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.