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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 #25: John Kirtley, photographer, WLOS-TV

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Roughly seven minutes into this episode of the Telling The Story podcast, guest John Kirtley said the following:

“No one said this was easy. If it was easy, the world of storytelling wouldn’t be such a unique thing.”

During an already honest interview, this was a particularly honest moment. So often in this business, we try to maintain an optimistic, even idealistic, point of view. But Kirtley made his opinion perfectly clear: this job is difficult.

And to do it well, and to do it regularly? Even tougher.

“It’s practice; you know that. You gotta work on improving a little detail each time, and eventually you’re going to get to the point where it all adds up.”

Kirtley has seen things add up. He has worked in numerous cities in his ten-year career, but he has found a home in Asheville, N.C., where he has now become the assistant chief photographer at WLOS-TV. He has also claimed seven regional Emmy awards.

He joins me for Episode #25 of the Telling The Story podcast.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Twitter, dahlias, and the broadcast clock

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.

As I chose the stories for this week’s “3 Great Stories” segment, I was struck by how different they are.

One is a print piece that takes an actual event from last week and spins it into a rich commentary.

One is a broadcast piece that required months of preparation about a seemingly frivolous topic.

One is an audio segment that lifts the curtain on an important — and rarely noted — journalistic tool.

The one common thread? Each piece is an obvious labor of love.

You can tell, in each case, the author has spent a great deal of time — much of it likely outside of work — delving into the topic of his story. In all three cases, I would argue, that extra time made a positive impact.

Twitter and the death of quiet enjoyment (9/13/13, The Awl): Unlike the other stories listed, I don’t believe this one would have succeeded at all without the author’s passion.

Brent Cox (a writer I have mentioned before) makes a difficult argument here; he discusses movie theater etiquette in the age of Twitter, social media, and constant communication, and he does so by introducing terms (“quiet enjoyment”, “the Conversationalists”) and convincingly backing them up with sound reasoning. He does very little research here; he mostly concocts this story from his own experience and, again, his obviously large amount of thought about the topic.

Without any research on which he could fall back, Cox pens a story that holds up and inspires thought. He fills the article with insights and paradoxes, all about our seemingly conflicting desires to be left alone while staying in constant communication. As he describes it:

We want to be alone, but included. Actually, most importantly, we want to be included, and in fact we cannot properly enjoy the viewing of our favorite (broadcast, and not Netflix’d) TV shows unless there is a conversation in which to be included—even if the “conversation” is a tweet left hanging in the wind.

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3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Jason Collins, an inspiring child, and slot machines

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.

It’s an all-A/V edition of “3 Great Stories”.

After paying homage to three great print pieces last week, we turn this week to some outstanding storytelling in podcasts and television. Each case benefits from time — the time to allow an interview to breathe, the time to develop a full story of an individual, or the time to give an in-depth look at a subject you never thought deserved one.

Jason Collins interview (4/30/13, The B.S. Report): Jason Collins was all over the news last week, starting with his coming-out announcement on Sports Illustrated’s web site — a wonderfully written and powerful piece in its own right. After it, he did several interviews and was the subject of a slew of articles.

In the process, Collins became an elevated figure. Many of the pieces about him last week talked more about what he represents than who he is.

For me, one interview stood out for going in the opposite direction.

Bill Simmons is, of course, the most popular writer at ESPN and Grantland.com, but he has proven to be a deft and skilled interviewer on his B.S. Report podcast, during which he regularly gets notable subjects to reveal unique insights into themselves. Simmons did a one-hour podcast with Collins Tuesday, and it is a seminar on how to conduct an interview. He keeps things light in many spots, chats basketball — including Collins’ ability to bend the rules and frustrate big-name opponents in the process — and does the seemingly impossible in the process: finds out details about Collins’ experience that had not yet been revealed in the tons of articles and columns written the previous day.

A detail that stunned me? Collins got a congratulatory phone call from Tim Hardaway, the former NBA player who once famously said, “I hate gay people.”

Simmons is a polarizing figure in sports media, but he has always been a terrific storyteller. His best attribute? He knows how to connect with people, whether his massive audience or his interview subjects. Here, while everyone else treated Collins as a hero, Simmons treated him as a human … and obtained the most human coverage of Collins as a result.

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