Story Samples

I study stories.  I pull them apart and listen to them line by line, soundbite by soundbite.  I listen for natural sounds and sparse language.  I offer a collection of the of the best stories I know for you to study and learn from.

This may be one of the best uses of natural sound I have seen in a TV story:

Natural Sound spot news coverage:

<p><a href=”″>Use of Video – KING – Jensen Composite</a> from <a href=””>Scott Jensen</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

To Hell and Back Again– a multiple national and international award-winning war documentary by Danfung Dennis (warning graphic images and language)

WFAA Dallas Tornado coverage (newscast)

A sample of real public service journalism

Here is a nice daily turn piece so rich in natural sound, magic moments and action/reaction:

One of the most exceptional documentaries I have ever seen. Keep in mind, this project was shot by one woman, the lone TV photographer who witnessed what you are about to see.

The 2012 Peabody Winners:
(keep in mind all sorts of programs are recognized, from news and documentaries to entertainment programs.)

Breaking News Coverage
World News with Diane Sawyer: Disaster in the Pacific – by Diane Sawyer and the staff of World News, ABC NEWS

Launch Video [requires Flash; opens in new window]

Investigative Reporting : Hiding Behind the Badge – by Lee Zurik, WVUE-TV new Orleans

Launch Video [requires Flash; opens in new window]

Investigative Reporting (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)
Brian Ross Investigates ‘Peace Corps: A trust Betrayed’ – by Brian Ross Anna Schecter Rhonda Schwartz Angela Hill, ABC NEWS

Steve Hartman and Les Rose’s Best stories

Everybody Has a Story, Soul Food
Everybody Has a Story, Balloon
Everybody Has a Story, Adoption
Everybody Has a Story, Veteran
Everybody Has a Story, Spaghetti
Everybody Has a Story, Alaska

Ray Farkas is a hero to many who make their living telling stories with video.

“To Pull a Farkas” as photographers called it, means get close with your wireless microphone and stand as far away from the subject as you can and be a “fly on the wall.”  Farkas moments are real and sometimes gritty.Les Rose, the photographer who shot the Everybody Has a Story piece above, says Farkas was an innovator and inspiration to him and to many in the craft.  Here are two of Farkas’ greatest stories :

With searing precision and emotional honesty, New York Reacts places us right in Manhattan, two days after the Twin Towers fell. We hear as New Yorkers try to make sense of their anger and understand the unimaginable. See the project at

Charles Kuralt 

He was CBS’s go-to feature guy in the 60’s and 70’s. I think he was the greatest video storyteller of the generation.
This is very possibly his best story. A real story of America.  The story is about the Chandler family.  I won’t ruin it by telling you more.  I will say that when Kuralt died, it was one of two stories they played on CBS Sunday Morning, his show. It was one of his favorites.

Kuralt could do entire stories without a single interview, with nothing but a standup. And yet the stories could be as compelling as any fancy edit you could dream of.

You know, we often think of crowdsourcing as a new idea. But here is an old story that is built entirely from photos that viewers sent in.

A really nice piece that students will love.

Bob Dotson Teaches Storytelling:

An old timers golf league –great examples of natural sound, action/reaction, surprises.  Click image to watch

Here are some of my very favorite Ken Speake stories.
Ken was a reporter at KARE-11 in Minneapolis for many years and, in my estimation was one of the great local television storytellers of his time. He has a knack of writing to the video and his use of natural sound was a hallmark of KARE-11’s storytelling for years.

Daisy the Goose

In this great story, Ken builds in surprises, natural sound moments and even
some outdoor education. You actually find yourself learning how geese normally learn to fly. I love how Ken doesn’t talk down to his less knowledgeable audience. Look for the big, magical moments that Ken explains but does not narrate. In other words, he allows you
to experience the moment without insulting you by telling you what you are
seeing — he tells you about what you are seeing. If you can watch this piece without smiling, you should check your pulse.

Harping Hands
This is a Ken Speake classic. It is one of the best examples of writing to video I have ever seen. The story takes place in a neonatal hospital ward where a
musician comes in once in a while to calm frayed nerves. See how Ken explains the video, drawing the viewers in with a strong opening line. He will explain what you are seeing on the heart monitors.

The Deer Hunter

One day, Ken got a note from a deer hunter named John Thompson.
It became pretty clear that Mr. Thompson was just using his hunting
license as an excuse to do what he really loved in the woods. This story is
such an example of what great natural sound can do for a story. Multimedia and TV journalists should use this as a gold standard for how to place microphones.
Watch the story.

The Home Depot Swallows
Ken has this ability to see things the rest of us walk by — like
birds that have figured out how to open the electronic doors at Home Depot. See the story.

The Ice Breaker
This is a piece that Ken told along with photojournalist Lane
Michaelsen, who will tell you what it’s like to work with Ken later in this column. This story is about a Coast Guard ship whose job it is to go out on Lake Superior to open the shipping lanes for the season.
Again, Ken opens with a strong line that pulls the viewer right to the screen.
It is punctuated by close-up sound. The copy in this story is thin and tight. Watch it here.

Boyd Huppert explains how her does what he does so well:

60 Minutes-The Blowout.  Inside story of the Gulf Oil Blowout.

ABC’s Investigation of a Sexually Abusive Swim Coach and the System that covered for him

Where are all the Jobs? WTHR Indianapolis investigates state claims that state officials have landed tons of new jobs.

KING-TV’s investigation of wasteful spending by the Seattle ferry system.

KUSA-TV’s investigation into mortgage fraud

WJLA-Drilling for Dollars.  This shocking investigation shows how one of the larges dental chains in the country does millions of dollars in unneeded dental work on the poorest children to cash in on federal dollars.

Byron Pitts-Children of the Recession-CBS News

The guy who invented poetry magnets

Don’t Zoom from Al Tompkins on Vimeo.

Stories Need Surprises from Al Tompkins on Vimeo.


The most gripping radio story I have ever heard.  NPR’s Melissa Block reports from the epicenter of the China earthquake in 2009.

A grandson and his grandfather-“Listening is an Act of Love.”

Bonding for Profit-an investigation into the Bail Bond system and how it wastes a lot of money. So why do we keep using it?

Investigating the sexual abuse of Native American women.


Huffington Post’s College Debt Project

See the stories of students who owe tens of thousands of dollars each.

This may well be the first online multimedia interactive story.  It became quite well known as a movie, Blackhawk Down, but it started as a newspaper story, then this, which included lots of conversations with readers, tons of audio interviews and government video.  Remember, this is 1997.

In 2002, NPR’s Steve Inskeep was working in Afghanistan.  He carried a small still camera along with him.  When he found a story about a mistaken US military raid, he captured the evidence in still pictures.  That night, NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight both lead the newscasts with those still photos taken by a radio reporter.  It was a big moment for multimedia and made a loud statement about why radio should think about telling visual stories online.   I wrote about the story for

A remarkable multimedia project by the Milwaukee Sentinel examining the long ignored problem of infant mortality.

 Las Vegas Sun’s gambling addiction multimedia project

The 2011 Online News Association Award Winners

Here are the winners in each category, with links to their winning entries:

Knight Award for Public Service
Barnegat Bay Under Stress – Asbury Park Press

General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Site
BBC News

General Excellence in Online Journalism, Medium Site
The Globe and Mail

General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Site – Voice of San Diego

General Excellence in Online Journalism, Micro Site
NJ Spotlight

Breaking News, Large Site
Coverage of the uprisings in Egypt – Al Jazeera

Breaking News, Small Site
A Snow Storm Hits New York and WNYC Listeners Map the Cleanup – WNYC Radio


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s