Wednesday, April 4, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: Trollin’ On The River

-Adam Hinterthuer (Science Desk)-

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: reporting is the fun part. You get to go be someone else or, at least, walk a few steps in their shoes. It’s all about finding something interesting and then having an experience that will allow you to tell that story to people who know nothing about it. It’s fun.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a picture to prove it.

See? I’m having a grand ole time, and my story is about a horribly polluted river! (And, no the thing in my hand is not a weapon. It’s the oh-so-appropriately-named shotgun microphone)

But the real work starts when you get back to your desk. From a mountain of recorded sound, you must uncover your story and lay it out in a presentable fashion. Although I’ve never had the pleasure, I would compare the process to finding a dinosaur fossil. The initial discovery of a single bone gets things going, but it takes a whole lot of work and time to really unearth the whole skeleton.

So, the best part is over. I’ve investigated what DC plans to do about its polluted rivers, and I’ve ridden along with the people sent out to clean them.

But now, back at my desk, I’m listening to hours of interviews underscored by the soundtrack of boat motors, sea gulls, and passing traffic. There’s a story in here somewhere. I just have to keep digging.

Monday, March 26, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: To Be or Not To Be...Biased

-Ricardo Ramirez (All Things Considered)-

Somehow NPR gave me a recording kit. Later, in someone's brightly-lit office, I was doing an interview. The man towered over me, even as my arm held up the microphone. I blurted out questions about textbook prices, trying to get to the bottom of my story subject. I wanted a definitive answer - Why do the publishers this man represents hurt American education with high prices?

Breathing heavily, his eyelids growing tight and annoyed, he peered down at me. He spilled out even more numbers supporting his "there-is-no-money-in-textbook-publishing" motto.

And I kept asking questions...

"Is this thing on?" he pointed to my recording kit, implying he wanted to say something off the record. He was becoming upset and gradually raising his voice. I did not understand what was bothering him. He was upset and I was confused.

In retrospect, I don't think he liked where the interview was going. Publishers often get the blame for high textbook prices. The media accuses them of purposely devising tactics to inflate textbook prices. I think I came across as one more biased journalist, and he felt threatened. After all, I'm not real journalist, but I had the power of the microphone.

"DON'T YOU GET IT??!!" his mustache flared up. Frantic, he dug out textbooks packaged with CDs and slammed them on the table. The spoon inside his coffee cup rattled. I wondered if his coworkers could hear his commotion.

"They don't give a-" With the microphone turned off, he suggested that everyone else involved with textbooks - student advocacy groups, the government, faculty, and the media - just feigned to care. After all, everyone has a job to do. Student advocacy groups need something to protest about, journalists need something to report.

I upset my first interviewee. Did this make me a bad pretend journalist? Don't I ask balanced questions?

I can't give a clear answer. I can't tell if I was really trying to find who to point the finger on, coming across as biased. Perhaps I was too determined on finding someone to blame, as if this were a black-or-white issue. Or maybe he was not comfortable answering my questions. I don't know.

After sharing some cigarettes and life stories, my interviewee and I dug deeper into what we thought of the textbook industry, explaining why we believe what we believe.

"Go save the world, kiddo."

"I will," I smiled, walking away.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: Microphone Shy

-Jason Kane (Morning Edition)-

As a print journalist, I had always looked forward to shoving a microphone in someone’s face and collecting their words verbatim. Goodbye to the days of miserable scribbling in those skinny reporting notebooks!

So when the moment finally arrived for my first NPR interview – on the subject of racially themed parties at colleges – I arrived in Georgetown all decked out in my top-of-the-line equipment, yanked out my mic and leveled it at a student who claimed she had gone to many such parties. She had all the makings of a perfect source – she’d been funny and eloquent over the phone in the pre-interview, with a rich, flirty voice and a background in journalism (so she promised me that she knew how to speak succinctly and engagingly).

But when she saw that microphone, the same woman who had been calm and collected became a bumbling, sweating mess. For more than an hour we danced around her thoughts as she failed to touch on any of the points we had discussed previously. For a while she even tried to deny that she had ever gone to one of these racially themed parties!

Frustrated, I switched off the microphone and considered giving up. That’s when she looked at me and said, ‘You know, it’s good you’re doing this – it’s an important topic because … (insert perfect, passionate, emotional quote). ‘But wait!’ I said, ‘Why couldn’t you have said that a second ago??’ Microphone back on and the stuttering began: "Well I, um, people, uh, that go to racist parties are sometimes embarrassed. I’ve, like, kind of outgrown …"

I shoved the microphone back into my bag, glanced at the skinny notebook that was laying inside and considered bolting back to print journalism.

Friday, March 16, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: How to Make an Interview Thirty Times More Difficult than Necessary in One Easy Step

-Rebecca Jacobson (Arts Desk)-

Step 1:
Forget the microphone.

That’s all you have to do to make an interview thirty times more difficult than it normally should be.

