care about their audience.

Gamber and Steward are my guests of this episode of the Telling the Story podcast.

They discuss questions of technique, teamwork, and communication, but they speak with such obvious and heartfelt passion. They so clearly believe in the power of storytelling to reach an audience, and they bring that purpose into their work. Any storyteller can learn from what these two have to say.

They are also among the star-studded line-up of speakers at this year’s NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, being held June 10th and 11th in Atlanta. I am organizing and co-hosting the conference with photojournalist (and one-time podcast guest) John Kirtley of WLOS-TV in Asheville. We welcome anyone looking to improve as a storyteller and receive inspiration from some of the best in the country — including the two guests on this episode.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference, Feel free to e-mail me with questions at the address below. In the meantime, enjoy the discussion of craft with two extremely talented — and newly honored — TV news photojournalists.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring LeBron, Carmelo, & ice hockey

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.

Brotherhood (3/23/16, Bleacher Report): Early on in “Brotherhood”, Howard Beck’s infinitely engrossing long-form story about the friendship between two basketball superstars, one of those stars makes a poignant statement.

“In our sport, or sports in general, everyone wants instant oatmeal,” says LeBron James. “Put it in the microwave, hit 30 seconds, you got a meal. Sometimes, no matter how great you are, it doesn’t happen like that.”

Now replace “sports” with “journalism”. In this era, many audiences — and news bosses — demand “instant oatmeal” from journalists, seeking and investing in clickbait and easy answers over more layered, complicated work.

Stories like this prove what one can get by waiting for a splendid meal.

Beck presents a fascinating portrait of two players — James and Carmelo Anthony — whose friendship and rivalry have provided a powerful undercurrent to the NBA’s past dozen years. This piece made headlines for a different “instant oatmeal” quote, where James muses how he would love to, one day, join forces with Anthony. But that quote comes at the end. The rest is a beautiful blend of smile-worthy memories, did-you-know-that stories, and revealing quotes from two of the league’s best.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2015, 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.

This is one of my favorite moments of the year.

Every December, I look back at my “3 Great Stories” posts from the past year and decide on which stories, I feel, rose above the rest.

It always reminds me of how much magnificent work gets done every year. Here, for example, is my best-of list from 2014.

I posted my three favorite written stories of the year last week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite audio/video pieces of 2015 — and an honorable mention — along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

HM) Elsa’s story (7/17/15, Denver Post): “Wow.”

That was all I could say after watching the “Elsa’s Story” documentary presented this week by the Denver Post.

The video accompanies a powerful article of the same name about 9-year-old Elsa, who “insisted as soon as she could speak that she was a girl, even though she was assigned male at birth.” The story truly revolves around the evolving acceptance of Elsa’s parents, specifically her mother, who essentially narrates the 16-minute documentary.

Sixteen minutes may seem like a long time to stare at a computer screen or focus on one’s cell phone, but the time pays off. The documentary’s length allows the viewer to process its images and words, in some ways journeying along with Elsa’s mother as she describes her struggle to understand Elsa’s maturation.

The video is full of poignant moments, most of which come from home movies of Elsa through childhood. Credit the Post’s Mahala Gaylord for the video and Jen Brown for the article — and the Post itself for investing such time and resources into a standout story.

#3) One-legged kicking coach inspires high school team (10/28/15, KARE-TV): If this story doesn’t win all kinds of awards next year, I will be stunned.

KARE-TV storyteller extraordinaire Boyd Huppert has done it again, this time thanks largely to the photography and editing of Kevin Sullivan. The visuals here are just stunning, from the blink-and-you-miss-them angles of football practice to the picturesque landscapes of Friday night football. They provide, for this story, a gorgeous aesthetic.

Huppert, as always, brings the piece’s soul.

He unfolds the story of a man named Larry, with one arm and one leg, who coaches kicking for a local high school football team. Huppert delivers the story with touching turns of phrase and that sing-song, lullaby-like cadence that immediately hooks a viewer.

This is beautiful work by all involved.

#2) Mondawmin Monday (4/27/15, WBFF-TV): There have been numerous stories and reports from Baltimore, some instructive and some less so, about the protests and riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.

