Archive for the ‘Writing & Storytelling’ Category

I. Sat. Down. And. Talked. With. Ira. Glass.

November 17, 2009



Question No. 29: “Do you have the time?”

November 9, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

With the big lecture just over a week away,  I managed to get a few of my classes to agree to hold TAL TV showings.

We opted to watch the “Escape” episode because it’s so rich and offers a journalism class tons of topics to draw on (visuals, interviewing, narration, angles, staging shots… the list goes on).

The one question that came out of it that no one seemed to have a pulse on was about time however. Clearly a story like the Mike Phillips piece in “Escape” requires tons of time to research beforehand, conduct multiple interviews to develop that frank rapport, and then clean-up time for follow-up interviews or additional shoots if you need visuals to match some great audio.

I know time is a limited resource, but when you’re only filming six episodes a season…

On average, how much time does it take to produce a great story? What is the time breakdown between preparation, actual filming and reporting, then tying all the loose ends (refilming, follow-ups, etc.) in post-production? How does the TV preparation compare to doing the same for a radio episode?

Links: n/a

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

Question No. 27: “You accept submissions, right?”

November 4, 2009

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

Today I attended a conversation with former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner. Given the territory, she had tons of provocative and profound things to say. One in particular really peaked my interest however.

A student asked if it’s tough to attract young journalists to Playboy because of the potential trouble it could cause on a resume down the road. Hefner retorted that actually the opposite is true, Playboy doesn’t have enough room for all the writers that want to be published within and the list of writers who have contributed (including publishing the original excerpts of Fahrenheit 451 and All The President’s Men) has made it a badge of honor. She finished the thought by noting that, especially for storytellers looking to have non-traditional journalism pieces published, Playboy is actually one of the very few places that features short-form fiction (evidenced by their yearly contest for unknown writers).

Seems like it’s a rough market for young storytellers…

What advice do you have for young storytellers looking to share their work in the digital age? Given the fact that many of the known outlets are very difficult to get published through (books, select literary magazines, public radio reading opportunities, etc.) would you recommend starting off self-publishing for free or cheap online (and hoping that the merit of your work can lead to more wide-reaching, established means)?

Links: The Newshouse | Playboy Online

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

Question No. 22: “When’s the book tour?”

October 27, 2009

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

I like to think that deep down inside all journalists share the same secret desire.

They like writing, but really want to write a book.  Since journos are trained in reporting, it has to be a subject driven text.

Chuck Klosterman said he’d take the Real World culture. Bill Simmons took the Basketball Hall of Fame. I’m on record for Ra Ra Riot.

So, Ira Glass the journalist: If you had two years to immerse yourself in a subject and produce your signature text…

What subject would you most like all-access to in order to write the definitive text on? (Radio comic books not included)

Links: Amazon | USA Today’s Pop Candy

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

Question No. 21: “Can I use ‘I’ in this paper?”

October 26, 2009

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

I had the opportunity to roadtrip with a friend this past weekend. Any drive over two-hours requires a little more entertainment then just plain music (which lead to)…

The Kindness of Strangers Fear of Sleep

Both of these stories begin with first-person narratives for their initial acts. It’s the literary form you’ve been discouraged from taking ever since eighth grade (“Don’t use first-person in your essays. No ‘I'”).

In the scheme of TAL, I can see why. The brilliance of the program is how honest, ordinary people are fascinating due to their unexpected depth and frankness. First-person narratives seem to contradict this. They are meticulously thought out, at times consciously (or sub-consciously) veiled, lacking a multitude of perspectives.

It’s an easier listen when you’re familiar with the author/character and their voice (someone like Birbiglia, Sedaris, Vowell, Savage), but it’s considerably more difficult in the case of something like “The Kindness of Strangers” (first story is the account of a lock smith, hasn’t had years of developing his voice and his story is noticeably slower).

So if it isn’t too much, I’d love to know…

What  does it take to get a personal narrative into an episode? Would you prefer all reported stories in an ideal production or do you see a place where the narrative needs to be included?

Links: This American Life

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

Question No. 18: “What was your degree in?”

October 20, 2009

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

To all the aspiring journalists that want to follow in Ira Glass’s shoes: you know he didn’t study journalism, right?

