Lessons Learned from the Golden Voice

Posted on February 4, 2011


Doral Chenoweth III (right) and Ted "Golden Voice" Williams

Doral Chenoweth III (right) and Ted "Golden Voice" Williams

Doral Chenoweth has had a year of which most of us in journalism can only dream–and it’s just February.

Doral, for anyone who does not know, is the videographer for the Columbus Dispatch who discovered Ted Williams, the homeless man with the “Golden Voice,” who went from the streets of Columbus to Dr. Phil’s couch in a media blink. And it has been amazing to hear in my Ohio State Comm 422 (News Media Presentation) classes the story of the Golden Voice–from Doral himself (how lucky are we!), as well as from the website perspective through Columbus Dispatch information architect (and my former student) Michael Paull.

Before he became “the man who discovered the Golden Voice,” Doral was (and remains) a brilliant photographer, who has for years elevated the Dispatch to a higher level. A round of layoffs at the paper two years ago cut the photo department, but thankfully not Doral, as he instead moved to videos. His assignment: shoot and produce a video every day. Easier said then done, for sure, but Doral is a pro, and he generated some popular images, including a classic video for the health care debate of wheelchair-bound man being berated by a protestor.

And then he noticed the homeless man with the creative sign at 71 and Hudson, and Doral’s life was changed forever. The story that captivated the world, however, almost didn’t see the light of day. Doral shared with our class how he shot the video two months before its airing and only pulled it from the can because he had nothing else to post. It was simple and not all that exciting, he figured. And he was right–but it was the simplicity of the Ted Williams video was its inital appeal. And all it took was a reposting of the video on YouTube (where the term Golden Voice was coined) and a pickup by Reddit, Gawker and other content aggregators  to make the story blow up.

Michael Paull

Michael Paull

Michael Paull shared with us how the web responded to the Golden Voice phenomenon–and the first issue for the Dispatch was to realize that it needed to make the term “Golden Voice” part of their own coverage, since that was the topic that topped Twitter’s trends and Google’s searches. Understanding search terms and how they impact the discovery of web content was one of many lessons Michael contributed, as he walked my students through website successes and failures, and the ins and outs of professional social media usage.

The sand has just about run out on Ted’s 15 minutes of fame (Doral once told Entertainment Weekly it’s still easier to reach President Obama than Ted), but Doral’s career has–and will–have far more depth and length as he continues to show us the world we know about and the one we don’t. And Michael has an extremely bright future ahead as one of the smartest and most enthusiastic people I have ever had a chance to teach–or call my friend.

What we learned from them went beyond simple circumstance and technique–we learned that viewing the world through eyes that seek and don’t just see can bring us amazing story opportunities. We learned that taking a different path can help us discover worlds we never knew existed. And we learned that one great thing you can do with your life experiences is share them with the next generation (especially when we are all Buckeyes!).

That is truly golden.

What would you want to ask Doral or Michael? I bet we could get them to answer a few more questions. Let me know what you want to know!