Life After Salt

January 5th, 2011

Intro from Jay Allison

Salt square logo

Transom invited seven graduates of the Radio Program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies to check in with us and tell us how they’re doing. Each one reports on the opportunities they’ve found and each one brings a piece they’ve produced since leaving Portland, Maine—some last year, some ten years ago. Salt’s Radio Man Rob Rosenthal sets the context and then we hear from Jamie York (On The Media), Amy O’Leary (NY Times), Josh Gleason (Ark Media), Heather Radke (Newberry Library), Grant Fuller (Freelancer in Mexico), Zoe Chace (NPR), and Bradley Campbell (WGBH). Their combined stories create a narrative overview of the state of public radio for younger producers these days. The contributors will all be in residence at Transom to take your questions.

[Editor's note: Rob Rosenthal left Salt in the spring of 2011 and is now teaching at the Transom Story Workshop.]

Rob Rosenthal photo

Rob Rosenthal

Rob Rosenthal

 

Students hail from all over and arrive with a stunning array of life and educational experiences. In the radio track, they typically have little to no radio skills. Fifteen weeks later, they graduate as producers. Rough around the edges maybe, but producers nonetheless. Read more.

Salt Radio Alumni

Jamie York photo

Jamie York

Jamie York

 

Attended Salt: Fall, 2000

Currently: Producer at On The Media

In 2001 it felt like there was a groundswell of opportunity… and it was incredibly inspiring. Read more & listen.

Amy O'Leary photo

Amy O'Leary

Amy O’Leary

 

Attended Salt: Fall, 2003

Currently: Deputy News Editor, The New York Times

If I had one piece of advice for young producers, I would say that if you really want something, focus on it intensely. Read more & listen.

Josh Gleason photo

Josh Gleason

Josh Gleason

 

Attended Salt: Spring, 2006

Currently: working with Ark Media, a documentary film company

I would encourage new producers to… have faith that they can get pitches accepted. Read more & listen.

Heather Radke photo

Heather Radke

Heather Radke

 

Attended Salt: Spring, 2007

Currently: Program Assistant, Newberry Library

I have found a way to sneak radio into otherwise audio-free jobs. Read more & listen.

Grant Fuller photo

Grant Fuller

Grant Fuller

 

Attended Salt: Spring, 2007

Currently: Freelancing from Mexico City

Don’t be afraid. Jump right in with your thick skin, let failure bounce off you, and always open the door when opportunity knocks.Read more & listen.

Zoe Chace photo

Zoe Chace

Zoe Chace

 

Attended Salt: Fall, 2007

Currently: Production Assistant, NPR’s Art Desk

[Temp] work taught me to be a news producer: how to look at a world teeming with stories and sort out what will work on the radio. Read more & listen.

Bradley Campbell photo

Bradley Campbell

Bradley Campbell

 

Attended Salt: Spring, 2010

Currently: Production Assistant, WGBH

Find a high quality reporter at your local station. Write them an email asking if they’d be up for an apprentice. Read more & listen.

Salt square logo

Related Links

 

Salt

2004 Salt Feature on Transom

Bradley Campbell on the Saltcast


15 Comments on “Life After Salt”

  • Jay Allison says:
    For starters

    Atlantic Public Media would like to award Rob Rosenthal the Transom Multi-Mixed-Media-Metaphor Award for the following:

    "All the training and practice Salt provides helps prepare you for the ‘swim against the current’ that awaits once you graduate and step out onto the sidewalk and into the radio maelstrom. But, it’s your fire that will sustain you."

    Congratulations, Rob.

  • Mary Wilson says:
    re: Amy O’Leary’s post

    I met Amy at a public radio meetup in New York a few summers ago. I knew no one, and Amy let me ask her questions and mooch her fries for the better part of an hour. This is the same story Amy told me, give or take a few heartening asides. She had a stunningly simple strategy as the greenhorn producer at This American Life: she listened to the entire TAL canon. "I knew every show," I remember her saying.

    I cherished Amy’s story then, and it’s a delight to see it posted here now, if only to confirm that I didn’t dream its re-telling in that bar years ago. Greenhorns can always use stories about other greenhorns. Cheers.

  • Jay Allison says:
    future

    I have a question for any/all of you, if you’re around… since many of you have tried various ground-level entrances to public media and have done internships, freelance, reporting gigs, etc. you have an interesting view of things. Can you talk about what you see from that perspective? I’m especially interested whether you feel, viewed from the entry point, that public media institutions are thriving or fading.

  • Bradley Campbell says:
    re: future

    Jay-

    It feels like Public Media is on a treadmill right now, sweating out the recession. But once it hops off, I think will thrive. The business model doesn’t rely upon page views to live.

    And more and more people crave honest, well-reported news that’s portable. So public radio will always have a place, and that place will grow with technology.

    I left a newspaper job to pursue radio, and each time I go to the station it doesn’t feel like Death is standing behind my desk with a scythe. So that’s something, right?

    Basically, I think it’s a phenomenal time to enter public media. Sure, the jobs are scarce, but they’re scare everywhere right now.

