Intro from Jay Allison: We have a series here at Transom we call “Short Lists” where you hear a list of things and then find out how they’re connected. Hairpieces, Coyotes, Village Portraits, Grind Core Punk, Personal Tragedy, Songwriting, Fibromyalgia, Singing at Funerals, Roller Derby… okay, that’s a list of the stories produced by the Transom Story Workshop this fall. The students came here from all over the country (and two from Canada this time), somehow discovered these stories hidden away on Cape Cod, and then, using the skills they just learned, turned them into radio. It’s quite a trick—to go from never having done it, to doing it well. I’m amazed every time. Listen to the nine stories the students have chosen for this Transom feature.
Rob Rosenthal, Lead Instructor
…there was a lot of heavy lifting going on behind the scenes to produce these stories. But, the students rose to the occasion eagerly and with endless patience to get the stories right.
TSW: Class of Fall 2014
“An Unlikely Place For a Punk” by Mary Decker
There were all these great facts that I knew were the most interesting aspects of the story, but I was diluting them by writing my script like a paper instead of like radio. In a short piece like this, each sentence has to either move the story forward or impart some vital information.
“She Is Mighty” by Phoebe Flanigan
I never envisioned this story as a non-narrative piece. In fact, I didn’t really want it to be a non-narrative piece. But upon listening to my tape, I decided that Lynne and Talia had to tell their own story.
“Hiding In The Dark” by Joseph Jordan
I had a lot of reservations about doing this piece, which is about a personal tragedy that I have been trying, and failing, to shake.
“You Can’t Play The Old Songs Forever” by Annabel Lang
I don’t remember exactly what Google pathway led me to Peter Donelly’s door. However, I can say for certain that his being a musician had very little to do with my desire to profile him for a Creative Life piece.
“Looking For Coyotes” by Travis Lux
[My class] told me I was the one who changed in this story and that I could make it mean something – or at least make it more interesting – if I would just put myself in there. And they were right; I think it really helped.
“The Village Portrait Project” by Anna Rose MacArthur
I was terrified to knock on Jon’s door that first day, terrified because I wanted to create something amazing, and I didn’t know if I could hack it. But the most over-told, boring tale is, “I was scared, so I didn’t do something.” And that story never makes radio. So knock.
“The Secret Art of Hair Replacement” by Ellen Payne Smith
Unsurprisingly, the first draft of my script turned out clunky. I wanted to include every anecdote. I learned to let go of some of the details, in order to find the overall structure.
“Collaborating With The Mystery” by Mary Quintas
I think it’s incredibly useful to come up with a hypothesis before you go out into the field. But you also have to make sure that your preconceived notions don’t prevent you from discovering something in the moment — from noticing what you notice.
“Pain Unknown: Living with Fibromyalgia” by Anna Stitt
I didn’t quite realize going into this piece how high stakes it would feel. But right away, several people with fibromyalgia told me how many people have committed suicide when their families have called them lazy or crazy and told them to get over themselves.
TSW Fall 2014: Lead Instructor’s Notes
by Rob Rosenthal
For students at the Workshop producing their first stories, I don’t care what the subject matter is, reporting and telling the story is a complex process. Even for students producing what appears to be a fairly straightforward profile, it’s not easy or simple. It is their first time, after all.
This is especially true for the stories produced by the Fall 2014 crew. They produced some of the most complicated pieces of any Transom Workshop. Even seasoned reporters might struggle with some of the challenges involved with producing these stories.
Why? For starters, for some stories, it wasn’t enough to interview someone central to the story and maybe one or two others connected to that person, which is fairly typical for a Workshop story. Instead, some of the students interviewed a half dozen people; one interviewed eight. Additionally, in order to fully understand the subject matter, some of the stories required “informational interviews” with experts. Even though the experts may not appear in the piece, they provided valuable insight that informed the students writing and editorial choices.
In a couple of cases, issues of balance had to be addressed. In fact, for one of the stories, we asked WCAI reporter Sean Corcoran to weigh in on whether the reporting process met ethical standards for fairness. The topic was so knotty that it was incredibly valuable to have his outside opinion.
Lastly, there are stories that were emotionally complex. Three of the stories address issues of death and dying, including one personal essay that was very challenging for the student to write.
In short, there was a lot of heavy lifting going on behind the scenes to produce these stories. But, the students rose to the occasion eagerly and with endless patience to get the stories right. I’m incredibly thankful for their dedication and effort.
Get it right.
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About Rob Rosenthal, Lead Instructor
Rob Rosenthal is an independent producer and a teacher. He’s the host for the HowSound podcast – a joint project of PRX and Transom – on radio storytelling. He started and then 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 Audrey Quinn, Teaching Assistant
Audrey Quinn is a multimedia producer and a reporter for public radio shows like Marketplace, PRI’s The World, and Studio 360. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, and she is co-founder of the live radio performance event Radio Cabaret. You can find her work here.