StoryTech Episode Nine – The evolution of The American Story with Bob Dotson

Jeff Kofman talks to Bob Dotson about his Today Show segment, The American Story, and how technology changed the way these stories were told. Listen now on all major podcast platforms or read the full transcript below.
May 9, 2023

In episode nine of StoryTech, Jeff hosts a live episode talking with Bob Dotson, NBC reporter and host of The American Story - a long-running segment on The Today Show that explored intimate stories of Americans that wouldn’t normally make the news. 

Bob explains how changes in technology, from wireless microphones to home video to iPhones, changed the way these very personal stories were told. This StoryTech episode was recorded at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, where Bob Dotson is a visiting professor.

You can listen to episode nine of StoryTech free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Amazon Music right now. Or if you’re more of a reader, just scroll down for the full episode transcript and highlights from this week’s episode.

This week’s storyteller – Bob Dotson

Bob Dotson spent four decades as a reporter at NBC and, for most of that time, he hosted The American Story. A series that won 120 awards including eight Emmys, running from the 1970s to Bob's retirement from NBC in 2015. 

The series was about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And while the theme of the series remained consistent, the tools to be able to tell those stories changed through the decades. And that's what he shares with Jeff in this episode of StoryTech - how innovations in technology shaped the way he told the American story. 

Episode transcript and highlights

This 36 minute podcast episode was transcribed in 14 minutes by Trint’s super-powered AI. View the full transcript below or jump ahead to notable points from Jeff’s interview with Bob Dotson.

  • 00:06 – Ordinary people doing extraordinary things
  • 04:24 – Using early broadcast technologies
  • 10:47 – The idea behind The American Story
  • 16:08 – Interviewing with the camera off
  • 20:04 – Telling more intimate stories with technology
  • 25:12 – How modern tech democratized storytelling
  • 29:01 – Embracing technology to tell The American Story
  • 33:04 – Technologies close to Bob Dotson


[00:00:00] Jeff (V/O): This is StoryTech. I'm Jeff Kofman. 

[00:00:06] Jeff (V/O): There is this remarkable video from NBC News. It's from 1983. 

[00:00:12] Archive Broadcast: You could fill an ocean liner. With the number of people who come to the Statue of Liberty each day. It is the most photographed monument in the world. 

[00:00:23] Jeff (V/O): It's about a photographer who had a pretty simple goal, or at least it seemed that way. The Statue of Liberty was undergoing a massive restoration and he was granted extraordinary access to document it. The reporter on that story - Bob Dotson. 

[00:00:39] Bob: He said, I have an unusual challenge because the Statue of Liberty was probably the most photographed statue in the world and I have to come up with something different. 

[00:00:48] Jeff (V/O): The problem was, it was 1983. 

[00:00:51] Bob: And in those days, if you wanted a wide shot to show, you had to go hire a helicopter, cost a trillion bucks. 

[00:00:58] Jeff (V/O): But the photographer wouldn't let that get in the way of a good picture. 

[00:01:02] Bob: So he comes up with an idea of having a 17 foot fishing pole, put his camera on the end of it. Today, we'd call that a drone shot. But he could get angles on the Statue of Liberty that no one else had seen. 

[00:01:15] Jeff (V/O): Think of a guy standing at the very top of the Statue of Liberty with a selfie stick. Only the selfie stick is a fishing pole, and it's about three times his own height. The camera shutter triggered by a long string. It's kind of the poor man's aerial shot, but the resulting photos are stunning. Never before seen views of Lady Liberty's iconic green torch or the spikes from her crown. The city sprawling in the background. They were even featured on commemorative stamps a few years later. 

[00:01:46] Jeff (V/O): One thing that's striking when you watch NBC's coverage of this is the contrast between what the photographer is doing and what Bob Dotson and his NBC News crew had to go through to document him. 

[00:01:57] Bob: NBC had to hire a helicopter. Thousands of dollars every time they needed to do an aerial. You know, so we were an expensive thing. Then yet here was this guy getting classic images of the Statue of Liberty because he was willing to do a Rube Goldberg. 

[00:02:16] Jeff (V/O): For Bob Dotson, this was more than just another story. The photographer's ingenuity was an inspiration. How to be creative and get the most out of the tools you've got to work with. And Bob did just that for four decades. 

