Finding stories

For most students the toughest part about my hands-on multimedia reporting class isn’t learning non-liner video editing, or how to record clean sound, or even how to make deadline. The thing that gives them the most trouble is finding stories.

Most of the stories are short — 30 seconds to a minute, maximum. The students have to learn to identify interesting characters, make fast choices about what is most interesting or important, then record enough material to make the story flow without overwhelming themselves in the edit bay. In 15 weeks the students have to come up with nine quick turnaround stories and two projects. There’s no time to be shy. Curiosity is crucial.

There are a couple of stories I like to use to prime the pump. I call these pieces Multimedia Moments: three- to five-minute presentations that I show at the beginning of each class to reward students who show up on time and to expose the class to good reporting.

Everybody has a story

CBS reporter Steve Hartman and videographer Les Rose created a challenge for themselves by creating a random process to find great stories. Hartman would throw a dart at a map. They would travel to the town closest to where the dart hit. Hartman would open a phone book, avert his eyes and point to a name on the page. They would phone that person and if they got an answer, do a story. No matter what.

The lesson: Some interviews were not easy. Few could have been a bigger challenge than Eric Colton, who can certainly be described as a man of few words.  Hartman not only accepted the challenge, he made it the awkwardness of their conversation the focus of the story. When he gets to the reveal, the irony couldn’t be sweeter.


Flying coach

Many frequent fliers fear the prospect of a chatty seat mate. PBS News Hour reporter John Larson has found that instead of jamming in the ear buds and tuning out the conversation, sometimes it pays to listen. He writes, “As a correspondent, I’ve travelled more than 2 million miles on assignment, usually in a hurry, rushing to one story after another. But along the way, I noticed that the most powerful stories often weren’t where I was heading to or coming from at all, but in between.  And usually, sitting right next to me.”

The lesson: Don’t wait to be assigned a good story. Find one.  Larson does a great job with this piece, peeling back the layers of the story of Normandy Villa to reveal a narrative that exemplifies the American Dream.


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