Ignite Your Passion 2016: Storytelling and Keeping the Flame Burning

Bill Middeke of KARE and Bob Dotson. Photo by Dave Wertheimer

By Lou Raguse

  He is closing in on 70 having retired after spending 40 years (to the day) in television news – 40 years in the golden age of television news. It is now a much different business than the one Bob Dotson entered as a cub reporter.

  But amid traveling, enjoying his grandchildren and the other perks of retirement, Dotson hasn’t stopped telling stories. Now, instead of a television audience, the former NBC News correspondent was telling them to younger journalists, eager to learn his secrets.

  “I just think it’s very important for anyone over 45, who’s had a nice career, to pass along the flame,” Dotson said. “Why not pass it along? If not, I’d just be some little old man who yells ‘hey, get off my lawn’.”

  Dotson was the keynote speaker at Ignite Your Passion, a television news storytelling workshop held in St. Paul, MN, on Sept. 9-10. Throughout his presentation, Dotson hammered home that the only thing that hasn’t changed in television news since he started his career is the ability to tell a story.

  “Just looking at their faces out in the audience, they get it. They’re me, 50 years ago,” Dotson said.

  More than 150 journalists from 21 U.S. states and Canada traveled to the workshop at the Science Museum of Minnesota. It was the fourth time Ignite Your Passion has been held, hosted by the Tegna Foundation, KARE 11, KUSA, WXIA, and the National Press Photographers Foundation.

Speakers on stage with Bob Dotson for a group shoot. Photo by Dave Wertheimer  


Anna Carrera made the seven-and-a-half-hour drive with three of her colleagues from WCIA in Champaign, IL. She appreciated the theme of the workshop, Ignite Your Passion.

  “Through the day-to-day, it’s hard,” Carrera said. “So it’s nice to be around other people who are excited about what they’re doing to give you new ideas and reinforce those ideas that maybe you’ve been taught but don’t remember to implement.”

  Each speaker at IYP focused, in some regard, on storytelling.

  Chris Vanderveen and Chris Hansen, two top-tier storytellers from KUSA in Denver, showed the crowd how the same principles that they use to win awards with home-run five-minute pieces work just the same with daily-turn general assignment reporting.

  They said each good story comes down to three Cs: Character, Conflict, and Context.

  “The conflict is why do you care, the context is why you should care, and the characters bring that to life,” Vanderveen said.

  First-year multimedia journalist (MMJ) Hanna Flood from WMTV in Madison said she really related to their presentation.

  “Chris Vanderveen being so honest about his process of getting his stories and the challenges he faces connecting with people and getting those good interviews. We’ve all been there,” Flood said.

  KARE 11 photojournalists Carly Danek and Ben Garvin gave tips on how to make your storytelling stand out through editing, interview set-ups, and even in mental preparation while driving to the shoot. Danek demonstrated how a single photographer can easily pull off a three-camera shoot, and Garvin showed how still photography can be incorporated into video news packages, as DSLRs become more common across newsrooms.

  The next presentation was fitting, as perhaps a majority of those attending the workshop currently work as MMJs. Heidi Wigdahl and Adrienne Broaddus from KARE 11, and Jonathan Gregg from WITI each sat on an MMJ panel, fielding dozens of questions from the audience on how to thrive and survive as a solo journalist.

  The 2016 NPPA Ernie Crisp Television News Photographer of the year Rob Collett took the stage for a presentation highly anticipated by every shooter in the audience. Collett’s calm and humble nature clued in the crowd as to how his interview subjects seem so comfortable with him.

  If there is one tip photographers took away from Collett, it is “shoot and move.” Collett showed how an entire non-visual package can practically be covered from an interview shoot, in a meaningful and visually interesting way. He works closely with his reporter to move and change his shot after good sound bites, to keep it looking fresh.

  Two of the best news writers in the country capped off Ignite Your Passion, Jaye Watson of WXIA and Boyd Huppert of KARE 11.

  Watson highlighted how she has adjusted to the changing business, with less access to a photographer and shorter shoots, while still writing stories that earned her the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing. Watson said much of her success now rests on the work she does before the shoot, pre-interviewing subjects to build rapport, get a sense of a story’s direction, and also plant expectations.

  “Remove the wall between you and your person before you get there,” Watson said.

  Boyd showed general assignment stories as well as his famous Land of 10,000 Stories features. And he ended with a treat for reporters – A line-by-line analysis of one of his scripts – allowing others to “see the Matrix,” so to speak. His use of literary devices in his storytelling no doubt had more than one attendee interested in an English class refresher course.

  The goal of the workshop, besides building video storytelling skills, was to re-ignite the flame that can threaten to smother during the daily grind.

  Many attendees say they got that, from the very first speaker to the end.

  “A lot of support from other people who understand how difficult it is to be in this job sometimes, but they’ve now pulled through and are finding a lot of success,” Flood said.

  For details on next year’s conference, follow @IYPWorkshop on Twitter or visit the workshop's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/IYPWorkshop.