[00:02:31] Jeff (V/O): Bob told thousands of stories like this one in his career as part of a series called The American Story on NBC's Today Show, the network's flagship morning program. And he won 120 awards, including eight Emmys along the way. The American Story ran from the 1970s to Bob's retirement from NBC in 2015. The series was about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And while the theme of the series remained consistent, the tools of storytelling changed and changed again through the decades of Bob's career. And that's what I wanted to talk to Bob Dotson about, how changes in technology shaped the way he told the American story. 

[00:03:15] Jeff (V/O): From Antica Productions, Trint and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in cooperation with WAER Syracuse, an NPR member station. This is StoryTech. 

[00:03:34] Jeff (V/O): This is a personal journey I want to share with you. I spent the first 30 years of my career as a broadcast journalist, foreign correspondent and war correspondent, and the last eight years as founder and CEO of Trint - a tech company focused on transcription and streamlining the workflow of storytelling. We have seen so much technological change come at us so fast. The idea behind this podcast is to explore how those changes have shaped what we watch, what we read, and what we listen to. Today how tech innovation in TV has let us get up close and personal. 

[00:04:18] Jeff: Bob, thanks for joining us. 

[00:04:20] Bob: Thank you. 

[00:04:20] Jeff: And welcome to StoryTech Live. It's a, it's a big exciting moment for us. 

[00:04:24] Jeff (V/O): Bob Dotson join me live on stage at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He graduated from Syracuse in 1969 and he's now a visiting professor of journalism there. 

[00:04:35] Jeff: So let's begin with this. We're sitting in front of a crowd of journalism students who are learning to tell stories with the latest technologies. I want to roll the story of your life back to your days here at Syracuse, what, almost 50 years ago? 

[00:04:50] Bob: More than. 

[00:04:50] Jeff: More than 50 years ago. What was the exciting new tech that got you and your fellow students really turned on about the future back in 1969? 

[00:05:03] Bob: All we had was black & white film and most of the cameras did not record sound. Somebody came up with the idea of putting a little magnetic stripe on the side of the film. So suddenly, even if you just had a tape recorder and the camera, you could record something which today we would call natural sound and put that with the image. Before that - you're talking to the 1930s, 1940s - they would teach correspondents, reporters to talk very dramatically because otherwise you had a six-second black & white shot followed by another six-second black & white shot, and who cares? 

[00:05:42] Bob: But so it was like this voice of the future and you're listening to all that. But this started to change because we suddenly realized that even though new technology was coming in, which was difficult, we could ask ourselves how could we use that to get closer and more intimate in the stories we do? 

[00:06:00] Jeff: So I'm trying to understand, when you talk about those booming voices of early broadcast, were they using audio along with with film or were they separate and married together? 

[00:06:13] Bob: They used music and they used an announcer's voice. And they were not on broadcast. There was no, this was even before television. What they did is if you went to the movies before the Hollywood movie started, they would do like a Pathé newsreel, which today we would think of as maybe an evening newscast. But it would be like the voice of time. 

[00:06:34] Archive Broadcast: At the United Nations, the Security Council debate on Soviet charges of American aggression ends with a sharp final clash between Gromyko and large. 

[00:06:42] Bob: Everybody spoke this way and even when I joined NBC, they had classes to get rid of whatever regionalism you had. David Brinkley, he was one of the very first anchor people at NBC, was the only one who was allowed to speak in kind of a Southern voice. Everyone else, we all had to get TV speak. And I know now, looking back, it's because you were so limited in the technology that you had. So you had to do almost like theater if you were voiceover. 

[00:07:10] Jeff: So I'm trying to I'm trying to understand that. You had to be booming in order to finish that sentence for me. You had to be. 

[00:07:19] Bob: You had to be booming to come up with a way to engage the audience because they realized, people who were doing this, that black & white film slowly edited, in other words it didn't cut it very fast, would be pretty boring. So they would get newsreel voices who basically today would be like folks who appear in movies. And they taught all of us to do that. I was the tail end of that. And then I realized things started happening, you know, from black & white and a little bit of sound. We finally went to color film. 

[00:07:51] Jeff: Talk to us about the limitations of a canister of film, the turnaround time.

[00:07:56] Bob: Well today, if you're going to go out and do a story, you've got your iPhones or you've checked out your camera and you can just shoot everything that comes to mind. But in those days, they would give you a roll of film, which was three minutes, 100 feet, and every story was to be shot in 100 feet. So you try to get ahead of the game, you know, rather than just squirt down the room and hope you got something in there, we're going to fix it in post. 