    What really excites me is the next wave of producers and reporters entering the field. All of us grew-up listening to This American Life. And we’re much more familiar with the work of Ira Glass and Starlee Kine than that of Noah Adams or Cokie Roberts. And it’s that sort of storytelling style we’ll imitate and invent upon. (I’ve copied elements Ira uses in his story, Dead Animal Man, numerous times.) And my peers like Emily Friedman of WAMU push me to create better, more inventive, and intimate work.

    Tangent Alert: There’s a myth that narrative storytelling is dead, or as Scott Carrier sees it… there’s a "rise of narrative fascism, the idea that there’s only one way to tell the truth." That’s bunk. First off, it’s overly hyperbolic. No matter what you think of the inverted pyramid, it’s no Mussolini.

    Secondly, it’s just plain wrong. People stream inventive narratives, from RadioLab to Remix to Re:Sound, on their iPhones while commuting to work. Producers like Chana Joffe-Walt and Sean Cole continue to reinvent the game with each new story or report. (check out their stories, "The Virtual Suck Tour" and "How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil," for proof.)

    Whew. Tangent over. Just had to get that off my chest.

  • Anna Pinkert says:
    Thanks from a newly-minted alum!

    This was a great feature – and greatly reassuring for someone who JUST left the Salt nest.

    I especially liked hearing from Heather Radke – as a transplanted Chicagoan, I have a soft spot for the Newberry Library. It’s great to know that there are opportunities out there to produce great stories, whether or not they land on the air.

  • Jack Rodolico says:
    Radio vs Print

    Here is a question to no one in particular. I am a soon-to-be salt student in the radio track. Although I am looking forward to how this term will change my perspective, as of now I am just as interested in print as I am in radio. Do you think this will be an advantage after school is over as a freelancer or in search of a "steady" job? Do any of you work in both radio and print?

  • Matt Kielty says:
    Questions

    Bradley, thanks for the stories to scope and the optimism. I haven’t even set foot in Maine and I can already fell the anxiety that will hit me like a rogue wave when May ends, so it was nice to glean from your experience, as well as the rest of the crew’s.

    I do have some concerns, though, about the future of public media. I can’t help but be frightened by a couple of the deficit reduction bills that sit on the House Floor, even if they are there for posturing. I went through school with the notion that NPR is the be-all-end-all for audio-based narratives. Are there other outlets that produce and/or host compelling audio stories?

    Which is a decent transition to a question for Amy:
    From what I understand, a bulk of your time at the NY Times was spent converting print journalists into multimedia journalists; is this an ongoing process or have you found more time to pursue storytelling at the Times?

  • Matt Kielty says:

    Sorry. I should clarify that I was curious about outlets that are outside of public media, not necessarily just NPR.

  • Rob Rosenthal says:
    repurposing

    Jack,

    Good question. There’s a journalistic artform called "repurposing." You take a story for broadcast and turn it into a print story for another outlet. It’s not as simple as taking your radio script and just sending it to a print outlet. The writing needs are different. And, the editorial needs may be different. But, sometimes you can take the core of a radio story you’ve reported, reframe it with info from some additional sources, and re-write for the page not the ear and "poof" you’ve repurposed a story. Hope that makes sense.
    Best,
    Rob

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    Answer for Matt: Is my job more than just training?

    Hey Matt -

    Thanks for the question! I would say the first year I worked at the Times, the job was a mix of about 50% training and 50% production. While I wasn’t out in the field myself much (except for this one Hurricane), I was producing and editing lots of other people’s stories (just like you do if you’re a producer at a radio show that handles freelance work).

    I would say that I consistenly work on storytelling, but it sometimes is more in an editorial and production capacity than it is a hands-on, out in the trenches reporting capacity.

    The first year, I was working almost entirely on audio projects, audio slideshows and big vox pop projects we were experimenting with, like this insane Super Tuesday feature where we hired more than two dozen freelancers and put up over 120 audio clips. In retrospect, perhaps this quantity did not yield not the most satisfying user experience.

    The second year at the Times, my work expanded into collaborating on new formats with a larger team of multimedia producers, including the amazing Gabriel Dance and Tom Jackson who built most of this stuff. Some of these projects look a little crude to me now, but it just shows how fast this stuff evolves.

    • How the Pentagon Spread Its Message was an attempt to synthesize a two-year investigation, by marrying video, audio and documents.
    • The Debt Trap was a kind of awkward solution to try to address the problem of big, multi-chaptered that most people don’t dig deeply into.
    • Flipped was a much more successful attempt at the same problem, thanks to Tom Jackson, the interactive genius who worked with me to make the interface as rewarding as hopefully the content was.

    In the third year, I worked more as an editor. My job was much broader than multimedia. I oversaw about a dozen web producers, and as part of that work, guiding them on projects like:

    Whew, long answer to a short question. But if you can count all this stuff as storytelling then I guess I would say I get to do a fair bit of that. And I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able do so.

