Shira Stoll is a New York Emmy award-winning video producer and photojournalist at the
Staten Island Advance/SILive.com
covering human interest features and news stories.
Tell us about your background - was it always in journalism? What led you in this direction?
When I was 7 years old, my dad gave me his film camera. Throughout the year I would take photos of my friends and family. Every summer, I developed my own film at USDAN summer camp on Long Island. I went to the camp every summer for 8 years, until I was able to take a photography class and develop my own film in high school. My teacher used to call me the "crazy photo girl" because I would hand in 10 photos for every assignment when she usually only asked for one.
I attended the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University for undergrad. My major was "Photo Illustration," where I focused on portrait photography. I thought I wanted to be a fashion photographer until the fall semester of my senior year, when I studied abroad in London and took my first photojournalism class. It changed my life. I realized how much more I loved connecting with people and sharing their stories outside the studio.
I applied for a scholarship to stay at Newhouse to pursue a Master's degree in photography with a focus on video journalism and was accepted.
I started at the Staten Island Advance in May of 2017. It's my first job out of grad school!
What was your first taste of journalism?
While studying in London, one of my first assignments was to photograph inside a "corner shop," which is basically a deli or minimart. Many times, they are owned by immigrant families and sell specific ethnic products from their homes abroad.
I was so nervous to do this project. Before this class, I would only photograph my friends or models in the studio, so I was really outside of my comfort zone just walking into a store and asking someone to take a photo of them. I must have stood outside of the corner shop for an hour before my friend in the class convinced me to just go inside and buy something. When I walked inside, I somehow mustered up the courage to ask to take photos. They were so excited that someone wanted to do a story about them.
I went back every day for two weeks at all hours of the day. After I finished the story assignment, I started going to the store to shop and I'm still friends with the owners five years later. We keep in touch on Facebook.
P.S. I got an A.
What stories interest you?
I'm interested in all stories - especially those that are touching or uplifting. I usually look for stories that will make someone feel something or will spark conversation.
For the past two years I interviewed 15 Holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives on Staten Island. It stemmed from an assignment and grew into an extensive project including a short-documentary, video series, portrait series, magazine, and teaching tool for NYC public and private schools. It was a personal project that grew into something that meant a great deal to others. Those are the kind of stories that interest me the most - ones that evoke emotion, tell an important story and make others care.
As a multimedia specialist, what do you look for in a story?
As a multimedia specialist, if I'm not out covering hard news or events, I work on more long-term projects, so I have a bit more freedom to pick and choose what I cover. I look for visual stories that evoke emotion -- stories of love, loss, and trauma, but also stories that are uplifting and inspiring. Ultimately, the story should make the viewer feel something or raise important awareness. I've worked on stories of Veteran affairs and suicide awareness, immigration policy, and mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic, among other important and timely stories.
Ideally, these stories will also be newsworthy or have a historical element, although sometimes stories don't fall in either of those categories and I still think they are important to be shared. One example is a project I worked on with Patti Puglady Pugz... yes that's her real name. Pugz breeds pug puppies in her Tottenville apartment, which is decked out from floor to ceiling in pug paraphernalia. Talk about a visual story that evokes emotion! Her bubbly personality mixed with her adorable obsession made for the perfect feature.
Where do you get your ideas?
Lots of places, but I get most of my ideas from talking to people on the street, word of mouth, or social media posts....and they usually come when I'm off the clock!
A lot of my ideas also start from event coverage/assignments. For example, the Where Life Leads You Holocaust project started at a celebration for Holocaust survivors at the Jewish Community Center. I went to cover the event (it was one of my first assignments on the job), but while I was there, I connected with many of the survivors and realized there was more to the story than just event coverage. I also connected with Lori Weintrob, who is the Director of the Wagner College Holocaust Center and she helped me reach 15 survivors living on Staten Island. If I hadn't gone to cover that event, I'm not sure the project would have happened.
For nonprofits that want to get coverage, provide some advice on the best way to frame a pitch?
I like to phrase it like this: stories are about people, not organizations. People make up the organization, so send me a pitch about a person or people who are doing something that is story-worthy. If your nonprofit is doing great work, tell me who is doing it and why it is so great.
One of my professors at Syracuse would always say "tell me the why behind the why." I want to know the real story, the heart of it. Something that will make people care and say "wow, that's a great story," as opposed to a generic profile of your organization. What's your why behind the why?
What are your pet peeves about pitches that come your way?
First, when pitches are not well-researched.
Just like how journalists research stories before we pursue them, I recommend that organizations do the same about the journalists/news organizations they are pitching stories to. I'm a video and photojournalist focusing on human interest stories and news, but I get dozens of requests for non-visual story write-ups about products or organizations. I also get pitches for stories that have nothing to do with Staten Island, but as a staff member at the Staten Island Advance, our stories usually require a local angle. If you're looking for a profile spotlight about your organization, find reporters who write business profiles. If you have a unique and visual human-interest story on Staten Island, then I'm all ears!
Second, when pitches are disguised as a request for free advertising. We have an advertising department if you want advertising, but if you're pitching a story, it needs to be just that - a story. There has to be something happening in order for me to want to report on it, such as an obstacle that your organization overcame or a person/people you helped, or something newsworthy.
How can people get in touch with you?
. My inbox is always open. And/or feel free to connect on Instagram or Twitter -