Archive for April, 2012

You Tube: What Kind of Medium?

Posted: April 28, 2012 in journalism

View Beigez Movie


KVUE’s Repurposed journalist Tyler Siseswerda has brought back some compelling stories Swaziland, in sub-Saharan Africa. In case you live outside the Austin market here’s a link to Part One of “Channels of Hope”, that aired recently.

Tell me a story.

We tell stories to move the listener or get him or her to do something. We tell stories to children to get them to go to sleep. We tell them around the campfire. As we get older, stories are told for more complex reasons. And they almost always involve money.  

In the academic deconstructing of the concept of story, Drew Keller seeks to break the storytelling model into smaller segments (beginning, middle and end). He says every story starts with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.  But I think that model misses something.

The surprise.

It’s the one thing that separates a good story from one you tell over and over and over again. It’s the one thing about the hero that doesn’t fit. It’s the nurse who hates the sight of blood, the acrobat afraid of heights or the actor scared to death to take the stage.

Surprise shakes our perceptions and grabs our attention. It’s the piece of the puzzle that makes a character more complex, more human. It’s essential. And for me, when it comes to storytelling that should be no surprise.

What’s your story all about?
John Larson’s Top Three Things You Can Do to Find Purpose in Your Work

1. Find a way to care – everyday. I find meaning in detail, the last
words of a father, the note posted in an abandoned factory. If a story
doesn’t move you, it won’t move anyone.

2. Don’t confuse objectivity with distance, or a lack of passion. Open
yourself to those you cover. Listen closely, feel, imagine, empathize.

3. Don’t mistake “balance” with adding up lies and dividing by two.
Find truths. Get them right.

John Larson says when a journalist tells a story worth telling it builds community.  John Larson has been among the nation’s best at story telling for the better part of four decades.

Several years ago, when I was a young local TV news feature reporter and John Larson had just been hired by NBC News, I’d describe a story idea to him and he’d ask me one simple question: “What’s the story all about?” If I could boil the answer down to 10 seconds, then he knew I had a firm understanding of how I would approach the piece. I was on my way to telling a story “worth telling.”

For Larson, this approach takes “heavy lifting.”  He says, “You negotiate your way to find the richest deepest vein.” Larson says, “When you give blood, the lab technician comes in to ‘stick’ you. If they’re not good, they jab and it hurts. But if they’re good, they find the vein and you don’t even feel it.” He says, “The same is true with a storyteller.”

He’s passionate about his craft.

Larson has won dozens of national, regional and local awards for broadcast excellence including 4 Columbia DuPont Awards, 2 national Emmys, 2 Peabodys, 2 IRE Gold Medals. He’s lost count of the Regional Emmys.

His TV career began at KTUU in Anchorage. After 7 years, it was on to KOMO 4 News in Seattle. He worked there 8 years. In 1994, he and his family moved to Southern California where he joined NBC Dateline. In 2008, after 14 years he and NBC couldn’t agree on a contract so he left and started his own freelance company.  

Now Larson finds purpose at PBS contributing pieces for “Need to Know”. One airs Friday called “Crossing The Line”. Below is a link to a preview. The story focuses on the US Border Patrol and the killing of undocumented workers. But Larson says, “What it’s really all about is giving voice to the voiceless, those immigrants who are shot crossing the US-Mexico border, killed by US Border Patrol.” People Larson says, “with no legal or political standing.”

He lectures and conducts teaching seminars for TV journalists (thru E.W. Scripps Howard) all over the world. He also does freelance work for non-profits like World Vision . I accompanied Larson (working for NBC at the time) when he went to Africa in 2007, reporting on relief work done by World Vision, Hoops of Hope, and World Bicycle Relief for NBC News.

Larson says, “I began micro lending 5 years ago as an anti-depressant. I was a journalist in Los Angeles, mostly covering the latest self-inflicted wounds of Hollywood celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson. I began loaning money through Kiva in an effort to stay sane. In 2010, when Vision Fund (World Vision) asked for a proposal to tell its story, I jumped at the opportunity.

Whether he’s working for NBC or PBS or as a freelancer for World Vision, there’s always a purpose behind John Larson’s work. He’s trying to find that vein. To come back with a simple answer to that simple question:

What’s your story all about?

