why can’t we talk

The lesson I learned telling a story about race

I was expecting 25%.

Typically I try to avoid person-on-the-street assignments — the kind that involve humble reporters like yourself asking “regular” people to opine on a certain issue. I prefer to hear from experts or the newsmakers themselves; I dislike the concept of 2-3 random interviewees somehow speaking for a whole community.

I also despise the rejection.

People are often, understandably, reluctant to speak on-camera about a potentially controversial issue. Look at the situation from their eyes: a reporter, who you likely have never met or even seen on TV, approaches you with a camera and microphone. You don’t know where your words — with your face attached — will wind up. Will you be edited? Almost certainly. Taken out of context? Possibly. And even if the reporter represents your words perfectly, can you trust yourself to say exactly what you think without somehow garbling the message? Think of how many conversations or arguments where you thought afterward, “If only I had said …” Do you want to stand by recorded answers to questions you have not yet heard?

It’s a tough sell.

Throw in the potential land mine of race, and you have my recent assignment. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2014, 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.

Having done the “3 Great Stories” segment all year long, I now face the challenge of picking my favorites.

But I have picked them, and here they are.

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 2014, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) Knox County man builds backyard roller-coaster — again (10/29/14, WTHR-TV): I will say it simply: this story is one of the finest TV features I have seen in a long time.

The “plot” is simple, summed up in the above headline. A rural Indiana man has gained worldwide fame for a roller-coaster he built in his own backyard. Most stations might assign a reporting crew to tell the story in 90 seconds; it might make a nice feature but then fade from memory quickly afterwards.

Not this station, and not this story.

Reporter Kevin Rader and photographer Steve Rhodes put an extraordinary amount of care into this piece, and it shows in every loving touch. They reveal a new layer of the story every minute, and they present their subject, named John Ivers, in the context of both his creation (the roller-coaster) and his community.

I challenge you to watch this and not crack a smile. (more…)