[00:08:22] Jeff: I missed film in my career by just a few months, but I remember when I was probably 22, 23, and I wasn't very good at doing interviews and I would ramble on. And I remember this seasoned film camera veteran saying to me, "You would have died in the days of film". Because what he meant was my interviews were longer than what, two or three years ago they were shooting an entire story on, and he was saying, "You don't know how to do an interview". But of course the flip side of it is that when you look at that old footage from those days, because you only had 100 feet in three minutes, you couldn't do a rambling interview and hope to get the best. You had to rehearse the people and get them to say what you needed them to say. Am I right? Because that's my impression of how it works. 

[00:09:06] Bob: Well, you don't put words in their mouths, but what you do is you do a pre-interview. 

[00:09:10] Jeff: Right. 

[00:09:11] Bob: And you say, okay, these are two or three points I'm going to get. But you know, every student has tried to do this. What happens is you get the best quote when the camera's not running, and then you ask them when the camera's running and they say, well, like I said before, and it's never like they said before, you know, it's like telling a joke twice. It just doesn't work. The pacing, everything's gone. So what I would do is I would almost casually figure out the best kind of answers that this person was going to give. And then I just I worked on becoming not the smartest person in the room because it's human nature to want to help you. 

[00:09:52] Bob: And yet here you are, you know, suddenly you're a network tool. So, you know, you want to come in and say, "Hey, you know, I'm Bob Dotson". But instead of you say, "You know you were talking about that Robin something something, what where?" You know, so they're back into it because they know they haven't sold you on it yet. And so they'll give you the answer that you need in the short time of the film that you have. And that's what I did. I don't do it today. People would say, well, we'll tell you to say this and this. If you watch like 60 Minutes, how many times have you seen the reporters lay out the entire point they want to make? And the guy goes, "Yeah". Right. But that's not what you want. You want them to tell you something that you don't know them well enough to ask, that adds something to the story that you wouldn't have initially. 

[00:10:47] Jeff: So let's pivot now to the series that really you devoted your career to, The American Story. You tell the story of how your dad in part ignited this idea that, the idea that, you know, ordinary people doing exceptional things. What did your dad say to you? 

[00:11:09] Bob: Well, when I graduated from college, my dad took me out for coffee in the morning and he said, "You know, I didn't graduate from college". I knew that. A lot of people in that generation didn't. But I always thought he was successful because he'd had opportunities. I mean, he had an optical story, was an optician. And he says, "I never went past the fifth grade". I said, Well, and I've always used a little technique because I let people feel the silence. And if they feel the silence, they tell you stuff that you don't know them well enough to ask. 

[00:11:43] Bob: So I let him feel the silence and he said, Yeah. He said, My dad went off to war and never came home. My mother had three kids, and in those days, if you lived in a big city, they'd send the oldest boy out to a farm and the farmer would give him room and board and send money back to Mom to be able to take care of the younger kids. He says that's what happened. And I said, Well, how did you get off the farm? And he said, Well, my aunt shows up one day and buggy whips the farmer. Huh? Yeah. Turns out he had been steaming-open letters that the family would send my dad and taking an occasional dollar bill out of the letter and then resealing it. 

[00:12:19] Bob: So my aunt was married to a cop. They came up, buggy whipped the farmer, threw my dad in the in the wagon. And so here he was, ten years old. They turn you back. He gets a job on an autobody factory that makes wooden autobodies. And he was an 11-year-old boy now. And he's, his job was to scoop up all of the wood shavings underneath the assembly line. He said that was the loneliest year of my life because the adults were all first generation Italians and Germans. So not only were they adults, but they didn't speak English. 

[00:12:53] Bob: His step up job was as a janitor in an optical store, and the man who owned the optical store said, Bill, I'm never going to ask you to work nights. You might consider going to night school. And my first question in the morning was how many years? He said 23. I went from janitor to general manager of this man's stores, and I said, Well, that's how we got into the middle class. He said, Nope. He said, I figured when you were born that I ought to start my own company. I had $140 in the bank. And I saw that there was a grinding stone that was for sale in Kansas City, about three hours west of Saint Louis. And in those days, opticians ground their own lenses. So he took the money he had in savings, went off, got the grinding stone, spent the night at Union Station in Kansas City, came back and started Dots and Optical. And I thought, okay, that's how it got started. And he said, No. At Christmas time, I had a partner and the partner took off with all the money and went to Mexico. Two months later, you came down with polio. What did you do? I started over. 

