Podcasting and Radio News

Class Agenda: Monday, Nov. 25


We’ll listen to your first podcast episodes and talk about them.

Upcoming Dates:

Class this Wednesday, Nov. 27 will be optional. Studio H will be open and I will be here if you need help with anything. Feel free to use that time to work on reporting your second episode or just get a head start on any holiday travel or festivities.

Scripts for episode 2 due Monday, Dec. 2. We will do an edit session that day as usual. Sign-up sheet is here.

Class Agenda: Wednesday, Nov. 13

Discussion: S-Town

First up: Quiz

Next: Let’s talk about the ethical considerations of the podcast.

What parts of the podcast could be considered a violation, in your opinion? Did Brian Reed get sufficient consent to justify publishing all of this? What were his justifications for talking about the one thing John asked him to keep off the record?

The podcast is actually being sued.

Let’s map out the podcast in terms of storytelling. What were some of the themes that it ended up exploring?

What were some of the subplots and how were they resolved?

What has happened to Tyler since the podcast aired?

What does Brian Reed say about all this?

After John died, how did you decide which aspects of his life that he didn’t explicitly mention to you to include in the story? I’m thinking specifically of the episode on his romantic life, Chapter VI, and the ending episode, when you explain his and Tyler’s ritual of “church.” How did you make those decisions?

We thought about them carefully. We think about every piece of sensitive information carefully, and what its importance is to the story and to people’s understanding of someone else’s experience, and of the structures in a place like Bibb County. There are lots and lots that I learned in the reporting that I didn’t put in the story because we felt that what it added to the story wasn’t worth either the sensitive nature of it, or maybe it touched someone who was still alive, and we didn’t include it for that reason.

But also I don’t believe that when a reporter is doing a story about someone who has died, that they can only include elements that the person consented to when they were alive. I don’t believe that’s an ethical problem, and there’s a whole world of journalism about people who have passed away. The whole enterprise of that journalism is to learn more about [those people] than we understand from when they were alive. My absolute favorite book of the last few years is The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, which is written by [Peace’s] college roommate. His roommate is explaining his drug-dealing activities, he’s explaining some of the more unsavory sides of Robert’s life, and that’s the whole point — to understand what happened to this man, and how he got into the situation he got into.

Yes, I’ve seen some reaction that confuses me a little bit. But I don’t think you have to have talked about everything about someone who’s dead with them. We’d be losing out on some really important stories if that were the case. So yeah: It’s important to be sensitive, and it’s important to always be evaluating what we’re doing, I completely agree with that, and I think that people can disagree with the decisions that reporters make, for sure. But we’re very careful and thoughtful in what we included and what we didn’t — and there’s a lot we didn’t.

Upcoming Dates:

Next week: Both classes will be production days. Podcast episode #1 due Wednesday, Nov. 20 at midnight.

Scripts for episode 2 due Monday, Dec. 4. We will do an edit session that day as usual.

Podcast episode #2 due Wednesday, December 11, last day of class.


Class Agenda: Wednesday, Nov. 6

Discussion: The Power of Voices and Speech Patterns

When we hear someone speak, what are the different things we pick up on? What are the things we assume about them?






“NPR Voice”

During a recent long car ride whose soundtrack was a medley of NPR podcasts, I noticed a verbal mannerism during scripted segments that appeared on just about every show. I’ve heard the same tic in countless speeches, TED talks and Moth StorySLAMS — anywhere that features semi-informal first-person narration.

If I could attempt to transcribe it, it sounds kind of like, y’know … this.

That is, in addition to looser language, the speaker generously employs pauses and, particularly at the end of sentences, emphatic inflection. (This is a separate issue from upspeak, the tendency to conclude statements with question marks?) A result is the suggestion of spontaneous speech and unadulterated emotion. The irony is that such presentations are highly rehearsed, with each caesura calculated and every syllable stressed in advance.

In literary circles, the practice of poets reciting verse in singsong registers and unnatural cadences is known, derogatorily, as “poet voice.” I propose calling this phenomenon “NPR voice” (which is distinct from the supple baritones we normally associate with radio voices).

