Story Workshop Spring 2012: Pieces

Intro from Jay Allison: Participants come to the Transom Story Workshop with the intention of creating change in their own lives. That makes it exciting for everyone. This group of students came from all over the country and Canada to spend two months here in Woods Hole. They were led by their gifted teacher, Rob Rosenthal, and dedicated teaching associate, Sarah Reynolds, along with a roster of visitors from This American Life, Studio 360, PRX, The Kitchen Sisters, and other Transom friends and staff. Most of the nine students had never made a radio story before. When they left, they had made stories as good or better than those you hear every day on nationally-distributed public radio programs. If you don’t believe me, listen to their work.

Rob Rosenthal

photo of Rob Rosenthal
Rob Rosenthal

At the Transom Story Workshop, students…[tell] noteworthy stories of life lived daily…in my estimation, they’re among the most important stories we can tell, they satisfy my hunger for radio stories with intimacy and heart…

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TSW: Class of Spring 2012

“Buck, Naked” by Andrew Norton

photo of Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton

I wish I could say it was pure journalistic prowess that led me to Buck. I mean it kind of was, but a lot of it was luck. I guess went with my gut and it paid off.

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“Knock Out” by Jenna Weiss-Berman

photo of Jenna Weiss-Berman
Jenna Weiss-Berman

I really lucked out when I found the subject of this piece, Kaline Medeiros….I knew very little about ultimate fighting, and even less about opportunities for women in the violent professional sport.

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“The Bridge Guy” by Amy Gastelum

photo of Amy Gastelum
Amy Gastelum

The first thing I did was listen to all the tape I had and let my brain do some passive work… I didn’t take notes or cut tape, I just listened, trying to get an overall feel for the story.

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“The Cell’s Mystery” by Sara Robberson

photo of Sara Robberson and Dr Inoue
Sara Robberson

I thought once you discover a great story… one with tales of war, pioneering discovery, and universal truths that of course a radio story would naturally flow forth, but that is not the case. Making a radio story – especially a science story- requires much more than just a cool idea.

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“Every Day Carry” by Erica Kramer

photo of Erica Kramer
Erica Kramer

It is impossible not to feel protective and sentimental towards your tape when someone has spent hours telling you their life story. This is where critique and collaboration play their most important roles.

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“Following Seas” by Alex Lewis

photo of Alex Lewis
Alex Lewis

When I was accepted into the Transom Story Workshop…I wanted to find out more about what it means to live in a place where you see the Atlantic every day. I hunted for a story with this basic curiosity as my guide.

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“One Acre” by Jessica Kittams

photo of Jessica Kittams
Jessica Kittams

I had initially headed to Martha’s Vineyard with the intention of focusing on another story. A few things fell through, and my backup plan led me to the Farm Institute, which then led me to Lily.

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“Hunger Pains” by Lauren Ober

photo of Lauren Ober
Lauren Ober

I am a writer and I know how to construct stories with quotes and my own interpretation of the narrative and distillation of the facts. Using solely sound and subject narration to drive the piece made me feel a bit out of my depth.

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“Mighty Tiny” by Joanna Solotaroff

photo of Joanna Solotaroff
Joanna Solotaroff

I learned that I just needed to follow my instincts and trust that the the tension would emerge, and in the case of Mighty Tiny, it did.

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TSW Spring 2012: Instructor’s Notes

by Rob Rosenthal

photo of Rob Rosenthal
Rob Rosenthal

Every morning starts with the radio, without fail. Tea and the news. Dinner is pretty much the same way.

And, without fail, the clarity, depth, and scope of the reporting on public radio are as astonishing as they are informative.

Too often, though, I’m left undernourished. I hunger for intimate radio, stories with heart. In fact, Walter Harrington, who used to write for the Washington Post, says so much of reporting misses this type of story.

Harrington’s 1997 book Intimate Journalism, opens with a quote from historian Will Durant:

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting, and doing the things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.

Harrington continues in his prologue:

As journalists for the tribe, we remember many things well. Yesterday’s weather, always. Michael Jordan’s amazing 69-point tear against Cleveland. Instability in Istanbul. Insurgency in Peru. Politician caught in love nest. Celebrity gets married, celebrity gets divorced. The Dow. The death of an old man in Omaha, Nebraska. The birth of a baby girl on the same day in Taos, New Mexico. Hurricanes in Jamaica. Massacres in Rwanda. Revolution in Russia. The speeches – oh the speeches. And elections far and wide.

The tribe is grateful.

But, other things we remember for the tribe almost not at all. The feeling a child has when she takes the power of the Holy Spirit into her heart at first communion. The feeling an old famer has when he latches his barn door for the last time on the night before his homestead is sold. The feeling a teacher has when a bad student becomes a good one. The feeling a mother has when her daughter pitches the winning game in the Little League championship. The feeling a father has as he buries his firstborn son. The feeling a man has when he learns that he has beaten the cancer. The feeling a woman has when she learns she has not.

On the banks of the stream that is our civilization, these emotions are life. As sportswriter and novelist Dan Jenkins puts it, “Life its own self.” But, to most journalists honored with the job of remembering the stories of the tribe, these momentous events of everyday life are virtually invisible. To most American journalists, such events are akin to the dark and unknown matter believed to make up 90% of the universe: We keep reporting the movement of the planets when the big news is the unseen matter in which they spin. At best, most journalists are oblivious to reporting the incredible human beauty and subtlety that surround them. At worst, they militantly oppose reporting what they are untrained to discern and describe. But, either way, readers are being denied a look at much of the world they inhabit.

In the language of the craft, we’re missing the story.

At the Transom Story Workshop, students learn to report from the banks of the stream telling noteworthy stories of life lived daily. The mom relentlessly managing her two-year old son’s insatiable hunger caused by Prader-Willi Syndrome; the five foot, three inch woman who wants nothing more than to beat the living daylights out of her opponent in a cage for mixed-martial arts fighting; the woman who learned the ukulele to make a final and lasting connection with her 100-year old father; and the man using the ashes of his deceased fiancé in a Damascus-steel knife he’s fashioning himself.

These stories are not news. It’s unlikely you’ll hear them with your morning tea. Yet, in my estimation, they’re among the most important stories we can tell, they satisfy my hunger for radio stories with intimacy and heart. Transom Story Workshop students have not, in the language of the craft, missed the story.

*Note: A special shout out Sarah P. Reynolds, who was my teaching assistant this spring. This Workshop would not have been possible without her. Thank you, Sarah.

About Rob Rosenthal

Rob Rosenthal is an independent producer and a teacher. He’s the host for How Sound, PRX’s podcast on radio storytelling. He ran the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies’ radio track for 11 years. And, he is now the lead teacher for the Transom Story Workshop, which launched in the fall of 2011.

About Sarah P. Reynolds

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 and local radio programs around the country. She also specializes in digital storytelling, devising and producing multimedia projects for non-profits. Sarah first trained in radio with Rob at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies many moons ago. Since then, 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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