[00:14:07] Bob: All that over a cup of coffee when I was 20 years old and had just graduated from Kansas University and was heading off to Syracuse. And in essence, my dad was telling me I'm the American dream. So I figured the most underreported segment of our country was us. The ones that aren't on Twitter, the ones that don't go on new news, who haven't written a book, who haven't been successful, who are not influencers. I'm not knocking any of that stuff, but that's already out there and well-reported. But how about stories about seemingly ordinary people, not feature stories. Funny ha ha. Like we're making our sweaters for our troops overseas, but seemingly ordinary people who I give an investigative approach to find out something more than the cliche. And suddenly people can relate to that, because these are folks who look like our neighbors, look like our family look like us. 

[00:15:05] Bob: And that's why I dedicated 40 years of my life whenever I could. Of course, in a long career, I've done everything sports, anchoring, editing, film, whatever. You've got to do what the boss asked you to do. But every time I got a chance, I said, Let me look behind the mirror and see if I can find something that might be fascinating to the rest of us. 

[00:15:24] Jeff: One of the challenges of telling stories like that, and even when I began in TV in the 1980s, you know, we used to call it the two ton pencil. And you came in with all these lights, it took you 40 minutes to set up the lights and move the furniture and turn off the machines and all of that. And, you know, as you say, with people who are seasoned politicians and entertainers, they're used to it and they just know that's what needs to be done. But you go into a person's home who's never experienced that, and it's less so today, probably. But in those days, people were really scared at times. And you're doing a series about intimacy and where you want people to open up. You want them to be themselves, because that's the charm of the series and that's the magic of what you've done. 

[00:16:08] Jeff: How do you make people feel comfortable when they've got this huge glass lens and five people hovering behind you? 

[00:16:15] Bob: I never talked about the technology. I would always have a story to go to that made them feel like they were in the hardware store talking to somebody in their neighborhood as opposed to Here comes this network tool in. And you know, I'm scared to death. 

[00:16:30] Bob: What I found is that most people give you the answers in three parts. They give you the answer to the question they think you've asked, and then they explain their answer. But if you wait a little bit, they fill the silence because they're not sure that they've given you what you want. They go, Well, that's why I killed my wife. You know, you were just there doing a story about the state fair and now you found a murderer because that's the way people talk. But in terms of making sure that the technology doesn't overwhelm them, what it is, is you get to talking to them as if you're their neighbor. And you never ask a direct question. You just observe things. 

[00:17:08] Bob: So like, for instance, if they're working in the kitchen, you start talking about the food. I learned this from another fellow named Scotty Berner. We were out trying to get a story on the Shah of Iran's son. The Shah of Iran was a big deal in the seventies, and he was dying and his son was out at an Air Force base in West Texas. And so here was ABC, CBS, all of us lined up because they'd taken the kid and squirreled him away in some hotel, I mean, some house. And after a while, the most the least important people were the reporters. So we went into town to get breakfast for everybody because we hadn't seen hide nor hair of him. 

[00:17:42] Bob: I come back and my cameraman, who's like 30 years older than I am, he's surrounded by all the other reporters and they're trying to interview him. And I walked up, I said, Hey, Scotty, what's going on? He said, Well, I got an interview with the Shah of Iran's son. And nobody else got it. And I said, How did you do that? Everybody standing there with their cameras. And he goes, Well, I asked the question that wasn't the question. And the kid talked to me. Well, how did you find the kid? He said, Well, everybody's camera was pointed to this house that we hadn't seen anybody for an hour or two. 

[00:18:16] Bob: So I decided I'd point my camera down the road and I figured if they did finally see something, I just turn around and shoot it. But meanwhile, I'm looking for people on that road that didn't look like they grew up in Lubbock, Texas. And he says, Here comes this young man walking down. And I'm thinking he could be the Shah of Iran's son. So he says, I took my camera off and he says, I wasn't hiding anything. If I had a big NBC on the side and I wandered down. But I didn't walk up to him and say, Hey, I'm Scotty Berner, network tool. Are you the Shah of Iran's kid? And if you are, I hear your dad sick. How do you feel? 

