A Master Storyteller Elevating The Everyday At KNSD San Diego

Multimedia journalist Joe Little puts cameras in places where they’d never otherwise go. In doing so, he’s become a maestro of finding the magical in the quotidian.

More than a year into the pandemic, Joe Little, multimedia journalist for the NBCUniversal Local’s KNSD, found himself working on yet another piece about San Diego community members helping neighbors in need. While all of them were important, feel-good stories, in such an extensive period of economic turmoil they could easily become redundant.

But Joe Little doesn’t do redundant.

Instead of conducting the typical interviews with multiple volunteers at a veteran-run, charitable food giveaway, and getting on-camera remarks from car-bound beneficiaries about how grateful they were for the donations, Little filed a 107-second profile of a single serviceman named Paul Donnelly. Like many veterans, Donnelly struggled upon his return home from combat, relying on the help of others to get back on his feet. Last June, he paid it forward, handing out packages to other veterans in need through a local food bank called Feeding San Diego.

Little, who writes, shoots and edits his daily stories, calls the segment one of his favorites from 2021. It’s also an exemple of the unique twists he puts on video journalism, for which he’s earned a slew of awards, as well as teaching gigs across the country.

“I introduced the viewer to this one character so they could build a relationship with him in less than two minutes,” Little says of the Donnelly story. “Part of the art is putting the microphone on him and … telling the story through his eyes, as opposed to the organizer, as opposed to the people in their cars.”

Developing intimacy between viewer and subject makes TV news more impactful and affecting, Little says. The Donnelly profile features additional trademarks of Little’s stories: natural light and sound — because he believes the journalist’s equipment should be used to mimic the human experience — as well as a series of close-ups.


Little says it’s all part of the TV news reporter’s foundational task of “taking the viewer’s eye to places it doesn’t usually go.” In a 2019 clip about rising gas prices, he put the viewer’s eye into a car’s gas tank. (Little placed a cylinder in front of a camera lens atop a tripod, which captured him pulling back a station pump nozzle. He bought the required parts from Home Depot.)

Last year, when Little profiled a carpenter building picnic tables for endangered restaurants so they could offer outdoor seating during the pandemic, he opened with closeups of saws, drills and wood buffers, which also provided cacophonous bursts of sound. The first seconds are so jarring they might compel viewers to shield their faces, protecting themselves from flying wood chips.

The cinematic shots Little gets with his Panasonic news camera, a fleet of GoPros and, sometimes, his iPhone, are only strengthened by his experimental editing techniques. His story about San Diegans playing outdoor sports safely in the summer of 2020 revealed five Joe Littles on a basketball court at the same time, all providing instructions about social distancing and equipment cleanliness. For years he’s used Edius editing software, but starting Jan. 1 he and the rest of his newsroom will transition to Adobe Premiere. You won’t hear any complaints from Little about the challenge of adapting to a new program, however.

“I never stop learning,” Little says. “If I become complacent and just accept, Oh, this is as good as it gets, then I’m not going to get better as a journalist, I’m not going to evolve as the business evolves.”

Little’s no stranger to shapeshifting for the advancement of his career. In fact, the practice began even before he was a professional. During the late 1990s, he attended Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications in large part because many of the best known sports broadcasters are among the institution’s alumni. It was Little’s dream to be counted among them, but a professor advised him to get a background in news first. With that kind of a foundation, he could expect a faster ascent, with more job possibilities, and the chance to become a better writer. Plus, he could always work a sports beat later.

Little embraced those words of wisdom and changed his focus of study to news. Two years into his career, though, he wound up becoming the sports director at a small Pennsylvania station.

“I hated every second of it,” Little says.

Calling himself a “family first” kind of guy, he disliked that sports mostly took place at night and on weekends when he would otherwise spend time with his loved ones. Plus, reporting on sports “took a lot of the fun out of being a fan,” he says, because he couldn’t root for any one team.

He preferred the variety of stories that news provided and says reporting on them was just more important work, too.

Little’s been a newscaster for more than two decades now. He’s also worked as a “storytelling trainer” for E.W. Scripps and has been a faculty member at the NPPA News Video Workshop for eight years.

With all this experience and mindful professional growth, Little has earned the trust of KNSD’s VP of news, Greg Dawson. “I get a very long leash to push the creative envelope,” Little says. “When [he] hired me, he was looking for something different.”

In addition to his roughly 9 a.m.-to-4 p.m. responsibilities as a multimedia journalist — a “one-man band,” as Little describes himself, he also promotes it on various social media platform (though not Tik-Tok, he hastens to add, because the video is vertical, something to which he’s diametrically opposed). Little is also the station’s director of storytelling.

“My task is to elevate everyone’s shooting, writing, editing,” Little explains about his position. “My boss likes to call me the ‘chief cheerleader’ because I like to celebrate people who deserve it, who went out of their way to really do something special.”

Dawson, the KNSD news VP, tells TVNewsCheck in an email that the number of multimedia journalists like Little is growing, in spite of it being “a hard job that demands a broad range of skills.

“Joe has taken on that challenge to set the example for how someone can be efficient, productive and creative at the same time,” Dawson continues. “There are a lot of talented people in this industry. But not all of them can explain their techniques and processes clearly and simply. Or they may not have the patience or desire to train others. Joe is a teacher through and through. He knows how to share what he has learned. And the excitement for doing it is in his bones.”

Little’s enthusiasm for reporting — and, of course, his hard work — has earned him multiple Emmy Awards. He was also a finalist in 2017 for the NPPA’s Reporter of the Year honor and won the NPPA’s John Durniak Mentorship Award for his teaching and mentorship work.

Little’s best known and respected in his community, however, for his front-of-the-camera KNSD storytelling, something he’s not giving up anytime soon, even in the face of stiffer competition from young, hungry up-and-comers like he once was.

“Being a multimedia journalist allows me to take full creative control of my content on a daily basis,” Little says. “I love it.”

Editor’s Note: This is the latest of TVNewsCheck’s “Newsroom Innovators” profiles, a series showcasing people and news organizations evolving the shape and substance of video reporting. These profiles examine the inception of their innovations, the tools they employ and how they’re reconciling experimental approaches to news storytelling within daily workflows. You can find the others here.

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