Internships are invaluable (as if i’m telling you something you didn’t know)

My Page 1 play for my Indian Museum storyPractice makes perfect.

After my internship at The Oklahoman this summer, I truly couldn’t agree more.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to improve this summer until I arrived at the Oklahoman, and my copy came under the scrutiny of the editors here.

My first few stories were under par, and I was worried I had failed the editors’ litmus test. As discouraged as I might have been, they kept their faith in me, and in a few weeks, I was pumping out cleaner copy every day.

One of those stories was the one shown on the right. With the patience of Rick Green, the local desk editor here, I turned what was a mind-numbing numbers story into something truly valuable to the reader.

I should say that I had two goals this summer, and I would have been happy with just one of them being accomplished: Either (A): Get good play on the front page, or (B): Have two stories run on the same day.

I guess I set my goals pretty low, because the staff did more than their share to ensure that I got great stories and that they were well-played on the page. For example, in my first week, I had two front page stories.

One was on FEMA’s response to Oklahoma’s tornado damage. The other was this one.

Not only that, but in one edition I claimed the front page CP, and then had a second article teased on the front page as well. That broke both goals I wanted to achieve.

Another time, in yesterday’s edition, August 4, I got CP on the Page 1 AND on the Metro front.

I really can’t believe all the good that has come out of this internship for me.

I’ve made some amazing connections with some extraordinary journalists and interns here.

My writing went from typical fresh-out-of-j-school approach, to a more polished, professional style.

I’m still nowhere close to where I want to be as a storyteller. But give me two more years, and I might just be hirable. *Hint, Hint to any newspaper recruiters reading this*.


Live Storytelling: An ancient, compelling platform


The more that I think about live storytelling, the more I’m impressed with it.

Every story that I’m engaged with on a daily basis has been finely tweaked, edited, trimmed and polished with days or weeks of attention.

Yet there are people out there who participate in live, oral storytelling, who speak to an audience without notes or facts, and tell a story beautifully.

I’m truly fascinated with these speakers who can deliver compelling, gripping stories in their presentations. It isn’t an easy thing to do; more of an art form than anything else.

The Moth Radio Hour

I came across this type of storytelling while listening to NPR. I tuned into a new station, and they introduced me to a new program called Moth Radio Hour, an anthology of stories told by speakers to a live audience at a theater hall. I can honestly tell you, I never remember the drive home on the days it broadcasts. My full audible attention was directed towards the speakers. It truly is an experience.

In any case, the program would be extraordinary to see live, a romantic and thoughtful alternative to the movies or a play. Many of these events take place in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. If you are ever in town, be sure to hit up a show. Here’s the Moth Radio Hour’s scheduled events.

One speaker in particular, Edgar Oliver, with his haunting voice and presence, is a must listen. His true story account of his life growing up in Savannah, Georgia, with his sister, who both want desperately to escape the grasps of their paranoid and dementia-ridden mother’s controlling grasps.

This type of ancient storytelling has stood the test of time, and the power of these stories tell me that something about the medium is everlasting, so long as humans are capable of communicating.

While live storytelling isn’t a perfect science, and probably isn’t a recommended way for journalists to get their messages across, I think it ought to deserve an immense amount of respect from any kind of storyteller. Broadcast or print, fiction or non-fiction. These stories are masterful in their own way, and they are in no short supply.


Storify: altering storytelling techniques

I’ve read blogs and books that experiment with story structure and storytelling techniques. When I ran into Storify not too long ago, I knew it would change storytelling for me. It gave my writing new pathways into alternative narratives and plot structure.

If you are a hard news journalist, you know how severely formulaic your pieces can become if you let complacency seep into your routine.

Here is an example of a great storify piece from UPI on the debt debate.

Example of Storify's unique storytelling capabilities

Storify example of UPI's story on the debt debate

Storify is a social media and information tool that drags Snippets of information – like tweets, blog posts, articles, photos and videos- into a storyline.

It’s not a new concept, but Storify let’s the user create an annotated piece of virtual nonfiction by allowing a writer to provide evidence like a broadcast journalist would.

What I mean is that Storify presents written evidence in a visual storytelling way. An “author” (or really a social media editor) can be an integral role in a story, or let the information completely dominate the piece and speak for itself.

I haven’t used the service yet, but I see the potential, and I’m biting at the bit for a good story to come along to fully see its potential.