[00:18:49] Bob: What he did was, he asked the question that's not a question. He noticed the young man looking at flowers and Scotty said, Those are pretty chrysanthemums, aren't they? And the young man said, Oh, yeah. And then Scotty said, My dad loved flowers. And the young man said, My dad loves flowers, too. Did you notice what happened there? He shifted to the point where he wasn't just chatting, he was bringing them back to thinking about fathers. And then Scott said, and this is absolutely true what he said, my dad died last summer. And then the brilliant thing that Scott did was he stopped talking. He let the young man fill the silence. And so the young man goes. Soundbite, soundbite, soundbite, soundbite. 

[00:19:38] Advert: StoryTech is sponsored by Trint. The automated transcription and content creation tool made by storytellers for storytellers. Trint can help turn audio and video files into articles, podcasts and videos faster and easier than ever before. A discount code StoryTech25 is available on annual plans at 

[00:20:04] Jeff: So let's let's let's go into some of the episodes of The American Story. One of the stories you told in 1988 involved a little girl going to Disneyland to meet Minnie Mouse. Tell me a bit about that story and the technology you were able to use to get intimate with her. 

[00:20:25] Bob: Well, we were doing a story on a fellow named Bill Sample who, as it turned out, was the inspiration for Make-A-Wish and all the big organizations that came later. He was a beat cop who never took a minutes worth of overtime because he had this thing going on that nobody knew about. And one of them was that he was, for a while, stationed at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, and he watched kids who told him stories about dreams that they wouldn't ever probably live. So he asked doctors is, you know, Ginny would like to go out and have a snowball fight. Can I go out and have a snowball fight? Yeah, go ahead. And he made sure that the first child who went to Disney World was one of his kids.

[00:21:02] Bob: And so we had this little girl going down, is four years old, had leukemia. And he always insisted he got everybody in the neighborhood, real mom and pop operation, to get enough money to be able to make sure that the entire family got to go so that they'd have some memory other than just coming to see this child in the hospital. So the first question that we had was how were we going to get this child comfortable enough so that when Minnie Mouse comes up and hugs her, she's not looking at the camera and paying attention to us. 

[00:21:29] Jeff: Let me stop you, because I remember in my career so many times with children, the big fuzzy sound boom and all they did was look up at the sound boom. No, you can't tell a four year old not to look at the thing that looks like a bunny rabbit. 

[00:21:42] Bob: So that's why new technology at the time came into play. We had a wireless microphone. We let her play with it all the way down on the plane. We let her play with the camera all the way down. So it got to the point where, for a four year old, it was just how they see it. But again, if you'd had that big microphone hanging over her head, that's exactly what the problem would be. But in this case, the sound person said, well, put the microphone, the wireless microphone in her purse. And so when Minnie Mouse comes up, we can take a step back and not be intrusive. 

[00:22:15] Bob: And that's exactly what happened. When she got to hug Minnie Mouse, there was in her purse and you could hear the kiss. Well, being able to hear the kiss when the little girl kissed Minnie Mouse on the nose, that's a moment. We didn't say, Oh, she went to Disney World and she met Minnie Mouse. We'll be back at five. No, we just stop talking. Let the moment play. And the new technology helped us become that much more intimate without having a camera and a boom microphone right over her head. So she forgot entirely that we were there. And then the audience was sucked into the moment. 

[00:22:52] Jeff: If we go forward to 2002 to a story you called Dragon Slayers of Alaska. 

[00:22:57] Archive Broadcast: These kids, the youngest is just 13, volunteer to serve on the only emergency medical team in 10,000 square miles. 

[00:23:05] Bob: They were the only emergency medical team in an area about the size of Delaware. And they had won the Alaska Ambulance Award, which was ironic because they had no ambulance. 

[00:23:16] Jeff: So what was extraordinary for you about that one? Where did technology open opportunities for you there? 

[00:23:21] Bob: Well, we couldn't have gone at all because it was too damn expensive to fly from New York City to interior Alaska. I mean, even when you get to Anchorage, you're still about six hours away from this little town in the middle of nowhere. So at about this time, people were actually shooting home video. And I started talking to these teenagers because it's like today. I mean, you know, everyone in our audience probably grew up with this kind of stuff. And so I said, listen, you're got, you're out there shooting some video of somebody's grandmother that you've saved and needed to bring them back in by sled dogs or, you know, a floatplane, whatever. I said, why don't you take some pictures or some video of that so that when I come in, I can do what I need to do and get in and out in a day and a half, and therefore NBC will allow me to come do it. 

