Teaching Examples

Storytelling, Ira Glass and a few thoughts
March 22, 2007, 3:15 pm
Filed under: audio, multimedia, radio, storytelling, video

I finally had a chance to watch these videos of Ira Glass, of This American Life, and I’m quite sure my journalism students can learn a lot from them. If you’re trying to make stories using audio or video, you should watch them.

  • Ira Glass on Storytelling #1 (5:23)
    Forget how they taught you to write stories in high school. Understand the anecdote and how to use it. Glass: “You want to be constantly raising questions and answering them, from the beginning of the story.”
  • Ira Glass on Storytelling #2 (4:02)
    How hard is it to find a decent story? This is much harder than telling the story. Glass: “Between a half and a third of everything we try, we’ll go out and get the tape, and then, we’ll kill it.” Also: All video and audio is trying to be crap. “You have to prop it up aggressively at every step of the way…. You have to be really, really tough.”
  • Ira Glass on Storytelling #3 (5:19)
    You will go through a phase — maybe years long — of being disappointed in your own work. It won’t be as good as you want it to be. The way to overcome this is to do more work. Produce as much as possible. Glass: “You have to fight your way through that. You will be fierce. You’ll be a warrior.” This is awesome.
  • Ira Glass on Storytelling #4 (2:46)
    The errors all beginners make. Glass: “Talk like a human being.”

This American Life, the podcast

If you log in to iTunes, you’ll find that you can download the most recent radio episode of This American Life, free. (If you want to get older episodes, those will cost you money.)

You can play the podcast on any computer, listen with headphones or through the speakers, whatever. (I have to mention this because I still keep meeting people who crazily think you need an iPod to hear a podcast. YOU DON’T.)

You can get all the details for downloading the podcasts at their Web site.

“What I Learned from Television”

This is the title of the current episode. I’m just mentioning it because, for American students, this would be a great example to discuss in class. There are four completely different segments, and in each one, someone is talking about his or her personal relationship with television.

I don’t think it will make as much sense outside North America, because even though y’all are watching American TV shows, there’s a very America-centric vibe to the stories in this show. However, if you ever lived in the U.S. or Canada, you will probably enjoy this.

I think I’m going to make an assignment for students to try to produce a segment about TV — about someone’s relationship with it — based on what they learn from this episode. My plan is to first require them to watch all four videos of Glass talking about storytelling. Then they will have to listen to the full hour of the “What I Learned from Television” episode. Then they need to go out and interview someone, or several people, about their relationship with TV. I think we might do it with video, after they already have some audio-only experience.

They might bring back nothing but crap — but that will be a good way to learn.

This American Life, the TV show

They’re launching a TV version of This American Life tonight on Showtime, which is one of those premium cable TV channels I refuse to pay for. Here is the trailer for the TV show, on YouTube.

If you have Showtime, watch it or record it.

Me, I’ll be waiting for the DVD, I guess.

Update (March 23): Watch it online FREE!

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Making a good thing even better: NPR
February 16, 2007, 2:15 pm
Filed under: news, online, radio

Jeff Jarvis wrote about how to improve NPR. Not the content, but the organization. He’s got some excellent ideas.

I love NPR’s programs. I wish they were on a radio station that interspersed new and diverse music with their stories. But like many NPR affiliates, mine is all day classical and (retch) opera. So I listen to a tiny number of programs and then turn it off. The jazz and other music I would like to listen to is only on at night, mostly late night.

Jarvis points out that NPR is not “radio” — it’s a network. While I agree completely, it’s also the case that a radio is easy to use and offers that wonderful bonus I can’t get from my iPod — serendipity. But not when it’s turned off.

I know, I know, I could “build my own” by downloading podcasts and putting them into a playlist. I’m sorry — that is too much work! I’m talking about in a car, spinning the dial, and finding something. Spur of the moment. Ad hoc. Spontaneous.

So I would add one thing to Jarvis’s list: Give us some radio stations we can actually listen to if we are younger than, like, 80 years old — and we hate opera.

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