Little Birdie Delivers Message to Storyteller

Former special correspondent for NBC’s “Today Show”, Bob Dotson, Zooms with journalism students after replying to Tweet.

Tweeting out a picture and tagging the author of the book “Make It Memorable: Writing and Packaging Visual News with Style” Carey McCarthy and her broadcast two and three students were excited when the author, Bob Dotson, replied to their tweet.

“I thought it would be great to show what we’re doing here at Communications Arts in the broadcast strand,” McCarthy said, “ and how we are studying Bob Dotson’s book, ‘Make It Memorable’. I thought, why don’t we tag him, … I want him to know that we are reading his book and listening to his wisdom, and I thought it would be really neat, and so I just posted it and tagged him.” 


This Twitter exchange later led to a new opportunity for the student journalists. In the beginning of the spring semester, the Zoom meeting was set.

“When I saw that he answered I lost my mind because his level of storytelling is the dream for me,” Flora Farr, co-editor and chief of the Comm Arts Media news site said. “It seemed like such a great opportunity to get to speak to him.”


Award winning journalist, Bob Dotson, who is most known for covering the National Broadcasting Company [NBC’s] “The American Story by Bob Dotson” for four decades, talked to Advanced Broadcast Journalism [ABJ] students Tuesday via Zoom.

Bob Dotson, Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (NightWorkCorp)

“To be honest, when I first came to Communications Arts High School, I wasn’t aware that we were going to be getting a lot of high caliber journalists and people,” Rachel Setlik, co-editor in chief of the Comm Arts news site said.  “I didn’t know we were going to be talking to those types of people, but just seeing what they really do in their job and what they’re actually like, it’s very interesting to a room full of people who are interested in this specific field.” 


Throughout the book, Dotson reveals his secrets for successful storytelling, and shows readers how he was able to apply these techniques through some of the segments he created for his previous NBC series.


“The thing that stuck with me the most is how…he tells his life story in a way. Like it’s obvious he has used a lot of journalistic skills to get from point A to point B and give us information that we need, but in an engaging way,” Pacoya “Theo” Jones, Comm Arts Media social media manager said.


Gathered in the Large Group Instruction [LGI] room, students were allowed to join the Zoom session on their personal laptops to learn more about storytelling and how Dotson himself entered the field.

ABJ students gathered at the LGI Room. Courtesy of Alyssa Requejo

“My grandfather always told me that the shortest distance between two people is a good story,” Dotson said.


While Dotson’s grandfather may have sparked his grandson’s future career as a traditional journalist, a call Dotson received as a young reporter from a firechief ignited Dotson’s love for storytelling and changed his approach to journalism. The firechief told Dotson he had found old film in an attic and asked him if he wanted to come look at it.


“There was an early day cameraman who worked from 1904 to 1945 and whenever he could shoot something that he’d knew he couldn’t sell to the people at New York City, because in those days there are only certain kinds of things you could get in the news reels which you want to put on your movies, he shot them anyways,” Dotson said.


During that time period, only certain things would be included in newsreels that would be shown at the movies. In the footage the cameraman recorded, he found something pleasantly unexpected.


“He had 28 all African-American towns that were settled by ex-slaves in Oklahoma. He had women who were running oil companies. He shot stories about that…and he hid it in the attic of the Stillwater Fire Department,” Dotson said.


Dotson’s stories and works were discussed with the students, which allowed them to remember the most important part about what being a journalist truly means.


“Suddenly you’ve taken the story and made it a whole lot deeper, because you listened,” Dotson said. “And so that’s how you find stories, rather than just react to a story…if you actually want to go to Alaska or do a story over people tagging bears in Canada, you gotta figure out a way that you can personalize that with a strong central character like you see in the books.” 


Although his occupation as a national correspondent for NBC has concluded, that hasn’t stopped him from continuing the legacy of “The American Story.” During the pandemic, with the help of the connections he made through his journey as a storyteller, he assembled all of his works for that series onto a website called My American Stories


“I found an engineer in Oklahoma, he used to be a television engineer, whose hobby it was taking old formats like VHS and all different types of video and film and restoring them, at least enough to where you can make one pass into digital media,” Dotson said. “So, he would go through this warehouse…and inch by inch we went through and found all those stories and digitized them…and we went all the way back to 1965. ” 


McCarthy paired that site with the book to enhance the lessons which allowed students to view the final video packages referenced in the book.


“It was extremely beneficial to be able to show the final packages after reading his lessons and the script for each in the book,” McCarthy said.  “I don’t think it would have been as enjoyable or helpful without the videos. I am so thankful they are available online to view and study.”


The book not only imparts valuable skills and knowledge about telling visual stories, it also has great life lessons like how to work with people and perseverance.


The Zoom session between the journalism students and Dotson wrapped up with the final thought he wanted students to remember: “Success in this business does not depend on being dealt a good hand. It’s playing a bad hand well, over and over again.”

Zoom screenshot of ABJ students and Bob Dotson. Courtesy of Carey McCarthy