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PODCAST EPISODE #29: Clive Thompson, writer, Smarter Than You Think

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Reading Clive Thompson is a markedly different experience than hearing Clive Thompson.

On paper (or more likely, online), his work is measured and precise. The freelance journalist has written about technology and language for Wired, New York Times magazine, the Washington Post, and a handful of other publications. He is the author of Smarter Than You Think, a terrific book about how technology has affected the way we think, remember, and operate — for the better.

I have already written about Thompson twice this year for a pair of noteworthy stories that pair appreciation for history with enthusiasm for the future. In each article, he appears in full command of the language he studies so much, and his energy hits home largely because it is harnessed and presented in such a thoughtful way.

In an audio interview setting, that energy comes unbound.

Thompson joins me on Episode #29 of the Telling The Story podcast, and he comes ready to play. Discussing the evolution of language, his career as a writer, and his advice for aspiring journalists, Thompson blazes through sentences with nary a breath in-between. He carries a passion that extends everywhere, from extolling the virtues of AOL Instant Messenger to testifying his love for guitar pedals.

In other words, if you hold on tight to this interview, you will enjoy the ride. And you will gain some great insight from one of the more decorated and enjoyable writers working today.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2014, written 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 will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year next week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite written pieces of 2014, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) A star player accused, and a flawed rape investigation (4/16/14, New York Times): Wow.

This is how you research, write, and present a piece of investigative journalism.

Instantly one of the most widely spread articles of the year, Walt Bogdanich’s in-depth look at the Jameis Winston rape investigation produces incendiary highlights throughout. From interviews with relevant parties to a timeline of the events in question, Bogdanich offers a thorough look at what was done — and what was missed — throughout the aftermath.

No wonder the article has invoked such a reaction — both from Florida State, where Winston just led the football team to a national title, and from readers, many of whom followed the Winston coverage intently last fall. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring paint, police cars, & pics

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.

Young artist not stopped by disease sells $50K painting (10/23/14, KUSA-TV): An on-the-surface slam dunk of a story turns out, indeed, to be just that.

Reporter Kyle Dyer and photographer Andrew Christman of 9News in Denver spin a great yarn here. They tell the story of a young girl who suffers from brittle bone disease — as do her parents. She fights it with a beaming personality and a unexpected ability: painting. Fast forward to a charity event where the young girl, named Anicee, sells two of her canvases for $50,000 each.

It’s a feel-good story that feels better thanks to Dyer and Christman’s storytelling. They weave in some great surprises and genuine moments of joy, and they make it look pretty easy. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring carillon bells, typos, & James Foley

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 voice of Baylor (8/20/14, KCEN-TV): Maybe this story started with an unfair advantage.

It is about the carillon bells that ring atop a magnificent building at Baylor University. It is also about the woman who plays them, but the bells are clearly the stars of the show.

Because once they start chiming, they have a hypnotic effect.

Reporter Chris Davis and photojournalist Bryan Wendland produce a story of nearly four minutes length. Given the feature-like subject matter and relative lack of substance, they could have easily told the story in half the time.

But half the time would miss the point.

This story flies by, mainly because everything flows so beautifully: Davis’ short sentences, quick sound bites, nicely timed edits and beautifully framed shots, and, of course, the bells, which provide the constant soothing energy that moves the piece.

In many ways, the bells have the effect on the viewer that they have on everyone in the story. That’s pretty impressive. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Ferguson, Alabama, & Edward Snowden

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 front lines of Ferguson (8/15/14, Grantland): The startling and tragic events in Ferguson, Mo. have brought about some truly powerful reporting. I have read numerous pieces this week that have brought to light the pain, shock, and tension of the situation.

This one, from Grantland’s Rembert Browne, stuck with me the most.

I normally enjoy Browne’s more frivolous work, like when he hilariously recapped episodes of 24 this summer. But he can pack an emotional punch, and he does so here by intertwining his personal reflections with the front-line events in Ferguson. Browne describes himself early on as a “black boy turned black man who finds it increasingly miraculous that I made it to 27”. That point of view shines through throughout his descriptions of the protests and police response.

The Internet provides a variety of voices and perspectives for anyone willing to hear them. This week was a major example. (more…)

3 GREAT STORIES: Starring sparkling photos and an OKCupid genius

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.

In my final edition of “3 Great Stories” before I leave for the Olympics, I decided to keep it simple.

“Simple”, as in two beautiful photo albums and one enjoyable, quirky story.

In all cases, these stories should stop you in your track.

Sochi’s indigenous people (1/22/14, Big Picture): So many terrific pieces — and some terrifying ones — have been written about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

This photo album from the Big Picture (shot by photographers from Reuters) finds a unique, powerful angle.

Here are 23 photos of Sochi villagers, and they capture everyday life in a poignant manner; call it “Russian Gothic”. You will see a elderly woman with her great-granddaughter, a pair of animal farmers, villagers looking at artwork and watching a play rehearsal, and even a man taking a photo with an iPhone (it’s not all Gothic in Sochi).

Considering all we know about the place that will host the Olympics in two weeks, I found this gallery refreshing because it showed me what I did not know.

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3 GREAT STORIES: The “back from break, no more lists” edition

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.

Lists. They’re everywhere.

And never are they more everywhere than at the end of a year.

This past week, submerged in a sea of year-end lists from my favorite media outlets, web sites, and blogs, I mused the following on Twitter:

I quickly received a response from a viewer who assured me, yes, someone had indeed created such a list (at least for music).

I, of course, am just as responsible for the year-end list-mania as anyone. And I am not by any means against it; I appreciate the opportunity to look back on a year’s worth of great work, be it in music, movies, writing, or journalism.

But I also like when everyone gets back to work and starts creating again.

Here are three stories, from this past week, to start your year off right (even if they are all from the end of last year):

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