Friends tell friends their story is boring. When I plugged in the cable jack that afternoon and pressed play, this became very clear.
I had been working on a story about cranberry farming but it wasn’t taking shape like I had hoped. After some initial interviews, I thought I’d settled on a 7th generation farmer who could help explain why people keep farming on Cape Cod despite low prices.
After the interview, I had a sinking feeling that this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. But at that moment I felt like I was committed. I had already spent weeks researching the topic and there was only so much time left in the workshop. Unsurprisingly, Ira Glass had something insightful to say about this in his Transom manifesto: “It’s important to know when there’s nothing interesting, truly interesting, in your tape, and move on. This is where playing your tape for other people and getting an honest reaction can be really helpful.”
When I came back to the class I played the tape. My cohort didn’t seem all that interested. Finally, I asked point blank, “Is this boring?” No one answered but that silence was deafening.
If that wasn’t reason enough to kill the story the farmer delivered the coup de grace. When I called to set up a follow-up interview he was evasive at first and then said he didn’t have the time. Nail, meet coffin.
So, I invited some beers over and had a pity party. Then I started looking for another piece. I was still getting daily Google news alerts for Cape Cod and I remembered seeing an article about a local man with terminal cancer who sued the state for the right to die. He lived in Falmouth, just a 10-minute drive from Woods Hole. Now, I thought, there’s a story.
I pitched it to Rob Rosenthal, our radio sensei, and it turned out that he knew the other plaintiff in the lawsuit. Lucky break. Within 12 hours I had an interview scheduled and was on my way. Who would’ve thought it was easier to do a story about physician-assisted dying than cranberry farming?
Be ready to kill a story if it’s not working and always keep your ears open for other stories.
*photo of Roger Kligler by Alecia Orsini
Zach’s Sonic ID
If someone asks if you want to hear something, always say yes (and record it). I was doing an exploratory interview about cranberry farming (see above, it did not end well) and one grower, Leo Cakounes of Harwich, showed me his cranberry separator. It was a hand crank model from 1928 that he’d retrofitted with an electric motor. The cascade of hard plunks from the ripe cranberries was the last thing I expected to hear when I positioned my mic by the basket below.