Storytelling tips from a Murrow Award winner

September 23, 2019 11:00

The 2019 Large Market Television winner for Excellence in Video is a uniquely creative piece of journalism telling the story of a community, its history and its future through the eyes and voices of those who’ve known it longest and best. We asked KUSA’s Corky Scholl to tell us more about the Murrow-winning “Five Points.”

How did you get the idea to do an in-depth story on the Five Points neighborhood? Did it start with Mr. Harris and Mr. Burrell?
Many American cities are wrestling with the issues of gentrification and displacement. Denver is no different and I wanted to tell a story that shows the impact of gentrification on a specific neighborhood. I chose to focus on the Five Points neighborhood in Denver because of its rich history and because, as a visual story teller, it’s a neighborhood that I knew would offer plenty of opportunities for compelling images and sound. One of the things the neighborhood was historically known for is jazz and I was drawn in by the potential of having that as a musical backdrop in my story and that’s also what led me to track down local jazz legend Charlie Burrell.
How did you make the necessary connections to go deep into the neighborhood and its history?
I shot the story over the course of several months starting with Five Points Jazz Festival. It was there at the festival that I met Norman Harris Sr. I was shooting video of street vendors and Mr. Harris’ granddaughter approached me to say I should interview him. It wasn’t something I had planned on doing but after she explained the important role her grandfather had played in the community, I knew he could be an important part of the story. That quick interview with him is the only chance I had to talk to him, as he ended up dying a few months later.

Many of the other connections came about just by spending time in the neighborhood and talking with the residents. I find that’s the best way to let the story reveal itself. Just be present and listen. Over the course of the months I was working on this, I was also shooting all of my other daily assignments, so I was lucky if I was able to shoot for a few hours every couple of weeks. I wasn’t as present in the neighborhood as I would have liked to have been, but I made the best of the time I had.
How did the story go from pitch to publishing? It seems to encompass so much time and change.
Many events unfolded over the course of time I was shooting this. At the outset, I had no idea Charlie was going to be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, but as soon as I found out, I knew it should be the culminating moment of the story. That helped give me at least a rough idea of the story structure and since the induction ceremony wasn’t until the end of the year, it gave me several months to shoot other pivotal events as they happened.

I never formally pitched the story. Once I decided to do it, I requested to shoot the Jazz Festival as a day-turn assignment and I shot extra elements and video that I would save for the final story. After that and few other shoots that I squeezed in between assignments, I requested some time to interview Charlie with the understanding it wouldn’t air for a few months. My assignment manager trusted me even though I only gave her a vague idea of the story I was working on.

I noticed there’s a lot of “show don’t tell” in this piece – there’s no reporter track  - but the story beats are clear. Why did you decide to leave your voice out?
My decision not to track was easy. I enjoy the challenge of telling complicated stories without reporter narration.
What were some challenges of creating this piece?        
One of the challenges in this story was finding recordings of Charlie playing. Being in his late 90s, he sold his standup bass a few years ago and hasn’t played since. Of course, you can’t tell a story about a legendary musician without allowing the audience to hear the artist’s work. Charlie always played in live orchestras and in live jazz bands, so recording studios weren’t a common destination for him. As important and influential as his musical career was, he didn’t have any recordings of himself. Fortunately, he had a friend who had recorded his music live at a club decades ago so I immediately reached out to get a copy. It took the friend two months to find the recording, but he got it to me in time to be included in the story.   
What was the impact of this story?
The families involved were appreciative of the final story, but I am a thousand times more appreciative of them for allowing me access into their lives in order to offer the audience a glimpse into the reality of what’s at stake for one gentrifying neighborhood and why so many people have strong feelings about it.

Murrow Mondays are a look behind-the-scenes of Murrow Award winning journalism. The 2019 Murrow Award Gala is October 14.