“He was hinting at the difficult balancing act reporters face in developing their on-air voice. It isn’t just a challenge of performance — and it’s not as simple as channeling some “authentic” voice into a microphone. It requires grappling with your identity and your writing process, along with history of your institution.”

Decoding identity on the air

Here’s an actual intro by Ira Glass: sound similar?

Challenging the Whiteness of Public Radio

Podcast: ‘White voice’ and hearing whiteness as difference, not the standard

Does public radio sound too white? NPR itself tries to find out.


The reason the sound of your own voice makes you cringe

Why your voice IS a “podcast voice”

Common speech patterns in today’s world that everyone, even men, use all the time:


Vocal fry


According to Ira Glass:

“…listeners have always complained about young women reporting on our show. They used to complain about reporters using the word “like” and about upspeak… But we don’t get many emails like that anymore. People who don’t like listening to young women on the radio have moved on to vocal fry.”

Why old men find young women’s voices so annoying

99% Invisible podcast responds to criticism about women’s voices

So all of this leads us to the question: How can we be intentional about how we use our voices to tell the best stories as effectively as possible?

Luckily, in radio/podcasting, speaking naturally is what we actually WANT. No one wants to listen to a robot, or someone who sounds like they’re reading.

You can actually incorporate some of these things that you naturally do and naturally say into your scripts. Think about how Brian Reed, in episode 5 of S-Town, has a piece of narration that just goes, “Urgh!” The word “like” doesn’t make it into his narration too often, but it does once or twice. And in the moments when we hear him talking to the characters directly in scene, he uses it much more often. He also uses slang: “narc.”

How I learned to stop worrying and love my voice

Class Agenda: Monday, Nov. 4

Discussion: S-Town 

We’ll look at some of your notes on the deconstruction of episode 1 and discuss episodes 2 and 3.

How does the big twist play out? In storytelling terms, as discussed last class, how does this fit within the story circle/monomyth? How does it change the story being told?

Image result for dan harmon story circle"

What new conflict or conflicts are introduced? Are there mini story arcs within the larger, overarching story arc? What new subplots have seeds planted in these episodes?

We’ll also listen to some more of your radio stories.

Script edits will take place on Monday, Nov. 11. Sign-up sheet is here.

For this Wednesday’s class 11/6: listen to S-Town episodes 4 and 5.


Class Agenda: Wednesday, October 30

Discussion: Principles of Longer-Form Storytelling

Story arc: There should be a beginning, middle, and end to your story. In an episodic format, there are often mini narrative arcs within each episode and longer arcs that unfold over a whole series.

  • Exposition: The introduction of background information, such as setting and backstories of characters
  • Rising Action: Some sort of momentum is engaged. Conflict and motivations come into play.
  • Climax: Turning point for the character(s), as the conflict comes to a head.
  • Falling Action: Immediate fallout from climax.
  • Resolution: Lessons learned, loose ends tied up.


Things to keep in mind:

Motivation: What does the character want?

Character development: How does the character change?

Pacing/Structure: Sometimes, stories don’t unfold chronologically. One storytelling device is to begin in the middle of things and use flashbacks to slowly help the exposition and backstory come into focus in an intriguing way.

Music: What is the theme for your podcast? How can you use it judiciously to enhance but not distract from your story?

How are these principles the same/different in journalistic storytelling compared to fiction?

As you’re planning your podcast episodes, it might help to have this to refer to. Here’s a typical structure for an episodic podcast:

Intro theme song.

Welcome from host.

Any announcements (live tapings, upcoming shows, ads/fundraisers, etc.)

Introduce episode/segment.

Play episode/segment.

Final comments from host: Credits, website, please rate and review on iTunes, etc.

Outro theme song.

It’s not required for this class, but if you intend to distribute your podcasts online, you’ll want to consider designing a graphic for your podcast. Something simple that captures the identity of your show, at a minimum size of 1400×1400.

You will also want to check out how to submit a podcast to iTunes.

In-Class Assignment: 

We’re going to resume listening to the first episode of S-Town. While we listen, I want you to take notes. We’re going to deconstruct the episode, essentially, and then talk about it together on Monday.