The Mechanics of Storytelling

Posted: April 17, 2012 in journalism

Every visual storyteller needs to know the mechanics of the craft. That’s never been more true than today – in the age of You Tube. But what do you say when you turn on the camera?

Discussion in new media guru Drew Keller’s MCDM (University of Washington) COM 583 class Monday night, centered on how we consume You Tube “stories” and how that consumption defines us more than what we watch. Amateur producers (that’s you and me) affect the way we consume it. Studies show that we can watch You Tube for hours because the content is seemingly endless.

In Monday’s class we examined how You Tube has become so prevalent in today’s culture that it’s becoming a social network in and of itself.  We gravitate toward those who watch the content we watch ourselves. We examined the video diary phenomenon and how deep that well appears to be as well.

As an award-winning TV news veteran, it’s difficult at times for me to assimilate into this new home-made video culture. I hate to admit it but I had become a TV snob. I come from an industry where I was among the select few who were given the keys to the broadcast machine. You had to work hard to get those keys. I always felt like you had to earn them. Not anymore. Today all you need is a You Tube account, an i-phone and something to say.

All too often it’s that third component that’s missing in You Tube content. It’s my hope that when I post something on You Tube I will at least have something to say.

Shouldn’t we all expect at least that much?

Channels of Hope: Austin to Africa

It’s the trip of a lifetime. An international charity approaches your local TV news station with a proposition: Provide us with an eager journalist willing to tell stories that’ll literally save lives and we will cover the costs of your trip to Africa.

“Going to Africa? That’s not what local news usually does.”

KVUE TV’s Tyler Sieswerda is emphatic over coffee at a downtown Austin, Texas Starbucks. “There’s a bigger purpose.”

 The 43 year-old anchor/reporter is referring to the trip he took in January to Swaziland with international Christian charity World Vision. The KVUE-TV series entitled, “Channels of Hope: Austin to Africa” airing this Thursday and Friday at 6pm chronicles the ongoing struggle to get clean water for those living in extreme poverty.

On Saturday, April 21st, Sieswerda will host a special also entitled, “Channels of Hope: Austin to Africa.”

KVUE did not promise World Vision anything in exchange for passage to Swaziland. The station agreed to come and see what was going on and consider doing stories.

The series and special (shot by KVUE photogragher Robert McMurrey) also follow the  life-changing trip taken by Austin pastors witnessing the work World Vision is doing in Swaziland to help save lives. Providing clean water is one step. The sub-Saharan African nation has one of highest per capita rates of AIDS in the world.

What did Sieswerda take away from the trip? He won’t worry or stress about his day-to-day issues because he says, “there are many people in Swaziland who aren’t sure if they can find a single meal to feed their children today.” Or, he says if they’ll be able to give them a simple thing like water that won’t make them sick. “There’s a lot more to life than what we’re doing every day at work,” says Sieswerda.

Sieswerda struggled to find his purpose earlier in life. He credits his TV career to his mother who suggested he pursue journalism when he was selling insurance. Tyler took a couple of community college classes and that was it. He was hooked.

Journalists he looks up to are Anderson Cooper at CNN, David Mur at ABC News and NBC’s Brian Williams. After a 17-year career with stops in Grand Junction, Colorado, El Paso, Texas, Phoenix and Atlanta, Sieswerda was ready when the opportunity to travel to Africa presented itself late last year. World Vision was looking for a station to partner with on the Austin Campaign for Children Siesewerda jumped at the chance to go. He says, “Taking that step toward re-purposing was easy.”

Sounds easy. Sounds like the trip of a lifetime, right? Sounds like anyone would jump at a free trip to Africa if given the chance. 


Of the 12 reporters and anchors on the KVUE TV staff only three said yes. “I just don’t understand it,” says Sieswerda. “Anytime you go – you change, it broadens your perspective … it gives you a better understanding of the planet.”

And maybe a little deeper sense of purpose.


Monday night, new media guru Drew Keller discussed the ideas of “Norms of Reciprocity” in the digital world. Graduate students in the Master of Communication Digital Media program on the University of Washington campus like me always take something valuable away from open and free discussions that Keller initiates.

But this topic hit close to home. Simply stated it’s give, then take.

And that seems to be the operative norm alive in new media today. Having an agenda is fine as long as you put others first. Sharing is the key word today. “Publish then filter” is what Clay Shirkey writes in “Here Comes Everybody.” Put it out there and see what happens. It’s the discussion that matters.

