Making viewers care is foremost for journalist Chris Vanderveen
By Jason Lamb
Chris Vanderveen has spent the better part of two decades pursuing connection with viewers, finding whatever can make them care about a story.
As abstract and elusive that concept might be, Vanderveen says as director of special projects at 9NEWS in Denver, it’s something he’s better able to chase now, outside of the daily grind of general assignment stories.
The most recent winner of the NPPA Photojournalism Award for Reporting, Vanderveen says part of that 26-year process has included finding himself in how he tells stories. He says earlier in his career, like many other television journalists, he would try to “be someone else” — trying to imitate another’s storytelling style.
“It’s taken me this long to feel comfortable in my own voice,” Vanderveen said.
And Vanderveen says, as time-consuming as it may be, that authentic voice is key to creating the connection with viewers that they so badly crave.
“When I have that feeling that I’ve gotten the viewer as close to the story as possible through words, I think that’s when I know I feel good with where I’m at,” Vanderveen said. “I know I’m done when they feel the connection that I feel.”
“Ideally that connection makes them feel something — anger, pride, sadness — some sort of emotion that maybe was unexpected,” Vanderveen said.
It’s the kind of emotion and connection that often comes hand and hand with depth and access, something expertly demonstrated in one of the stories on Vanderveen’s entry, “The Game” — a story about the impact of homeless camp sweeps in the city’s central core by the City of Denver.
“I look for the slice of the pie that will tell the story about the entire pie,” Vanderveen said.
He says he found the slices of pie by getting to know several of the characters in his story who were experiencing homelessness and telling the story through them. Vanderveen says 9NEWS photojournalist and Editor of the Year Chris Hansen was the brainchild of the project and was able to unlock a connection with viewers by spending time with them.
“I’m the beneficiary of a lot of really brilliant work from Chris Hansen,” Vanderveen said. “He’s an amazing photojournalist; he’s an even better editor.” (Chris Hansen won Editor of the Year in NPPA’s 2022 Best of Photojournalism contest.)