Storytelling like this sounds effortless when it’s done well, but if you really pay attention, it becomes clear just how much thought and intention goes into every element of a scripted podcast like this. So as we play the episode, mark down time codes of the different scenes and sections of the podcast and describe what is happening in terms of the storytelling elements we have discussed above. Like this:

0:00-0:30 Spotify ad.

0:30: “Chapter One.” Extended metaphor about antique clocks, and clockmakers who fix them. Intriguing music slowly builds. Angle/theme introduced.

“I’m told fixing an old clock can be maddening… you’re constantly wondering if you’ve just spent hours going down a path that will take you nowhere, and all you’ve got are these vague witness marks which might not even mean what you think they mean. So at every moment along the way you’ve got to decide if you’re wasting your time or not. Anyway, I only learned about all this because years ago an antique clock restorer contacted me, John B. Macklemore, and asked me to help him solve a murder.” Exposition: main characters (both Brian and John) and motivation introduced. John wants help solving this murder. Brian wants a good story. This request is the spark that sets into motion everything that follows.

2:15: Music changes abruptly. Becomes much more dramatic. We are teased with clips of John’s phone call saying something about how “something’s happened.” We also hear him reference this “shit town.” This is very important and intentional, timing-wise, because in just a few more seconds, that will be announced as the title of the whole podcast.

2:48: We finally get to the actual title. “From Serial and This American Life, I’m Brian Reed. This is Shit Town.” Dramatic music ends.

3:00-17:59: No music. Now we get to a pretty straightforward narrative where Brian tells us about reading the first email from John in 2012. He sets up the phone call with John and we hear the phone ring. There may be some editing, but for the next fifteen minutes or so it sounds as if the phone call more or less plays out as it unfolded in real time. John tells Brian about the town where he lives, why he thinks someone from an influential family in town is getting away with murder, and about himself. We hear about the maze he maintains on his land, his mother who he takes care of, and about his depression. These details are not directly relevant to the murder storyline but they tell us something about John, who is a complicated character.


Homework: For next class, listen to episodes 2 and 3 and come prepared to discuss them.

Class Agenda: Monday, Oct. 28

Today in class: Pitch workshop

Important note: I’m changing the requirements of the length of your two episodes from 10-15 minutes to 8-12 minutes. This is because the extension on the last project means you’ll have less time to work on this one.

Upcoming dates:

Script edits on your first episode: Monday, Nov. 11

Episode #1 due: Wednesday, Nov. 20

Class Agenda: Wednesday, October 23

In class today:

Screenings of your radio stories and discussion.

Upcoming dates:

Monday, October 28: Pitches due on the class blog by class time for your final narrative podcast episodes.

Assignment: Produce two episodes of a scripted, narrative, documentary-style podcast series. (This means it will NOT follow a host interview format like the first assignment did.) Each episode should be  10-15 minutes long.

This podcast assignment differs from your radio story not only in terms of length but also in terms of style. You’ll have a little more creative freedom with this one. It’s journalistic, so you’ll need to abide by the usual journalistic ethics in terms of using actual natural sound rather than sound effects; however, you are welcome to use music to score it and create a little drama. There should be an intro and outro, similar to your first assignment.

Remember that the two episodes should fit within the scope of the podcast as you decide to frame it. You are welcome to do something hard-hitting: past podcasts in this class have included a series of episodes about Venezuelans living in exile in New York, or about homeless transgender teenagers. You are also welcome to do something character-driven and off-beat, like a series of episodes about various NYC subcultures.

Example of this kind of podcast episode from a previous class: New York City Underground.



Class Agenda: Wednesday, Oct. 2

In class today:

We’ll look at a few of your script exercises and some more examples of radio wraps.