(He didn’t study English, Mass Media, Communications or any of the like either)

gladwellglassOne of Glass’s peers in the premier, recognizable journalist club (Malcolm Gladwell) recently did Time Magazine’s 1o Questions feature.  Gladwell answered the question, “what’s your advice for young journalists?” with the following:

The issue is not writing. It’s what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and he broke it because he’s one of the very few mainstream journalists in America who really knows how to read a balance sheet. That means Jonathan Weil will always have a job, and will always be read, and will always have something interesting to say. He’s unique. Most accountants don’t write articles, and most journalists don’t know anything about accounting. Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master’s in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that’s the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter.

This American Life certainly spends a lot of time finding topics that are universal,  relateable and what I think Gladwell would call “smart.” However, despite Glass’s academic training outside of the storytelling realm, there’s no denying that skillset plays an integral part in the TAL product.

So, if he were applying to schools this very fall…

What type of academic training would you recommend for aspiring journalists/storytellers? Despite your own path, is there value in the academic pursuit of journalism/writing in today’s landscape or do you agree with Gladwell’s train of thought?

Links: Time Magazine | Wikipedia

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

Question No. 16: “What’s on your iPod again?”

October 15, 2009

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

I don’t want to ask, “What’s on your iPod?

It’s not what I really want to know. Sure, I like indie rock, jazz, classical… and all of those genres mysteriously show up in TAL programming.  Those aren’t picked because they’re Ira Glass’s personal preferences however (nor are they selected because it’s the music of choice for any of the audio producers for that matter).

When dealing with storytelling on the level of TAL and with the preferred-medium of TAL, sound is a major stylistic component. It can push a reader towards an emotional reaction regardless of whatever speech is being surrounded by it.  That said, there is an unusually high amount of indie rock and jazz that sneaks into TAL stories.

Turn it down for a minute…

What goes into your music selection for any episode of TAL? Is there an exact science to it? Are you trying to match story content to lyrical content or a song’s “feeling” to the story’s?

Links: This American Life | SPIN Online

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

Question No. 11: “So the 3 a.m. shift, that was the short straw?”

October 6, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

I’ve tried pitching the 24-hour approach to numerous media outlets throughout my journalism escapades. The “24 Hours at The Golden Apple” episode is simply my favorite This American Life story to date. It epitomizes everything I like about the show – the focus is universal, the storytelling is so compelling virtually anything is interesting, it’s largely (or solely in this case) based on interesting people.  Not to mention, I’m very partial to diners.

Full Episode

The episode was so successful that TAL eventually took the same approach at a NY Thruway rest stop. I’m finally getting the opportunity to take the 24-hour plunge with Syracuse media outlet TheNewsHouse at the end of October. We’re doing an infamous local locale so stay tuned for that if you’re in CNY (or at a college campus).

Until then (and especially now that I have the assignment)…

What was your approach when crafting these episodes? How much prep work can actually be done? Is this the ultimate example of allowing the available content/sources organize the story?

Links: This American Life | The NewsHouse

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

Question No. 10: “I need some ideas…”

October 5, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

This American Life is known for the wide variety of story topics it covers, from the hypnotically mundane to the unbelievable. It seems logical then that the sources for these ideas are just as widespread: articles in the Washington Post, a coworker who knows a friend, reader/listener tips, current events, etc.

My journalism classes never seem to develop a single idea that would qualify for any TAL episode and we’ve got some of the top j-students in the world.

How on earth do you find these leads?

What is the idea generating process like? Do you have a concept and then seek out stories that fit? Do you have a great story and develop a theme around it? Are most stories simply tipped at this point in time?

Links: This American Life

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

Question No.9: “What the f*ck?”

October 1, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

I had the opportunity to cover an event where Ted Koppel interviewed Frank Langella tonight. I enjoyed it immensely but, man, it was nothing like I expected.

Koppel and Langella provided the wisdom you’d expect from giants in their respective fields. They did so while going back and forth like some reuniting fraternity brothers, bantering of sexual escapades and…

…well, I heard Ted Koppel say “asshole” and “Tickle Trigger’s testicles.”

Ted Koppel  may be the man I’d least expect to hear vulgarity from. It definitely added to the event and helped reinforce the rapport between him and Langella, but still, when your reputation is built on very mature and honest journalism it’s a bit jarring to hear that.

So, what the hell?

What are your feelings on vulgarity and cursing within storytelling? Does it add realism or is it simply used for shock-value and the like?

Links: The Newshouse

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