The Story So Far
My autobiography – By Robert Kinlaw
I like to tell people my first film was the documentary I started shooting in high school, but that’s a lie.
The first film I recall making was far less ambitious. I shot it on the floor of my grandparents’ house with a camera that recorded onto mini cassette tapes. You could say this film was an action flick, but it surely had a tinge of drama, too. It starred two wrestler action figures made of rubber and featured one voice actor: my prepubescent self.
Today, that film is probably collecting dust somewhere inside a cabinet. I hope it remains there for all of eternity, never to be viewed by anyone. But the impact it had on my life can’t be overstated.
Even in elementary school, I was clamoring to tell stories, and I usually had a video camera in my hand.
My drive for storytelling blossomed alongside a love for tinkering with technology. While my middle school peers were outside playing kickball after school, I was itching to get home so I could install a new Linux distribution or set up my first WordPress blog with friends.
Many Star Wars parodies, skateboarding videos and computer-building experiments later, I entered high school and began working on a documentary on the history of my hometown – my “first film.”
It was my first foray into telling a story that mattered. But I didn’t make that documentary – my interview subjects did. And after my first taste of seeing those stories come to life, of watching people dig up their fondest memories in front of my little black camera, I was hooked.
That insatiable desire to keep telling important stories led me to the Media and Journalism School at UNC-Chapel Hill. Perhaps it was also because I’m a bit of a rebel at heart, and everyone in my family is a diehard Duke fan.
The education I’ve received from UNC is one of the most valuable things I have – quite literally, my parents might add.
But I couldn’t be happier that my time in the classroom is over for now, because I can finally do what I really want to do – go out into the world and tell stories that make a difference.
When it comes to reporting, that means not just understanding what people believe, but why they believe it. People aren’t stupid. Everyone has a reason for thinking the way they do, and my natural curiosity compels me to uncover those motivations with everyone I meet.
More than anything, I want to share those insights with others so we can all understand each other a little better.
The News and Observer feels like the perfect next step for me on that journey. The stories I read on the N&O are like the ones I want to tell – thoughtful, thorough and important. But no matter where I end up, you can bet I’ll be savoring a story worth telling.
1. “Counted Out”
This is an alarming and important investigative piece, the exact sort of story I want to share with friends. Data like this is often most powerful in visual form. But the graphs here are not particularly shareable. Take this one:
This works well in context with the article. But it’s too large and text-heavy for social media. The blue bars, while informative, are not eye-catching. And clicking the share button only seems to post a link to the article. What if when people clicked that share button, this image was posted to their timeline, along with a link to read more?
This image could use some more work, but the general point stands. It’s short, it grabs your attention and it puts the major issue at the forefront. It also entices further reading – why is this happening?
2. “At 3 a.m., NC Senate GOP strips education funding from Democrats’ districts”
This story, due to its utterly absurd nature, was likely to do well regardless of how it was promoted. I noticed that it was picked up by many national outlets.
As a result, it begs and screams to have an accompanying video that can rake in ad revenue.
Surely people are talking about this, surely people are outraged – where are they? I want to see them and hear their voices, not only read about them. This story is a perfect candidate to be boiled down into an “explainer” style video with a few bullet points, a map of which areas were hit by funding cuts and 15-second interviews from someone on each side of the aisle.
If there is any video produced to go along with this story, I cannot find it. And next time, if you don’t make it, BuzzFeed or NowThis probably will.
3. “Behind the pie: How the ‘Waitress’-inspired cookbook was made”
This story didn’t get much attention on Facebook. I think this could be for a few reasons:
The headline appears at first glance to be about a pie, which simply isn’t very exciting.
The headline mentions a specific musical: “Waitress”. I’m familiar with this, but I would wager most aren’t. Most people would recognize the name Sara Bareilles more than the name of the show.
The headline does not include the most impressive part of the story: she wrote 40 recipes in 30 days.
While that last bit was included in the post on Facebook, it wasn’t in the headline. And the reality is that people with only seconds to glance at a post will immediately read the headline and then move on. It doesn’t help that the image used looks very much like a stock image rather than a real photograph.
What if the headline was changed to something like…
“How do you write 40 brand-new recipes in 30 days? Just ask Chapel Hill-native Sheri Castle.”
“This cookbook, written in only 30 days by a Chapel Hill native, is a ‘love song’ to Sara Bareilles’ new musical.”
“Sheri Castle wrote 40 recipes in 30 days. All it took was sugar, butter, flour and the right motivation.”
Of course, you don’t want to sensationalize this too much. But it needs more zing to capture anything beyond a niche audience.
4. Crime section
This pertains not to a specific article, but to the reporting of crimes on the N&O website.
When crimes occur, people want to know if they will be personally affected. A big part of that is knowing where the crimes happened. Why not keep an interactive, up-to-date map at the top of the crime section that displays exactly that?
If the N&O presented it better than any other website, it could become the go-to source to quickly see what’s happened recently. And this sort of graphic is not possible on Facebook, giving people incentive to click through.
The ideal map would be divided by county and could even include a population metric to show viewers where the most crimes occur per capita. It would allow interactive mousing-over to view headlines, increasing user engagement.
The N&O Facebook page could post automatically when a new crime report is published, enticing followers to click through and check out the updated map. Maybe another color could be used to signify the reports published in the last 5 days, or perhaps the map could only focus on the Triangle area; the options are only limited to the capabilities and time of the web developer.
This may be a large upfront cost, but I believe it would pay off in the long run.
5. “Cop let giggling, drugged woman go at traffic stop. She died 7 miles down the road.”
What really caught my attention about this Facebook post was the comment section below it. The first comment reads,
“Why didn’t the police officer follow proper procedure. She might be alive right now if he had.”
The second comment reads,
“And now we have one less drugged driver on the road , problem solved !”
I feel this is illustrative of the way two people can view the same story and have incredibly different reactions to it. It also indicates people’s willingness to voice their opinions.
You could put an anonymous poll on the article asking readers whether the officer should be held accountable or if it was an honest, understandable mistake.
Although Facebook allows users to “react” to a story with likes, sadness, anger and more, those responses are tied to first and last names. Users are incentivized to participate only if they are okay with their response being right next to their face.
And an N&O-hosted poll would increase clicks. You could advertise on the Facebook post that users can click through to make their voices heard. Engagement would surely increase, too, since people would spend longer than usual on the article to vote or view the results. Personally, I might click through just to see what everyone else thought about the story.
One last thought about the video player.
I have noticed that the current video player automatically plays another clip after the current one finishes.
This frustrated me every time it happened. For example, on “Counted Out,” I watched one of the relevant videos at the top of the page. As it neared completion, I scrolled down and began reading the article… only to have a sudden voice surprise me, coming from the video player which had shifted to a completely unrelated video.
Maybe this could be fixed if the player did not automatically start the next clip, or simply muted itself when the user has scrolled down.
Thank you for reading!