Carrie’s Letters from Jail
Mark is the News Director at KJZZ in Phoenix. In his job this is not an everyday sort of piece. He said:
“Carrie is a friend of a friend here, and I had seen the letters when Carrie was still in jail and I asked my friend if Carrie would be willing to share her story, to read the letters to tape when she got out. I didn’t really know Carrie at all prior to that, but got to know her fairly well during the process of making this radio piece and I think that happens to many journalists when they dig deeply into a rather personal story. You know going beyond the hard news, talking head stories of the daily news grind. You sort of start to seek out interesting and moving stories to tell. And then, whether this is good or not I don’t know, you start to root for the people you’ve come to know.”
Mark produced this piece a couple of months ago for local air on KJZZ. We liked the material, but had some questions about the use of music in production. You can read our email exchange on the subject, and you can also listen to the
original piece to note the differences, if you are a true zealot. (We’re sorry, the piece is no longer on KJZZ’s website)
“It was interesting because not knowing her really at all, she was very open and willing to share these letters. I mean there was always a little bit of hesitancy, but by and large she was very forthcoming and kept our recording appointments to a ‘T’, and I started to wonder, I mean, whether going through this process, which was obviously uncomfortable, was somehow cathartic for her. If in letting other people, even if it was a radio audience full of anonymous people, know about her problem, that she would somehow have more people pulling for her. It almost felt to me like this was like a trip to the dentists for her. She didn’t really want to do it, knew it would be uncomfortable, but felt like she needed to share these letters, that she would be better for it in the end.”
We’ve posted copies of Carrie’s actual letters and her lexicon of prison terminology.
If you listen to this piece, we urge you to keep listening to the end. Also, please note that there are a few references that are adult in nature and not particularly appetizing. We look forward to your comments on our discussion boards.
EDITORIAL EMAIL EXCHANGE
RE: use of music in “Carrie’s Letters from Jail”
Sometimes, with permission, we include backstage email exchanges on
Transom.org, believing that for a site dedicated to editorial
process, the email trail is sometimes the best way to get at it.
This begins after Mark initially directed us to a URL at KJZZ to hear the original version of the piece.
We’re certainly interested. Would you be willing to work editorially
with me at all on a version for transom.org?
I’d like to work with you on Jail Mail. I’d also love to talk with
you at some point about what direction you think you want to take it,
and whether broadcast on transom.org precludes me from pitching the
story to other programs.
Mark, mainly I’m interested in discussing the use of music, its
advantages and disadvantages, and if we determine that music is the
way to go, whether the music you chose serves the material best.
I liked the material a lot, but sometimes felt lost in time, and
found the boundaries BETWEEN letters to be a bit vague. Do you have
a transcript of the piece? I would not anticipate wanting major
changes, but might want to suggest some edits.
I’m not crazy about the title. It seems a little flip, less
substantive than the piece itself. (Indeed, that was part of my
problem with the music too…and that it seem to direct the emotions
We’d need to get permissions from the writer, and also some
background on her (photo, etc.) for the site. I’d hope she’d be
interested in getting this material to a wide audience. It carries a
Transom.org certainly does NOT prevent you from pitching to other
programs–in fact we URGE you too and we’ll help–but it has to
appear on the Transom FIRST and give a credit to Transom on the air.
After a week on Transom exclusively, you are free to place it
anywhere else. Check our “Acquisition Agreement.”
To get going, I think we’d need a copy (DAT or CD) of the piece, plus
a copy of the unmixed readings and a transcript. It’d be nice if we
could put this up next month.
let me know what you think… We can talk soon, if this sounds
Please do what you will. And let me know how I can help. And I’m
working on some pics and Carries permission, which I feel sure is a
given. Did the CD arrive?
yes! thank you. We’re just going to jump in and make a first
editorial pass with our suggestions for your reaction. Response here
has been that the material and reading are solid, but that the intro
sets up the wrong expectation and the music continues that
expectation. The piece feels much quieter and simpler to us, but we
will seek your judgement before we go forward. We can always link to
the original piece too, as comparison may be interesting and the
transom site is about process, after all.
This sounds great. And I think all of the comments you make
are right on the dot. I will be very honest about my use of
music. I want to evoke strong
emotion in the people who listen to these types of pieces
and I think well-chosen music can take the content further, even
very strong content, further than it can go on its own.
Ira always tells me ‘use music like basil…
sprinkle on lots and lots.’ Maybe I over-spiced in this instance.
Call me sentimental, but after bumping a long for
ten years in lots and lots of hard news, I want to make some
touching, emotionally meaningful radio. Having said that,I work very,
very hard not to become
emotionally attached to my work so that I’m as subjective
as possible during the editing process… having said THAT I can also
say that I’m almost always dissatisfied with my stuff, and crave really
Looking forward to talking.
Re. Music as basil….
Ira and I disagree on this. He has made a stylistic choice, and in a
way it’s a “branded” choice for his program, to use non-organic
production music to create mood… note I say MOOD, not EMOTION. He
and the TAL team are *masters* of the technique, and it’s not as
simple as it sounds. In fact, they’ve done it so well, it’s almost a
cliche. It’s the first choice you’d make if you doing a parody of
Now, when I hear a producer trying to create MOOD in a documentary
with music, I think: “This American Life.” (Curse them, they’ve
ruined it for all of us!)
When I hear a producer trying to manipulate my EMOTIONS in a
documentary through music, I rebel. I don’t like being told by music
what to feel. (there are exceptions… like dramatic material within
a documentary, etc…. and lord knows, sometimes you’re just not able
to resist.) On the other hand, I often don’t mind if music is
leading me through a story in an organic, integral way if it’s
motivated, i.e. music that has a CONNECTION to the story or serves a
I think musical chapter breaks (from letter to letter) might be
justifiable in this piece, but underlaid mood music is not, because
it gets in her face.
Let me rationalize another way. If Carrie had created this piece
directly for radio, if she had a hand in picking the music, I’d feel
differently. But these are letters. They existed before the radio
piece. She’s reading them. It’s the PRODUCER’S choice, not hers, to
embellish her words. I find that intrusive.
The other option is to use music that she actually REFERS TO in her
writing. Did she ever do that? That could provide an organic
I think these letters are strong enough to stand on their own. They
don’t need basil. As good as it is, Basil isn’t always good on
But, hey, it’s a matter of taste.
thanks and I’m looking forward to this. I hope the editorial
comments are useful and I appreciate your openness and enthusiasm.
Contributor Bio – Mark Moran
I’m currently in my third year as News Director for NPR member
station KJZZ in Phoenix. In addition to overseeing newsroom operations,
I file regularly for a variety of national and international news
sources, including NPR. I’ve been doing that for more than a decade from
various locations. In fact, over the course of the last ten years, I’ve
filed more than 120 in-depth news stories for NPR, and an estimated 1500
spot stories for the newscast unit.
Prior to this job, I spent 7 years in the Midwest, during which time
various NPR editors counted on me as the sole reporter to cover a host
of issues, on deadline and off. In addition to scores of other stories,
I reported on the historic Floods of 1993, the birth of the McCaughey
septuplets and key political issues during the Iowa Caucuses political
process. I ran a one person news bureau. Prior to my time in the
Midwest, I reported on the oil and timber industries in Alaska.
a decade ago.
Support for this work provided by the
with funding from the