    Cheers, Amy

  • Jesse Dukes says:
    Under siege from non-radio people

    Question for Heather and Amy:

    When working producing audio, or audio-heavy media in institutions that aren’t radio shows or shops, there must be frustrations. I suspect there are aspects of audio storytelling that your co-workers just don’t understand or don’t appreciate. And I think it’s tempting to just develop a siege mentality and start seeing your job as speaking truth to morons.

    So how do you work past that? What works and what doesn’t? Are there particular battles you’ve stopped fighting? Where have you made progress?

    And, have you needed to alter your own understandings of the craft of audio production in order to meet the needs of the institution?

  • Jackie Sojico says:
    hear, hear!

    I love hearing about what other Salties are doing and it’s fantastic to see all the different places radio can take us. I just want to second something Heather said about finding a community wherever you are. I lived in New York (another big radio city like Chicago) and even though it is really competitive, it’s also great as a place to make friends who care about radio & media & documentary as much as you do.

  • JamieYork says:
    re: future

    Hey Jay,

    I’ve thought about this a lot, as both a past intern and someone who’s now responsible for choosing interns. Maybe I’m over extrapolating but I’ve come to think that the interns who apply are a kind of leading indicator of what kind of future public media might expect. The good news is they’re all smart and excited and highly capable. The bad news is they’re almost completely homogeneous and I don’t know how you grow the audience for public media without diversifying the kind of people who make public media. I wouldn’t listen if I didn’t hear people articulating what I cared about, in ways I related to.

    There are probably many ways to do this, there’s a top-down technique that’s certainly one approach. But the ground floor is much more democratic and accessible and I think stations ignore it at their long-term peril. Almost all of us interned, we had (or found) enough resources to somehow make that possible. But I think what we did is, in many ways, misleading to public media companies. Public media thinks they’re fine because there’s such demand for production jobs, but I think they confuse depth with breadth. I don’t know how you plan for the future unless you provide people a viable way in. I’d pay interns, recruit far and wide and most importantly, prioritize internships as a way to swell the ranks of listeners down the road.

    There’s also a business model problem but I have no idea how to fix that. Anybody?

  • Matt Kielty says:

    Amy, thanks for the response and letting me see more of your involvement in content at the Times.

    And yeah, it’s insane to see the evolution of multimedia in the last couple of years, even just the difference in Zach Wise’s motion graphics from Flipped to House Advantage is nuts.

  • Heather Radke says:
    My two bucks on all this

    Hello All,

    So many things to say! My apologies in advance for my verbosity.

    Re: Concerns about de-funding public media — there was a great piece on On the Media a few weeks ago (still looking for the link) that had me 70% convinced that it would be a really good thing for NPR if the government stopped funding it. Worth a listen if only to alleviate the anxiety that comes from hearing congress decry our chosen medium.

    In response to Jamie’s comments on interns and diversity, I couldn’t agree more. So often I hear of the muckity-mucks at the top of the media ranks talking about how they want to get young people or people of color to participate in the cultural landscape, but they don’t really do the work it would take to accomplish that goal. The work, in my opinion, would consist of taking steps to value those people. That is, pay them when they intern and ask them for feedback. I sometimes cringe at the programming that is supposed to appeal to my demographic, and I wonder why station managers didn’t have a meeting with the droves of young interns they have transcribing their hearts out to ask them for advice before they put their "youth-oriented programming" on the air. As for how to pay interns — I don’t know, but if the problem of diversity in public media is ever going to be addressed, I think someone better figure it out.

    Answering Jesse’s questions on "Under siege from non-radio people":
    Yes, there are many, many frustrations. For me, one of the biggest comes because the work I am doing needs to be justified in dollars, putting it in the "development" department, but the content fits much more in "public programming". To me, the projects should be just like any other project in an institution — like an exhibit or a book — but most people see making podcasts and slide shows as marketing, and these things are thought of and valued differently. Mostly I work around this by taking a wait and see approach. I hope that the work will eventually prove itself and will demonstrate that the lines between marketing and programming are not necessarily clear.

    Another frustration is the fact that I am both beholden to the institution and do not have very much creative support. So, its not a free-for-all. I can’t do anything I want. But, the people I work with aren’t media people. There are no editors and my colleagues aren’t trained to think in terms of sound or story. That all falls to me, which works sometimes and really doesn’t others. My work-around here is to ask my friends for help, which has worked so far, but isn’t really a long term, institutional solution

    The final frustration I’ll mention is the general problem of value (similar to the one I mention above). It is hard to know how much an institution values media projects when its not their main thing, and it is hard to convince them they should. I’m not of the mind that EVERYONE needs a podcast, but I do think meeting patrons where they are (ie the internet, their iPod, etc.) is pretty essential to help an institution thrive. But, that is an abstract answer to an often concrete question about how much money a project gets. I don’t have a solution to this one yet. I’ll let you know when I do.

    Anna, glad you know about the Newberry! Bradley, you are totally right about the future of storytelling — I think we are only as boxed in as we let ourselves be.

    OK, enough from me. You all rule.

    – Heather

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