By Lynn Walsh | May 20th, 2011
By: Mike Brannen
Storytelling may be a lost art in local TV. While there is a sporadic collection of stations determined to keep that art of reporting alive, most seem content to present simply the meat and potatoes of a story, rather than treat it as a full course dinner. The stations branding themselves as storytellers typically allow their on-air talent to take credit for humanizing subjects and making each report memorable. KARE’s Boyd Huppert, KGO’s Wayne Freedman, and KOMU’s Sarah Hill are masters of this craft, perfectly weaving words, pictures, and sounds seamlessly. Most of their work tells the stories of people in our communities. They remove themselves objectively from the dramatic, emotional, and comedic tales that make life interesting. But a photographer in New York last week took storytelling in a new direction.
WKTV’s Tim Fisher has been gaining attention virally this month. Fisher was sent out to cover a deadly house fire in Utica, NY. A family cried out, saying firefighters weren’t doing enough to save three people inside. One member outside of the house came at Fisher in a display of anger and fear. Firefighters fell to the ground, choking on the thick smoke. Fisher packaged the basic details for the 5 and 6 p.m. broadcasts as he would any other deadly fire.
Then, he took it even further, producing a 7-minute story narrative of what happened that day for the station’s web site. He provided more context for the man who aggressively pushed him. He took more time to show how beaten and embattled were the firefighters. He used words, pictures, sounds, AND PERSPECTIVE to tell the story. The viewer had a new angle to what in most cases would appear a routine house fire.
Most importantly, the story’s details dictated how long the piece should run. It’s refreshing, it’s different, and it’s unique.
Adding “perspective” to a story may sound like adding subjectivity to a story. I think in some cases it is okay, because in all storytelling accounts, subjectivity exists. As humans, we add flavor to a story based on how we tell it. We highlight details we find more important or interesting. Journalism requires objectivity when necessary information needs to be distilled. Objectivity exists as a means of remaining ethical when addressing tenuous topics.
I’m curious how it would look if stations explored adding more perspective like Fisher’s. I envision it wouldn’t go over well with some. Not everyone wants a “full course dinner.” Sometimes they prefer just the meat and potatoes of a story. I’ll take the former every once in a while, just to try something a little different.
There’s one more thing to take away from Fisher’s work. After garnering a huge response online in the early evening, WKTV chose to air the 7-minute piece in its entirety in its 11 p.m. newscast. It’s a brilliant move that seems like an obvious decision…on the surface. In reality, stations often forget they have fascinating web content that people might want to see on TV. Rarely does a project of this length originating on the web appear uncut for air. The fact that this piece was an exception to the rule speaks volumes about the excellent quality of Fisher’s anecdote.
Mike Brannen is a morning newscast producer for KIRO7, the CBS affiliate in Seattle. He recently received a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and completed his thesis, Motivational Use of Twitter. He previously worked multiple positions at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri during the past four years.