Archive for September, 2009

Question No. 8: “I’ll send a postcard.”

September 30, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

The This American Life DVDs are endless fodder for journalism students. The stories are remarkably creative yet universal. The production quality is really high. There are different storytelling methods employed.

…and when you watch all the episodes, you can go back to some for the commentary.

One of the more interesting bits of material in that feature is when Ira mentions his ongoing relationship with one of his subjects in the “Escape” episode. Basic newswriting courses discourage friendsourcing and I had to avoid even grabbing a drink with a source back in my lifestyle reporting days.

What gives?

What are your thoughts on maintaining or developing relationships with sources? Since the stories your share are so intimate, does this happen pretty often?

Links: The Pocono Record

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one.

Question No. 7: “Will you be quiet?”

September 29, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

In less than 48 hours, I have a two-minute multimedia pieces due for class. It’s something the school values highly –  making all their new grad students produce one within weeks of coming to campus. Some do it successfully and others not so much. I’m hoping to be included in the former.

Naturally I sought out some of TAL on TV to inspire me on the production end (I wish I could find content like they do, my reach is simply not as far or as thorough at this point in time). Along with the multimedia work over at, there’s one immediate difference between what I saw and what I was instructed to aspire for…me.

This American Life uses narration in nearly everything. I can only recall an episode here or there that relies on old tapes to tell the story without a TAL storyteller. On TV (closer to the product I am trying to produce, it’s a Soundslides project), only the urban horseback riding story from Season II comes to mind as a story done solely through the source.

Faculty would laugh at me if I wrote a print story comprised only of quotes. I think my broadcast compadres would echo that sentiment. However, with Soundslides I am supposed to allow my sources to speak without filter or structure on my part. Yet, the folks I admire as storytellers are doing similar projects but repeatedly opting for narration.

I’m a bit confused…

Why do you opt for narration in a majority of your pieces on This American Life? If given ideal sources and an ideal story, would you still opt for it or is the Utopian goal a piece that stands solely on its own?

Links:| NHInteractive| Knight Digital Journalism

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one.

Question No. 6: “Is Dad home?”

September 28, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

The great thing about the Season Two DVD of This American Life is the additional content. Not only are the stories unbelievable (dental floss?) but there is commentary from Ira and the producers giving insight into the ideas and production on certain episodes.

However, even with that extra exposure, at least one question from that season really looms.

There is a very memorable episode entitled “Escape” that centers around a man with an absolutely crippling physical condition. He is bed-ridden, breathes and eats through tubes, talks via a computer monitor. The story focuses on the universal idea of wanting independence and breaking away from your parents’  home through his very unique lens.

We’re introduced to the man, his girlfriend, his caregiver, his mom and his… (wait, were you expecting “dad” here? My friends and I were too).

Now obviously the traditional nuclear family isn’t an assumption as if it were the 1950s, but in a story so focused on breaking away from  home wouldn’t it make sense to thoroughly lay out what that home is composed of? It’s understandable if someone declines to participate, but if they’re intimately tied to the subject matter do you have to at least mention their status? It’s worth asking…

How you determine when a bit of traditional information (specifically, the status of dad in “Escape”) can not only be left out, but can be completely ignored within a piece?

Links:|| TV Guide

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one

Question No. 4 (with a follow-up No. 5): “Wait, are you recording this?”

September 24, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

I received the following e-mail recently. I removed a few paragraphs and vague’d any specific identifiers to protect the confidentiality of this person, place and event (you’ll see why):

On [DATE], [FAMOUS LOCAL] will be in the [NEARBY CITY LOCATION] for a Q&A with students…

NOTE: Because this is an educational forum, [PERSON] would like to be able to speak candidly and off-the-record with students. Therefore we ask students “on the honor system” to refrain from recording this session on cell phones or video cameras, tweeting, blogging, etc.  This will not be an coverage opportunity for either professional or student media.  Please communicate this to students when you mention the appearance…

However, I feel it’s our obligation to make students aware of a guest’s wishes.  A student then has the right to ignore those wishes – just as a journalist can decide whether or not to respect a source’s request for anonymity — but at the risk of his or her own professional reputation…

I immediately wondered about being a major knowledgeable and influential celebrity in today’s digital age.  When Ira Glass comes through a town,  any and all academics and media enthusiasts come out and certainly bring their recorders/cameras/notebooks/smart phones. This American Life doesn’t exactly shy away from controversial subjects either.

So, if a local presentation could turn into a global message…

When making public appearances, do you find yourself avoiding certain topics all together or drastically diluting your thoughts? Are you worried about bloggers/citizen journalists/etc. creating unintended content?

Links: (None)

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one

Question No. 3: “Oh, The Places You’ll Go…”

September 23, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

I refuse to believe I’m the only twentysomething who wants to go see “Where The Wild Things Are” in mid-October.  It’s got David Eggers writing in furry books about it and a soundtrack composed by indie royalty, Karen O of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs.

Secretly, I think the real reason I want to see it is because I vividly remember reading the book with my grandparents as a kid. I’m not sure what exactly I found so fascinating about it or if anything from the text in particular inspired who I am today.  Children’s lit seems to get a surprisingly high amount of credit for molding successful lives down the road (ask this year’s collegiate first-year class, how many graduation speeches quoted Dr. Seuss).

If Ira can recall the days of sitting on Grandma or Grandpa Glass’s lap…

What stories do you remember from when you were a child and do you think you incorporate any elements of children’s lit into your work today?

Links: YouTube| Amazon| MySpace

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one

Question No. 2: “Please describe in 140 characters or less…”

September 22, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been exposed to a lot of David Pogue hoopla in the past two days, but doesn’t Ira Glass seem a bit technologically nostalgic?  He’s embraced the podcast, but the latest route to provide insight and storytelling to fans is Twitter. Ira Glass does have an account, but he’s posted only two Tweets all time including:

Twitter / Ira Glass: This account will be on hi … via kwout

So, in a 140 characters or less…

With your interest in journalism and in keeping tabs on what’s interesting in everyday life, why have you personally passed on Twitter?

Links: Twitter| The Newshouse | Podcasting News

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one

Question No. 1: “Why Ira, why?”

September 21, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

This entire blog/project was sparked by the This American Life: Season Two DVD .  Specifically, my friends and I were moved by the John Smith piece.

My colleague who worked in broadcast journalism commented it was one of the best produced pieces of television he’s ever seen.  The other one simply warned me he cried during his first viewing.

As an aspiring journalist, everything This American Life does impresses me in terms of idea generating, execution, storytelling, emotion evoking, etc.  “The Life of John Smith” was no different.  The piece ultimately helped Season Two win two Emmys. It also has the distinction of Ira calling it, “…one of the best things we’ve ever put on, on TV or radio.

In light of all that, today’s question:

With the success of This American Life on TV and your continued pursuit of more challenging and innovative journalism, why put that project on hiatus and return to radio only?

Links:| Amazon|| WBEZ Blog

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one