Story Workshop Fall 2012: Pieces

Intro from Jay Allison: Once again, a group of radio students from all over the country, plus Canada and Australia, came to live on Cape Cod for a couple of months to attend the Transom Story Workshop, which consists of lively fellowship, brilliant instruction, and hard work. Rob Rosenthal and Sarah Reynolds run the class with dedication, and make sure the students come away with skills enough to craft lovely pieces… which they did. The students found remarkable stories sitting under the noses of us who’ve been living here for decades. Come listen. It’s impressive to hear such work from a group of people just starting out, and it’s encouraging too, because there’s bound to be more of it.

Rob Rosenthal, Lead Instructor

photo of Rob Rosenthal
Rob Rosenthal

Figuring out how to weigh options, chose a path, and move forward with courage is insanely valuable (for radio and for life). Answers from a teacher don’t necessarily help with that. Instead, a student just needs to take a compass heading and a first step to find answers for themselves. More often than not, a solution emerges…

Read more.

TSW: Class of Fall 2012

“Singing for Their Lives” by Marnie Crawford Samuelson

photo of Marnie Crawford Samuelson
Marnie Crawford Samuelson

Strong characters are everything. In this case, Denya is a guide to a world that is in some ways hidden away. She’s experienced and articulate. And she’s open to telling this story and reflective about what it means.

Read more and listen.

“The Great Race” by Emma de Campo

photo of Jenna Weiss-Berman
Emma de Campo

Be ruthless. Find that nut, that kernel of all the possible stories that you simply MUST, simply WILL tell, and stick to it.

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“The Beat of His Own Drum” by Eric Drachman

photo of Eric Drachman
Eric Drachman

Now I love the idea of cutting big chunks of the story. Not the little breaths and pauses that give the speaker character, but the larger pieces, especially of narration, that try so earnestly to “help” the listener, but rather just put the listener to sleep.

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“Scaled Down” by Mallory Falk

photo of Mallory Falk
Mallory Falk

I got this tape in a last minute scramble after many, MANY stories fell through…and immediately worried that it wasn’t compelling enough. The stakes aren’t particularly high. There’s no central tension, no character undergoing profound change. My challenge was making the story memorable without these elements. It took three tries to get there.

Read more and listen.

“Bat Men” by Robbie Feinberg

photo of Robbie Feinberg
Robbie Feinberg

In journalism, and radio especially, things change. And they change fast. Probably ten minutes into my first interview with Greg, it became obvious that he didn’t want to just talk about science and bats. He seemed to only want to talk about his mentor, a bat researching legend named Don Griffin who had passed away in 2003.

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“Leaving A Mark” by Emily Hsiao

photo of Emily Hsiao
Emily Hsiao

My original idea was to do a story about Bruce getting his swastika tattoo covered up…A different story presented itself, and I found myself recalling one of the first things we learned in the workshop: know what you want going into a story, but also be open to having that shift or change.

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“Mapping Mark” by Kristina Loring

photo of Kristina Loring
Kristina Loring

I embedded myself into the story more deeply using my voice to create a clearer path for the listener. And to my surprise, it felt awesome to be more in control, with the help of my writing. I learned that sometimes you have to step in and wrangle the tape with narrative of your own. Get a grip!

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“Fecal Matters” by Ruth Samuelson

photo of Ruth Samuelson
Ruth Samuelson

I realized: wastewater was a familiar, well-covered topic on the Cape. When I mentioned my story idea to an environmental lawyer friend, she told me wastewater was the “least sexy environmental issue.” “Whales! Follow the whales!” she urged me. I decided I needed a unique perspective.

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“The Living Fossil” by Veronica Simmonds

photo of Veronica Simmonds
Veronica Simmonds

What really helped me was stepping back and asking myself – What was it that had fascinated me in the first place? What was it about these crabs that other people might want to hear about?

Read more and listen.

TSW Fall 2012: Lead Instructor’s Notes

by Rob Rosenthal

photo of Rob Rosenthal
Rob Rosenthal

Even though I’ve taught documentary radio storytelling for a dozen years, I still struggle with one approach to teaching in particular: providing answers, knowing when to offer a solution and when to step back and let students find their own. Remain quiet for too long and a student might sink. Step in too early and the opportunity to learn from experience is thwarted.

So often, students arrive at a juncture where they’re faced with a choice, perhaps many choices. Indeed, the workshop is designed with that in mind; we want students to encounter choices. Which story should I pursue? What framework will work best as I start to report the story? Should this be a narrated or non-narrated story? Which themes should I include? What about sound effects? How much context should I provide? Who else should I interview? What if I’m wrong?

To be brutally honest with you, I often don’t have answers to these and a gazillion other questions. Some questions are unanswerable. Of course, saying that hardly breeds confidence in a student. I’m the teacher, right? I’m supposed to know.

Then there are many times when the answer is fairly clear to me and I could offer it, but I’d rather not. In fact, what I might do is pose even more questions, more choices. I think students find that incredibly frustrating.

But here’s why I do it. Figuring out how to weigh options, chose a path, and move forward with courage is insanely valuable (for radio and for life). Answers from a teacher don’t necessarily help with that. Instead, a student just needs to take a compass heading and a first step to find answers for themselves. More often than not, a solution emerges.

This workshop was no different. Students wrung their hands in all kinds of ways. (And so did I.) And most of the time, they found their own answers. Because of that, the students are now robust, confident, and resilient storytellers. Listen for yourself. You’ll hear what I mean.

About Rob Rosenthal, Lead Instructor

Rob Rosenthal is a radio teacher and producer. He launched and ran the internationally renowned radio program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies for eleven years. He’s now the lead instructor at the Transom Story Workshop. Rob has also presented and taught at workshops for National Geographic, the National Press Photographers Association, the Third Coast Festival, and colleges and universities.

When he’s not teaching, Rob produces HowSound, a podcast on audio storytelling for PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. For many years, Rob was primarily interested in producing local stories for local audiences, content that connects people to place including Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Best Left Untold and the audio tour Deep Woods and River Roads. More recently, Rob has produced multi-media pieces on international stories including Justice Denied and Rights Not Rescue.

About Sarah P. Reynolds, Teaching Associate

photo of Sarah P. Reynolds
Sarah P. Reynolds

Sarah is a radio producer and multimedia storyteller. She reports and produces stories for NPR and other national radio programs and specializes in digital storytelling, devising and producing multimedia projects for non-profits. Her investigative and reporting work covers subjects as diverse as the housing crisis, hate crimes and migrant workers, much of which has culminated in a series of reports for national organizations working to change policy. Sarah has made radio for the tiny WCAI public radio station in Woods Hole, as well as the bigger WNYC in New Work. She’s taught radio with WNYC’s Radio Rookies and at NYU in New York. You can find more of Sarah’s work here.


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  • Margaret P.



    Emily Hsiao’s piece is amazing. What a great job she did with the material. Reminds me of when I was 24, working at a halfway house for ex-offenders, and making friends with an “ex” heroin addict who had spent a lot of years in prison. Bruce is a real gem of an interview.

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