I was certain that it was in the kit when I left the station. I’d even opened the bag and rummaged. Maybe I assumed that the black lump at the bottom of the bag was the microphone, when it was really a little mic stand. I was so delighted to get to interview this woman (just in time before her scheduled C-section) that I took the bag and made the hour and a half trek to Annandale to interview her and her kids. I got into the house at about 4:30; the kids were excited and they were ready to go. They sat down, ready for their interview; the girls had put on their best behavior manners. It is hard for an enthusiastic four-year-old and a two-year-old to keep calm in front of an audience.

I pulled the flash recorder and the headphones out of the bag, plugged the card into its slot…. Wait a minute, the bag is empty now… what am I missing?

THE MICROPHONE! (Insert stream of profanities running through my mind here. I did take care not to say them out loud in front of the kids.) Of all the things I could have left behind, I had left the microphone. This must be a joke; somewhere the overseeing eyes of Journalism Candid Camera were getting a good laugh.

I apologized to my interviewee and explained I’d be right back with a microphone.

Did I mention this was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon? I spent the next two and a half hours in the car between NPR and Annandale just to retrieve a new kit and do the interview. So just remember before you head out: open up the WHOLE kit, take everything out, triple check its existence (have a passerby assure you that, yes, you are in fact seeing a microphone, a recorder, headphones, etc.) and then duct tape it to your person so you do not leave it behind.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: I'm a Booker, not a Bookie

-Tommy Gillespie (All Things Considered)-

After reading Lisa's alluring post, I feel compelled to expose the somewhat less glamorous but equally essential side of producing a piece for NPR: The Booking.

Yes, that's right, every guest and interviewee—that's every politician and priest, every bass fisherman and Middle East expert—that you hear on NPR has been tracked down, called, cajoled, and convinced to appear by a booker. Within my first days of work at NPR I learned that booking is without a doubt quite an art. On a program like All Things Considered or Morning Edition, the bookings are done by an extremely talented group of people who devote a lot of time and energy to ensuring that they secure the most interesting, articulate, informative, and entertaining guests possible.

As an intern, I've tried my hand at booking for ATC on a few occasions. There’s an extremely convoluted series of steps involved: What’s the host’s schedule? Is the guest a good talker? What studios are available? Is the guest going to be in house? Or is it an ISDN, sync, or phoner? Thankfully, booking for my Intern Edition piece is a little more straightforward. I’ve had luck in contacting a local mayor, high school principle, newspaper editor, and a geologist. Check back next week for updates from the field on my story on dry wells and water treatment in Troublesome Creek, Kentucky.

And remember, you listener with your radio dial tuned to the far far left, when the voice of a shopping cart historian or an expert basket weaver streams through your speakers, special thanks go to those humblest of unsung heroes - the bookers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: A Tale of Two Muslims

-Nour Akkad (Washington Desk)-

Sunni’s and Shiite’s…heard them before I presume?! Well I am not about to delve into the most complex situation in Iraq but I am taking a look at how the War in Iraq is affecting Sunni and Shiite Muslims living in the good ‘ol US of A.

According to my inside sources (my Muslim friends), friendships have been broken and intermarriage is taboo. For some, however, making Facebook groups such as “sunni + shi3i= sushi” is as dramatic as it gets…and they say “stop the hate.” So the story element is there. Interviews?, but I do have them lined up, from Imams to families from both sides of the aisle giving me their perspective on the situation.

So until I come back from my wild and crazy spring break in Arkansas stay tuned for updates from my jaw dropping, un-cut, with no commercial break interviews…it will leave you breathless and wanting more!! Days of Our Lives has got NOTHING compared to my story! Actually, I am not too positive about it being un-cut and with no commercial breaks…I am only an intern, but sometimes I like to believe otherwise!

Friday, March 9, 2007

MAKING THE STORY: The Art of the Interview

-Aemon Malone (National Desk)-

Last Friday I embarked on a trek one hundred miles south to Richmond, Virginia, where I had an interview arranged with the producers of a documentary on Virginia’s American Indian population who are on a quest to gain federal recognition for all of the eight tribes that live within Virginia’s borders.

Rather than delving into the complex politics surrounding the tribes’ most recent effort for federal recognition, I decided to focus on the efforts of two documentarians (both of Virginian Indian descent themselves) who are attempting to tell the story of the often ignored and misrepresented tribes.

The interview process itself was a little less regimented than I had anticipated. I found that once one of my interviewees began talking it was hard to interrupt or redirect the conversation. A question about the documentarian’s role in a specific aspect of the film ended with a diatribe on U.S. aggression in the Spanish American War, but only briefly touching on the documentary itself. He was very passionate about what he was talking about and being my first interview of all time I was too timid to interrupt. By the time the interviewee paused to catch his breath our time had nearly run out.

I suppose the experience could be categorized as a lesson in the importance of learning the necessary composure required of the interviewer to get the answers to the questions that they have prepared. Anyways, back to DALET, I have an hour-and-a-half of interview to make sense of.