[00:24:09] Bob: If I had not been able to incorporate all of the, what we think of as home video in those days, into the story. But again, curiosity and detail. I didn't just say go shoot stuff. I said, listen, make sure that you ask yourself if I only had one picture to take, what would be the important thing to get? And if I only had one sound, what would that be? And try to be focused on that. So if a woman, your grandmother, that you're rescuing from out in the middle of nowhere has got a problem and she's groaning, probably you'd want to have a little piece of sound of that if you could. 

[00:24:48] Bob: So I got them, you know, they were like, okay, we'll do it. So suddenly, you know, they're really into it. And I ended up with video that, the old days with five people. Can you imagine NBC sending five people out in the woods for a week and a half to get that done? Wouldn't happen. So I was then able to expand the kinds of stories I did in remote places or in difficult places to get, because as we know today, people are inclined to take pictures. 

[00:25:12] Jeff: When you first started working with home video, did you have a sense that you were the beginning of a new technological revolution, that this was going to open up stories like that, that we were suddenly storytelling was going to be democratized? 

[00:25:26] Bob: Yes, because throughout my entire 50 year career, 40 years with NBC, I realized that every time, all these tools that used to be only with professionals were now available to citizen journalists, that the world was changing. Now, the difference is if you want to get a paycheck on Friday, you have to make sure that you use the tools in a different way than someone who is the citizen journalist. And an analogy that is, you know, when TikTok first started, it was somebody jump up and say, you have a new set of clothes on. But after you've seen that 100 times, you've seen it, right? But the TikTok that people remembered today is slightly different because somebody's, kind of like with the guy with the long pole shooting the Statue of Liberty, coming up with just a slightly different way of looking at it. And on a very basic level, it'll keep you awake for the next 40 years because you keep coming up with something that's slightly different than the person standing next to you. 

[00:26:29] Jeff: So let's let's talk about one one final piece of video from 2013. You did this incredible story called All America's Their Backyard, about a family of 12 kids, two parents who sold their home and started living in an RV. 

[00:26:43] Archive Broadcast: This is the kind of family that would have been first in line on the Oregon Trail. They would have fit right in with those folks in covered wagons. The Kellogg set off for the same reason as the pioneers. Freedom from ordinary lives. 

[00:26:57] Jeff: How did you use technology there to tell a story of their cramped life on the road? 

[00:27:02] Bob: Well, I was very fortunate. Mom and dad were both in the technology business, so they had a sense of what goes into making a good visual image and a story, Right? I got them together the first day and I said, Listen, all 14 of you. I said, What's your best memory? So far, they've been at it about six months. And if you were going to record that best memory, both sound and picture, where would you put your camera and what time of day would you get up? And somebody said, Well, I remember every time Sidney would climb trees and then he scraped his knee, but he still climbed the tree. And I said, Well, where would you put your sound? What have you said? Well, you know, and then we go, Oh, well, it's yeah. Because his foot would be. So I put, I put a camera here, so make sure I got at least a little bit of the scratching of him going up the tree. Somebody else lives through rock. Somebody else did this. Somebody else did that. Some some little kid gets up at three in the morning and runs around. So each person I challenged them to say, What would you show me that I might miss even standing next to you? Well, hell, you know, we ended up with this story that looked like it was shot by 28 camera people. 

[00:28:15] Archive Broadcast: Brody, Kenny, Danny, Carney. Come help. 

[00:28:18] Archive Broadcast: To ease overcrowding, kids camp outside when they can. What's this? Cutting-edge technology makes this pioneer lifestyle possible. 

[00:28:27] Bob: If somebody from the old days had come in, it would have been so long to get people to be common. But when your brothers and sisters are shooting it and you're already under the tent, you know what that's all about. Then they start coming up with all kinds of images and perspectives that you don't know them well enough to get probably couldn't get as an adult. And so when you go to put that kind of story together, you can help people experience what it's like living in an RV with enough people in your family to form a football team. 

[00:29:01] Jeff: So you've embraced all these all these changes in technology. When you look back at those early 1977 stories that you did for The American Story and the stuff that you did, the stories you did in your final years, are they different? Is the storytelling noticeably different from 1977 to 2015? I get that there are certain fundamentals that aren't different that good writing, good interviews, structure. But do you feel like the technology changed the way the story looked and felt? 

