Finding The Story When You Know Too Much

Listen to “Finding The Story When You Know Too Much”

One of the best questions a journalist can ask is: Really? That one simple question launched Karen Duffin into a story that took her over a year to research and produce — “Nazi Summer Camp,” Karen’s first story for Radiolab.

One day, Karen’s dad made an off-the-cuff remark about German POW camps in Idaho during WWII and she said “Really dad? Are you remembering this right?” He was. And off she went.

Karen interviewed experts, guards, prisoners, more experts, more guards…. She even spent a month sifting through documents at the National Archives. She became a kind-of walking Wikipedia page on the subject. Eventually, all of that information had to be whittled down to a half-hour radio story. Karen’s producer, Kelsey Padgett, said “If a gallon of water is Karen’s knowledge of this subject, I think we probably drank a small, eight-ounce glass from the gallon of water.”

Karen and Kelsey trace the fascinating and arduous path from a drop of water (Karen’s dad’s anecdote) to a gallon (Karen’s expertise) to an 8 oz. glass (the Radiolab story) on this edition of HowSound.

*Featured image courtesy of the Aliceville Museum, Inc., Aliceville, AL


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  • Jim



    I loved hearing Karen talk about her process with Radiolab and the exhaustive research she did. My criticism would be that Rob’s ‘lessons’ did not seem to reflect the reality of an independent producer. Worse, it sounded like mainsplaining. Karen very clearly explained what worked about her process, she got a piece on Radiolab and made it great. I don’t think I have ever heard Rob produce such a complex story or get a piece on a big national show like Radiolab. Why does he give advice that goes counter to Karen’s experience? Go to a show sooner? Bad advice. As any independent knows, most shows (especially the higher profile shows like Radiolab and TAL) will not take a story from an independent unless you know all the ins and outs — and have juicy surprises to sprinkle in. The way to get that in a story as complex as Karen’s is to do the reporting… Could she have gone to Radiolab a bit sooner? Maybe… but Radiolab probably would have not taken it without Karen’s reporting. The real lesson? if you believe in a story and can invest in it, invest in it. And Rob, next time ask the producer what the lessons are.

    • Rob Rosenthal



      Hey Jim — Thanks for writing. Seems like I may have upset you. Sorry.

      The ending, hopefully, was not a case of “mansplaining” but, rather, a quick synopsis of a couple of ideas that I thought were somewhat buried — buried not by Karen or Kelsey but by the amount of info in the podcast itself. Indeed, it seems appropriate for the host of this kind of podcast to reiterate and underscore a couple of salient points.

      As for believing in a story and investing in it, I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, I thought I was making that point when I said “Be fearless and follow your gut, like Karen.” But, maybe that wasn’t clear enough.

      Thanks for listening — and listening critically.

      Best ,

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