So much of the images and video have arrived as a stream — stations providing non-stop coverage and constant immediacy, which absolutely has its place in situations like this. But this story, from FOX 45 Baltimore’s Kathleen Cairns and Jed Gamber, shows the power of editing and context.

Given time — and a four-block radius — to document Monday’s action, reporter Cairns and photographer Gamber find themselves in the midst of smoking tear gas, a burning car, and numerous protesters and police. They capture it all with a sense of poignancy and objectivity; Gamber shoots and edits some powerful moments, and Cairns shows wise restraint with her script, stepping back and simply connecting the dots of those aforementioned moments.

This is one of the most haunting, powerful stories I have seen this year.

#1) 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.

 

PODCAST EPISODE #32: “Best Of”, Covering the Big Stories

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A few weeks ago I rounded up some of my favorite podcasts that surrounded a specific theme: why we act the way to do as recipients of storytelling.

This week, I continue the “Best Of” tradition with a different topic: how reporters handle the tasks of covering giant stories.

These are not the stories that lead the newscast one night and disappear the next. These are the stories that carry on for days and weeks, often commanding national attention (and the national media that comes with that).

Such brings us to Episode #32 of the Telling The Story podcast: a “Best Of” edition on covering the big stories.

You’ll hear snippets from previous episodes with the following guests:

Dave Schwartz, sports anchor at KARE-TV in Minneapolis, on heading to Russia to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics (5:30-10:18): “I don’t think you could ever be prepared until you get into the situation and have to do it … I was prepared that it was going to be difficult, but I don’t think anyone could have made me feel better about the security until we were down on the ground.”

Claudine Ewing, anchor and reporter at WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, on handling the 2014 “Snowvember” storm that blanketed parts of the city (7:45-11:05): “A storm can really, really change lives for people, and then as reporters we have to be sensitive and then remember: those are also stories that can told, too.”

Kathleen Cairns, reporter at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, on covering the death of Freddie Gray and the protests and riots that followed (4:55-9:00): “As journalists, it doesn’t matter that your shift ended. You keep going. If it’s your day off, and you hear of something big, you jump in the car and go. There are some people who have that and some people who don’t.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #30: Kathleen Cairns, reporter, WBFF-TV

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Before you listen to this podcast, watch this video:

This is a compilation from the tremendous, NPPA award-winning photography team at WBFF-TV in Baltimore, profiling the extraordinary week surrounding the death and funeral of Freddie Gray.

When major stories break — and then last for seven straight days of intense coverage — one can ultimately lose sight of all of the moments that comprise it. But during a tumultuous week in Baltimore, the WBFF team stood out for its riveting images and poignant coverage, which come together in the piece above.

That story also sets the table for Episode #30 of the Telling The Story podcast, featuring one of the station’s reporters, Kathleen Cairns.

“It doesn’t matter if your shift ended,” Cairns told me. “You go for the story.”

That’s how Cairns and photographer Jed Gamber, who had both just finished their shift the Monday of Gray’s funeral, found themselves untethered to a live truck when riots broke out. While the rest of the news team stayed live with continuous coverage, Cairns and Gamber collected compelling video and put together this memorable story, which I shouted out recently on this blog:

Cairns has served as a reporter in Baltimore for 25 years, and she has won numerous awards during that quarter-century. In this case, she brought wisdom, tenacity, and — most importantly — context to a volatile story.

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3 GREAT STORIES: On Baltimore, baseball, & sci-fi hoops

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.

Mondawmin Monday (4/27/15, WBFF-TV): There have been numerous stories and reports from Baltimore this week, some instructive and some less so, about the protests and riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.

So much of the images and video have arrived as a stream — stations providing non-stop coverage and constant immediacy, which absolutely has its place in situations like this. But this story, from FOX 45 Baltimore’s Kathleen Cairns and Jed Gamber, shows the power of editing and context.

Given time — and a four-block radius — to document Monday’s action, reporter Cairns and photographer Gamber find themselves in the midst of smoking tear gas, a burning car, and numerous protesters and police. They capture it all with a sense of poignancy and objectivity; Gamber shoots and edits some powerful moments, and Cairns shows wise restraint with her script, stepping back and simply connecting the dots of those aforementioned moments.

This is one of the most haunting, powerful stories I have seen this year.

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