[00:29:34] Bob: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because if you embrace technology, you can find a way to more quickly and more profitably, less expensive, get the kind of closeness to your story that you probably could never do before. Can you imagine if you got GoPros, you know, these highly technical cameras that you can slip all over a plane or whatever? And when I started out, you'd have to have one person sitting there for a week getting all those different angles if you could get it at all. And now you've got it on the plane with the guy trying to fly it for the very first time. So you've got moments there and it's simple to do. Or you could just tape your iPhone in places, you know. 

[00:30:19] Bob: So that has changed greatly, how we do stories. But at the core of it is how do you grab people's attention? And I use a little mantra to do that with all that technology. Everyone in our business talks about who, what, when, where and why. Every story has to answer those questions. I do a little differently. With technology I'm able to go, HEY, you get their attention. Because I've got the sound or I've got the angle or I've got a piece of information you didn't know - something that is so overwhelming that that's what we open with. 

[00:30:59] Bob: And then the next thing most people overlook, but technology helps you get, that is YOU. HEY, YOU. This story's about you. It might be a train derailment out in Topeka, but because we had the cameras where we needed them out in Topeka, I can make a point about why you should care in Syracuse, New York. HEY, YOU. And then SEE, in the middle of my story, I say, okay, what can I show them that they might miss even standing next to me? And more importantly, how can I connect the seemingly unconnected so they get some education, some experience, some depth? And then finally, SO. So why should you care? 

[00:31:41] Bob: Every story, whether I've got 10 minutes to work on it or six months, I said. Where's my, HEY, I could change the whole story. And technology helps me do that. What's going to get their attention? How can I connect it to them? Because all news is personal. YOU, SEE, How can I connect the seemingly unconnected and give you some understanding that you didn't have before you came? And then, SO. Why should you care? Because everybody who's going to look at your product. He's going to say, I'm spending time with you and the key word is spending. So if you don't give him the answer at the end why this was important to their life, then you haven't done anything. And I remember there was a young girl that came up to me one day and said, "I don't know why you're arguing about why you use this technology or that technology or live television or film or tape". And I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Live television is me sitting in front of it because it's interesting. Otherwise it's dead television." So I think we can get, you know, so down in the weeds that you realize that the technology is the way to answer that question. 

[00:33:04] Jeff: What single piece of technology could you not live without? 

[00:33:08] Bob: Audio. No question about it. I mean, that was such a huge change from black & white silent film. Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Bob Dotson. Because this is the way you're supposed to talk, because this is how they do it on Broadway, you know. But to be able to have an intimate connection with audio. The scrape of a knee. A foot down in the snow. A tear. A kiss. Minnie Mouse. I don't have to talk about that. I can just set up the moment and stop talking. 

[00:33:45] Jeff: What was your least favorite piece of technology? 

[00:33:50] Bob: Oh Jesus. I would think. My least favorite was the helicopter shot because you blew your entire budget and whoever was taking the pictures from the helicopter, whether it was me later on or somebody, you know, who I was working with always said, "Let's go around again, I haven't got it yet." So the $30 becomes $100 and then it becomes $500 and you ain't going to Aniak Alaska again, that kind of thing. 

[00:34:22] Bob: I think all technology should be organic. It should never, never draw attention. You know, how many people do you know and I've met who they fall in love with a piece of technology, and they just use it to death, whether it fits or not. But if you're going to use a drone, it ought to be able to show you something from an angle that you can't talk about, not just start on your face and pull back to show you that you've got a drone. You see what I mean? It's just a difference in how you apply the technology. And I always ask, how will this Internet enhance the storytelling? Not necessarily just to show people that I've got it. 

[00:34:58] Jeff: Bob Dotson, thanks for this. 

[00:35:00] Bob: Thanks for having me. 

[00:35:08] Jeff (V/O): StoryTech is produced by Antica Productions, Trint and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in association with WAER Syracuse, an NPR member station. 

[00:35:22] Jeff (V/O): Our senior producer is Kevin Sexton. Our associate producer is Emily Morantz. Mixing and Sound Design by Mitchell Stewart. Our associate audio editor is Cameron McIvor. Our theme music is by Josh Spear. Stuart Coxe is the president of Antica Productions. Our executive producers are Laura Regehr and me, your host, Jeff Kofman. 

[00:35:45] Jeff (V/O): If you have any story ideas, suggestions or thoughts, you can send me an email at If you like this show, why not show us some love and subscribe and tell your friends about us on social media. Help us spread the word. Thanks.

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