Origin Chronicles: Keeping Promises

The relationships you build with your subjects is at the fulcrum of your success or failure as a storyteller. Teeter the wrong way, and you’ll smack the ground.

I haven’t busted my bottom yet, but I there have been some close calls.

To date, I’ve forgotten to do two simple tasks that might have strained relationships with my subjects; going to an event, and sending a photo.

Of course, it occurred at Picture Kentucky. One of my subjects was a do-it-all man. Literally. He was the county magistrate, taxidermist, funeral director, grave digger and craftsman. My job was to document him in all his roles.

After spending several hours with him, he invited me to come back to an annual festival at his hometown (The Wooly -Worm festival). I quickly accepted. When a few months went by and time came for the event, I was just too bogged down to go.

I had planned to return with some friends and spend the day, but college life and newsrooms don’t allow much free time.

But there are no excuses for breaking promises.

It may not seem like a big deal, but I know Mr. Begle would remember. That’s all it takes. The relationship I built with him and the access I had been granted into his life and community might be severed or compromised for future work on that project.

Keeping promises is at the heart of journalism and our ethics. The Society for Professional Journalists even lists it in their code of ethics. (Fourth bullet, third sentence.)

Think of what could happen if you were a beat reporter, and you didn’t keep a promise to a vital source of information. Your entire job and career in that beat could be compromised.

As journalists, all we have is our name and integrity. Our reputation allows us to perform our job and let the people trust us as a source of accurate and timely information. Don’t go teetering the wrong way.


Why journalism won’t die: storms

I’m sitting at home safe, but I can’t say the same for Oklahoma journalists right now.

For the past three hours, i’ve been glued to local TV, Twitter, the Oklahoma City newspaper website, newsok.com, and Facebook keeping up with the movement of current tornadoes ravaging central Oklahoma.

I’m not the only one either.

The nation is glued to TV and computer screens, desperately scrambling to find new information and coverage of the storms. All the national news outlets are collecting photographs and video from people and reporters on the ground, publishing photographs of twisting tornadoes and debris.

Read articles about the storms:

Oklahoman: Two dead near El Reno as tornadoes strike
MSNBC.com: Monster tornadoes rip through Okla., demolishes houses, cars

The dedication of these journalists to cover storms in the midst of clear and present danger is one reason why journalism will not die. Journalism is directly saving the lives of several people who are listening in via radio or TV in these storm-stricken areas.

The Oklahoma City NBC affiliate station, KFOR, had their chopper in the middle of the storm, finding destroyed homes with families standing around with stunned looks painted on their faces. The chopper landed to check on them, and the family said they were listening in on the radio to KFOR’s broadcast and took shelter just at the right time. Everyone in their family was safe, except for a few cuts and bruises.

Without journalism, these people may not have received the information necessary to take shelter in time. These hardworking photojournalists and reporters use their own way of life-saving tactics, called information.

I know from this that I, as a storyteller, can learn so much from these individuals who drive, fly and run into danger to get information that is saving the lives of people across this state.

While I don’t necessarily want to be in the middle of a tornadic thunderstorm, I won’t hesitate if I’m called upon. Until then, I applaud the accomplishments of those journalists on the front lines of our homeland.

Entry #2 Summary: Telling stories and information-gathering, at its roots, takes courage and steel resolve. We are a service-based industry that deals in information.


Entry #1: Origin of the notebook

On Oct. 2, 2010, I was given a composition notebook.

I was told to fill it with experiences and lessons which would make me a better storyteller and photographer. It was given to me in front of other blooming storytellers by a man who possesses my unshakable respect.

Originally, David Labelle, my mentor during the photojournalism workshop Picture Kentucky, told me I needed it because I was having trouble with the composition of my photographs. He said maybe someday I could return that notebook to him with it filled.

I intend to do so.

I have until next year’s Picture Kentucky workshop to fill every page with entries on how to tell better stories, and reach my full potential. I am journalist, and I will meet my deadline.

A person is a composition in themselves, crafted through life experiences. We are molded by the people we meet, the stories we hear and share, the friends we keep and the dreams we work towards. Through this project, I hope to become the best person I can be, and compose within myself the characteristics of a true storyteller.

With this in mind, I want to invite you on my journey to fill that composition notebook. Maybe you can learn from my entries. Maybe I can learn from yours. We’re in this together. Let it begin.