In Québec, teachers return to school under new religious symbols ban

A small town in Italy offers houses for sale for less than an espresso

Antarctic robot might lead way to life beyond Earth

Example of a clever host intro: Scottish town wants its witch bones back

Upcoming dates:

  • Scripts for your 4-5 minute radio story will be due Monday, Oct. 7; you will need to have completed your interviews and reporting by this point in order to write your scripts. We will not have class as usual that day; instead, I will be meeting with you all individually in my office to go through your scripts and give them an edit. I will send out a Google spreadsheet when it gets a little closer so you can all sign up for time slots. If none of the time slots work for you, we can schedule an edit session over the phone.
  • There is no class on Wednesday, October 9 because of Yom Kippur.
  • There is no class on Monday, October 14 because of Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
  • Your final, edited radio story, along with accompanying photos and web version, will be due by midnight Wednesday, October 16. Class that day will be devoted to editing and production, and the recording studio will be open for anyone who needs to record their narration.

Class Agenda: Wednesday, September 24


***Pay close attention to this because there are a lot of holidays coming up!

  • There is no class this coming Monday, Sept. 30 because of Rosh Hashanah.
  • Scripts for your 4-5 minute radio story will be due Monday, Oct. 7; you will need to have completed your interviews and reporting by this point in order to write your scripts. We will not have class as usual that day; instead, I will be meeting with you all individually in my office to go through your scripts and give them an edit. I will send out a Google spreadsheet when it gets a little closer so you can all sign up for time slots. If none of the time slots work for you, we can schedule an edit session over the phone.
  • There is no class on Wednesday, October 9 because of Yom Kippur. 
  • There is no class on Monday, October 14 because of Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 
  • Your final, edited radio story, along with accompanying photos and web version, will be due by midnight Wednesday, October 16. Class that day will be devoted to editing and production, and the recording studio will be open for anyone who needs to record their narration.

A note on recording your narrations:

Here’s where we get into the art of it all. You may be reading from a script, but you don’t want to sound like you’re reading. Good audio is conversational. Pretend you’re telling a friend about this really interesting thing that just happened to you. Speak clearly but don’t over-enunciate, either.

Trends in narration: A lot of people on the radio these days seem to be doing a straight-up imitation of Ira Glass.

NPR Voice

Before we move on… any other pitches need to be workshopped?

In-class script-writing exercise

Look at this transcript and accompanying video and write a script for a short radio story using clips from this Ilhan Omar interview as your sound bites. Do some additional research beyond just what it said in this interview for context. Two or three sound bites are plenty.

Remember that the template for writing a script looks like this:

HOST INTRO: (The host gives background context on the story and introduces you, the reporter. For your radio stories, I recommend asking a friend or classmate to record this part.)

AMBI: (natural sounds and room tone go here)

TRACK: (your narration goes here)

ACT: [NAME]: (transcription of soundbites goes here)


…and so on until you sign off, saying “For Baruch College, this is ____ in New York.”

Remember that you’re writing for the ear, which means simple sentences, conversational style, and lots of description. Be careful to write into and out of the sound bites in a way that clearly introduces the speaker and sets up what they’re going to say.

Your soundbites (or actualities, also known as “ACTS” in the script) should be no longer than about 20 seconds each.

When deciding what to put into the narration vs. what sound bites to include, think about it this way:

Exposition/Description vs. Color/Emotion/Opinion.

The role of the host intro is to tell the listeners what they’re about to hear and why it matters, before throwing it to you, the reporter.

Exposition/Description. Your narration is there to give all the who/what/where/when/why info and to guide the listener through the story so they’re never confused as to who is speaking, where you are, and what’s happening—and to do all this as efficiently, clearly, and engagingly as possible.

Color/Emotion/Opinion. In most cases, if there’s a sound bite that’s full of dry facts and figures, it is best to include that information by paraphrasing it and writing it into the narration. The quotes we want to hear from people are ALIVE, full of humor, sass, sadness, insight, and opinion.

If you’re not finished writing the script by the end of class, that’s okay: just make sure you email it to me by Wednesday’s class so we can look at them together and practice recording narration and editing.

IMPORTANT: Two final reminders. Since you should all be going out and starting to record sound for your radio stories this week and next week,  DON’T FORGET to record 90 seconds to two minutes of ambient sound/room tone in the location where you conducted your interview. It should become a deeply ingrained habit to wrap up the interview and say “Now if you don’t mind, I’m just going to stay here and record a couple minutes of nothing!”

And lastly, let me know if you need to check out equipment since the college will be closed on Monday!