Keller told us if you “do something nice for a human being” they tend to feel gratitude and that drives the desire to reciprocate. This is much like “it’s better to give than receive” motto that Christians try to practice as well. We think about it but all too often fail to practice it at Christmas. Still, it’s a good rule of thumb in today’s every-changing and technologically complex world.

On Monday, I posted a blog about Lee Schneider, a new media documentary producer and blogger for the Huffington Post  I write about people like Schneider because they give back. Schneider is using his skills as a storyteller to actually help get things built. His upcoming documentary project will be targeted to community activists and architects (and you) in an effort to build consensus and hopefully … buildings, the foundation of shelter in Haiti (and perhaps domestically in a city like Detroit).

Not ironically, Schneider’s project is called “Shelter”. Check it out It’s a journalist giving back as he builds consensus and a growing viewership. Schneider will get people to watch because he’s a gifted national storyteller with network news credentials. But his giving spirit just might get you to give.

Given then take. Reciprocity.

Seattle to Uganda: A Journey of Hope and Health

The Seattle Channel invites you to a public screening of a new documentary “Seattle to Uganda: A Journey of Hope” which follows local women on an inspiring trip to a small village in Northern Uganda. It’ll be shown Sunday, April 15th at 4pm.

In the fall of 2010, Seattle resident Maureen Brotherton invited 10 women—most of them unknown to each other – to join her on a journey to visit the women in Aminocira, Uganda. Seattle documentary filmmaker Penny LeGate followed along as women from opposite sides of the globe “forged a partnership that continues to inspire awareness, social change, health opportunities and hope for a better future.”

The free, public screening of the half-hour documentary will take place at Seattle University’s Wyckoff Auditorium, Bannan Engineering Building, 901 12th Ave. Brotherton,

LeGate and several of the women will reunite for the preview and a post-screening talk.

The Community Stories series is about the inspirational people, the relevant issues and the cultural traditions and rich histories that make up our many communities. These short television profiles highlight our residents through stories consisting of personal interviews, slice-of-life episodes and insightful portraits. The series has won several local Emmy awards.

To attend, RSVP to Lori Patrick at or (206) 733-9764.

Lee Schneider is headed back to Haiti.

And now Schneider, a documentary producer, is officially launching a campaign on to raise money for the return trip where he plans to continue shooting for an upcoming documentary focusing on architects and how good design helps the homeless and victims of disasters (like those recovering from the January, 2010 earthquake) in Haiti.

Here’s the link:

His production team is also researching stories in Detroit with the hope of filming there as well, after Haiti production is complete. This Re-purposed journalist is hoping to reach three target audiences: architects, community activists…

And you.

Lee is a former producer for the ABC News (Good Morning America) and NBC News (Today Show, Dateline) and National Geographic among others. Schneider has always been a passionate journalist who sought to observe and report, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and remain objective. But as a re-purposed journalist, Lee Schneider now wants his work to help move the ball down the field. In this case – he wants this documentary to actually help get something built.

When he arrives in Haiti, Schneider will focus on stories and profiles he has researched for the past year. When he moves on to production in Detroit, he says he’ll be looking for projects akin to those underway at The Alley Project (TAP), a collaborative community “design for good” project where architects and community activists donate their time to design and build neighborhood projects.

“When I worked at NBC I was working for GE. That’s what I stood for. When you work for Nat Geo, (owned by Fox) you stand for Rupert Murdoch.” Schneider, a veteran of NBC Dateline, Fox and ABC’s “Good Morning America” is now directing Shelter,  His documentaries have aired on History Channel, Discovery Health Channel, The Learning Channel, Bravo, Food Network, Court TV, ReelzChannel and A&E

Schneider also writes a blog for Huffington Post and does online strategies for businesses with a socially responsible mission. His production company creates “cause-driven” nonfiction films.

He’s been blogging since 2009. He started by writing a blog called, “500 Words on Thursday”. He averages 2-3 blogs a week. He blogs about once a month for the Huffington Post

Sure, Lee Schneider admits it’d be nice if a show like NBC Today Show ended up doing a story about community renovation in Haiti as a result of the awareness he’s helping create, but he says, “The goal is to build something.”

Schneider’s hoping the Shelter doc will air next year.