Writing Compelling Stories Under Deadline

“The line between success and failure is a thin one. Sometimes all it takes is well-chosen words to turn your failure into a success.”

This week, I was thrilled to join a free NABJ webinar called, “Writing Compelling Stories Under Deadline.” Major shout-out to the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and NABJ VP of Broadcast Dorothy Tucker for putting together such an awesome opportunity to learn from one of the best storytellers in the game.

The webinar, moderated by Dorothy Tucker, was in conversation with KARE 11 news reporter and storytelling extraordinaire Boyd Huppert. I can’t remember where I was when I first learned of Boyd Huppert, but what I’ll never forget is how his story about an unlikely friendship between a WWII veteran and preschooler made me feel. I admire his writing style and couldn’t wait to soak up every bit of advice and gems that I hope you’ll love too!

If you do love them, I hope you’ll #PayItForward and share with a friend.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 — Online

“Writing Compelling Stories Under Deadline”


Dorothy Tucker, Vice President of Broadcast, NABJ, WBBM-TV Investigative Reporter, WVON Radio Host (@dorothyTV2)

Guest Speaker:

Boyd Huppert, KARE 11 Reporter (@BoydHuppert)


  • Expectation vs. Reality

    • Yogi’s Back (Example A):

      • Boyd Huppert uses the 1984 “Yogi’s Back” Sport’s Illustrated cover as an example of a perceived failure that turned out to be a success in the end. The photographer wasn’t able to get a single front-facing shot of MLB catcher Yogi Berra. To his surprise, the photo of Berra turned around ended up being the one SI chose for their cover story that year.

    • Moses Video (Example B):

      • Huppert also shared a clip from a story he’d done on a young boy named Moses who was readying to get eye surgery. The takeaway from this example is that Huppert and his cameraman noticed Moses (main character) using the photographer’s gear. So, they started filming Moses as he walked around with the gear, and while it wasn’t a part of the story they had expected going into the interview, they were able to use this organic moment in the story, which lended itself to how Huppert was able to craft his end line: “Eventually we had to take back that microphone, but the eyes, Moses gets to keep.”

  • Listen.

    • Listen out for key words from your character. What they say might help you find your focus/story.

      • (ie. During an interview with a family impacted by hurricane Harvey, Huppert noticed the father said “curveball” in conversation as he described the looming hurricane that would arrive just before his pregnant wife was set to deliver twins: another curve ball.

      • This one word helped shape the focus of Huppert’s story, which you can watch here.

    • Often we as journalists go out on stories with a preconceived notion of what the story should be. Or worse: have no idea what the story should be.

    • Allow your character to tell you their story.

    • Stand back, listen, and learn (even under deadline pressure).

    • Let the silence be your storytelling tool… your characters/interview subjects might surprise you with what they say and do, which could add context/color to your story.

  • Focus.

    • Let it happen organically.

    • Immerse yourself in the focus of the story.

    • This helps when you are under a tight deadline.

    • Challenge yourself to find the story, not the assignment.

    • This will also help you craft your opening line and ending line.

    • Tip: Practice this every day while you’re reporting in the field!

  • Ask yourself: “What’s driving my story…”

    • Character?

    • Emotion?

    • Concept?

      • Note: It doesn’t have to be one or the other. it can be whichever combination you think fits best. Once you figure it out, this will help tie your story together.

  • Find your roots.

    • Often times reporters get caught up in moving from one market to the next, but it’s good to put your roots down in a community.

    • Once you do that and people get to know you, you get stories sent to you.

    • Boyd says he gets half a dozen story tips every day for his Sunday segment, “Land of 10,000 stories.”

  • Be observant.

    • Good observation will help you find your focus and your story.

    • At times you’ll stumble on things while working on a different story, such as getting a day-turn story idea while working on a long-form assignment and vice versa.

  • Social media.

    • Check it regularly!

    • Dorothy Tucker says she was fired from her first job for not being engaged in her community. Tucker suggests you “talk to people when you get your hair done, while you grocery shop, etc.”

  • Talk to your friends and family.

    • Ask your friends and relatives about their occupations, especially those that are different from your own/outside of journalism. You can get story ideas this way!

    • We are not trained to not ask questions.

    • Challenge yourself to see what happens during your interviews during the silence.

  • Film trick.

    • If you can, try turning your light to the side of the person you are interviewing. When that bright light is directly on their face, it might make it hard for people to open up to you and be comfortable speaking in general.

  • Open/Closing line.

    • Tip: Boyd likes to have this written by the time he gets back to the station. This helps him to flesh out his story.

  • Tag.

    • Leave this for everything you may have noted or learned that isn’t necessarily visual (i.e. fact, numbers, dates, timeline, etc.)

  • Mentors.

    • It’s important to have mentors!

    • You can learn from them just by watching their stories and studying their writing style.

    • Journalists Boyd Huppert admires:

      • Chris Vanderveen (KUSA-TV)

      • Laura Larencheck (spelling?)

      • Charles Kuralt (CBS)

      • John Larson (PBS)


  • “Let the story find you.”

  • “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile.” (old expression)

  • “The line between success and failure is a thin one. Sometimes all it takes is well-chosen words to turn your failure into a success.”