Sunday, May 9, 2010

Collector's Item

Life is a collection of moments. Over spring break, an alumnus of my high school took his own life. It really got me thinking about human life and journalism.

No life can be all bad or all good. No life is all pleasure or all pain. How would we be happy is we were never sad? This is a conversation I distinctly recall from my fifth grade English class (our teacher was very progressive and it was quite a stimulating class). Life is a collection of good and bad moments and memories. You can’t remember everything that happens to you (unless you are this woman), and that is probably for the better. But, you wouldn’t want to forget everything (like him) either.

So we all lie somewhere in the middle—somewhere between Jill Price and Clive Wearing.

As a journalist, it’s my job to capture the moments that tell the stories. I spend all day working on one story, only to boil it down to a package that might be no more than one minute long. Collecting these moments in my work is critical to telling a good story—and making it one that viewers remember.

The details and the moments make stories memorable to viewers. Let me demonstrate with the following stories:

“The Art of Compassion” is an incredibly moving story by Boyd Huppert, one of my favorite journalists. Watch it and focus on the segment from 4:09 to 4:40- ending with a sot and a sniffle from Kaziah, matched perfectly with Huppert’s voicing. It is such a tender moment in the piece that forces you to love Kaziah. Then Huppert captures the best detail of the whole story at  4:43 to 4:49 (I won’t ruin it by telling you what he says). Huppert goes from the tender moment with Kaziah to revealing another fact about her that really helps viewers understand and empathize with her. These moments in her life and details about her make this story what it is. It’s not just a news story, it’s a story that can restore faith in human nature and the kindness of strangers.

Steve Hartman is another great journalist I really admire. In this episode of Assignment America—The Animal Odd Couple—Hartman does a great job of putting moments into the piece. The moments Hartman captures take this story from a humorous picture to a piece that really makes viewers think. Hartman yanks at the heartstring at 1:19 to 1:40, where he really makes you love the characters—which makes the story’s impact even greater. But to me, the end of the story is the greatest moment (2:04 to 2:28)- you can’t watch that part and not ask yourself questions. A story that can make me think like that is definitely one worth watching. The moment at the end is like the payoff for the whole story.

As broadcast journalists, we don’t have much time to tell stories. I have done a package as short as 50 seconds. This makes our job more complicated. But we can tell a beautiful story in a small amount of time if we capture the right moments. These moments can contain the entire range of emotions. Sometimes a moment of joy tells just as many truths as a moment of sadness. When I think about things I’ve experienced and memories I’ve made, I can pull moments out of my memory. I see snapshots of things gone by.

The way I see it, moments in life (and in a story) are like collectors items: precious, timeless, and make life worth living.