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5 lessons from the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism 2016 video winners

Every year I watch the video winners of the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism awards.

Every year I go back to the same thought:

The building blocks of storytelling are absolutely important to a great piece of journalism, but they require the foundation of a story worth telling.

If we cannot get in the door with meaningful material, we cannot expect viewers to appreciate the various techniques on which we pride ourselves. Last year I profiled several BOP winners on this site and drew lessons from them. In my introduction, I wrote: “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.”

Ditto for 2016. In general, the stories that won BOP awards — and stood out in public as well — were triumphs of content over technique.

Here are five first-place winners and the lessons I took from them:

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring silver linings at difficult times

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.

‘Awesome’ cat survives fires in Wears Valley (11/30/16, WBIR-TV): The three stories I’m showing this week share a common thread.

They all deal with uplifting moments during trying situations.

No story this week, for example, captured the attention of the Southeast like the massive wildfires in Tennessee. So many reporters have done valiant work reporting on the harder elements of the situation, but others have produced similarly poignant pieces about the glimmers of positivity and hope amidst the tragedy.

WBIR-TV solo video journalist Becca Habegger does so here. She finds a family who lost its home and narrowly escaped as it caught fire. The parents and four children got out, as did their two dogs. For a while, though, they could not find their two cats. Habegger shows what happened when they did, and it’s a great moment.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring kids and sweet moments

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.

Little League dedicates field to fallen Thornton soldier (4/18/15, KUSA-TV): The May sweeps period in local TV news has officially begun.

This means, as in previous ratings months, newsrooms nationwide are rolling out some of their juiciest, most heavily produced work.

But sometimes the best stories can be done in a day, and this week I saw three memorable pieces that only required a standard shift.

Here is one from KUSA-TV reporter Jessica Oh and photographer Andrew Christman. Given little to work with visually, they find a way through poignant writing and editing to elevate a relatively straightforward story.

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PODCAST EPISODE #27: Mike Castellucci, reporter/anchor, WFAA-TV

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A few weeks ago, I raved about a half-hour special ran by WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Dallas, at the end of last year.

It featured a compilation of stories shot, written, and edited by widely acclaimed feature reporter Mike Castellucci.

And his camera? It was the one on his iPhone.

Castellucci has become well known in Dallas — and, now, among TV news reporters and photographers nationwide — for his compelling piece of boundary-pushing storytelling. His features actually appear quite straightforward until you realize the equipment he used to shoot them.

But give him credit: he saw a need and attacked it, fearlessly flying into both multimedia journalism and iPhone videography. He wound up with an impressive result — and a powerful niche in his market.

Castellucci joins me for Episode #27 of the Telling The Story podcast.

“People ask me why,” he said, “and I think it was [because of] two reasons. One: I wanted to be first. And, the challenge of it … I had been doing stories on my iPhone 4, and I just said, ‘Let’s take it 19 steps further.'”

Here is a reporter who has had plenty of success in various markets, but he chose to take on a challenge many journalists would reject. He deserves some major kudos.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring street ball, Selma, & the iPhone

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 Carver Mobb (1/21/15, SB Nation): How fitting that, on the week of the Super Bowl, the most powerful piece of football-related writing focused on a different league.

Forget the 90,000,000 words written about Deflate-Gate. Check out this 4,000-word piece from Ivan Solotaroff about a New York City street football league that can be far rougher than the NFL:

If all sport is ritualized warfare, it’s often difficult to distinguish the two in rough-touch. That’s particularly true as playoffs approach, when midfield fights emptying both benches can involve fans, referees, even league commissioners, usually aging veterans of the sport. “City” (short for the Bronx’s Coop City/City Island League) was the most desired Chip, until recruiting refs became difficult and the commissioner’s tires were slashed.

This is a masterful and powerful story from SB Nation Longform, as Solotaroff works as both tour guide — explaining the rules, format, and stakes of the league — and profiler — providing poignant portraits of the athletes and others involved. He writes beautifully at every step.

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