Producing Science Stories With A Scientist

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Kerry Donahue says it’s one of the best ways to put more scientists on the air. Kerry’s referring to Transistor, the science podcast from PRX.

The idea is simple. Pair radio producers with scientists to tell science stories. Producers like Kerry handle the storytelling and production. The scientist contributes their expertise and connections in the field. They also conduct interviews and act as host.

In Kerry’s case, she worked with biologist Christina Agapakis. They produced stories about the microbiome (the bacteria that live in our bodies) as a well a piece about gender bias in science.

Kerry thinks a common problem with science stories is that they tend to center around the “gee whiz factor” some stories lend themselves to. She says by working with Christina, the stories were richer and had more context.

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Listen to “Gee whiz!”

Kerry says that producing a scientist as a host is not a whole lot different than producing any host. The job is to make complex stories understandable for a general audience.

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Listen to “You don’t want to end up with just broccoli”

To avoid a story full of broccoli, as Kerry puts it, always keep the listener in mind. Sometimes that involves nodding to the listener in the script by keeping explanations clear and recognizing that, in the case of a story about fecal matter transplants, the topic might be “icky for some people.”

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Listen to “Icky”

Another way Kerry remained listener-focused was by paying attention to how she spoke. She noticed how she explained stories to friends and colleagues during casual conversation and brought that language into the story production.

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Listen to “Notice how you talk”

Kerry offers a lot more insight on producing science stories with a scientist on this edition of HowSound. To hear other Transistors other stories produced with reporter/scientist collaborations, subscribe here. You can listen to more stories with Christina Agapakis here.

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  • Kerry Donahue

    8.10.15

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    Thanks so much for this terrific piece. I just want to add we had another producer working on our Transistor episodes, the amazing Sruthi Pinnamaneni, now of Reply All. Sruthi was responsible for some of the great moments in the scripts that you call out here and was a total champ on this project.

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