PRX

Erika LantzA Snapshot of Homelessness: Finding the Richer, Truer Story

Erika Lantz posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014 | Blog, PRX, PRX Remix, Second Ear | No Comments

Don

Don Schonenbeck (photo by Clay Scott)

If I met Don Schonenbeck on the street, I’d probably step right past him. I’d walk by never understanding why he’s chosen to wander west coast highways — how a series of painful deaths thrust him toward alcohol and into depression. That’s why I appreciate stories like the one producer Clay Scott made about Don. (You should take five minutes right now and listen to it.)

When we workshopped it in our Second Ear program, I pushed Clay to go back to Don and dig up some tape we could use to restructure the piece. What Clay found when he went looking for Don wasn’t what we’d hoped, but it completely changed the nature of the story. It’s a lesson in how powerful revisiting a story can be. If you follow a person or a topic over time, the story will be richer — and truer.

Clay will explain in a moment. But first, a taste of what we talked about.

  • Narrative structure. Hooking the listener, clarifying chronology, and pacing emotional peaks.
  • Asking why, and then asking it again. People respond to death differently. That’s what makes death so interesting. Get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
  • Leading with sound. Start with the ambi, and don’t identify it right away.
  • Give emotion to the acts, use narration for the facts. Hey, it rhymes. But what I mean is that you can summarize a sequence of events, but only your subject’s voice can lend real emotion. So don’t overextend acts to explain boring info. Just keep the gems.
  • Recognizing the weird. When Don said he wanted to put himself in situations he could neither predict nor control, he was subverting a lot of human instinct. That’s something I want to hear more about in a raw, honest way.

Your turn. Take a listen to the “Before” and “After.” What differences do you hear?

BEFORE:

AFTER:

___________________________________________________
Here’s Clay:

Producer Clay Scott

Producer Clay Scott

I’m used to working alone, so it was an incredible treat to have Erika Lantz and Genevieve Sponsler lend their astute ears to “I Ain’t Leavin My Road Dog,” a profile of Don, a homeless Montana man.  

I thought the original story (which aired back in January in my series “Mountain West Voices”) was pretty good. Listeners found it powerful and moving. People told me they appreciated hearing the type of voice they don’t often get a chance to hear.

In particular, my audience seemed to like the symmetry of the story: A man endures unimaginable tragedy, falls into a depression, and wanders the back roads of America for 20 years before deciding to settle down. When we leave him, he is working on a grant to help him open a small business. It’s almost a Hollywood ending, and it was very satisfying. In fact, the other two profiles I’ve done of homeless people in recent months had similar happy endings.  

But when Erika and Genevieve asked me to follow up with Don to add more depth to the story, I found that he had fallen off the wagon, and that he’d been kicked out of the shelter where he was staying. So much for the happy ending! I spent a few days looking for him, before learning that he had been seen walking out of town along the highway.  

After consulting with the Second Ear team, we decided that I still had a story, and agreed that I should add a sort of post script or epilogue to the original piece.

In the end, I think the re-worked piece turned out to be much more powerful than the original. Instead of the happy ending (appealing though it was) we have a story that is much more reflective of the reality of homelessness: a story about how easy it is to lose your moorings, and, having lost them, how incredibly hard it can be to find your way again.

A few additional notes: I didn’t mean to imply that we left the original story intact, and simply tacked on a postscript. Like the top notch radio brains they are, Erika and Genevieve were able improve the flow and pacing of the story significantly with a few deft and subtle changes: switching these two acts, bringing up the ambi a couple beats earlier here, tightening this track, lengthening this fade, etc. All in all, a wonderful experience to work with the Second Ear team.

[You can submit a story to Second Ear during the first five days of every month. Follow #SecondEar on Twitter to hear the latest and share your thoughts.]

AudreyNew Status Update Page

Audrey posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2014 | PRX | No Comments

We’re very excited to unveil our new Status Page for technical updates.

You can now subscribe and receive notifications about outages or other major issues with PRX.org and our Subscription Automation system (SubAuto). Our page also connects to our PRX Status Twitter account, which you can follow for updates.

This page will be especially helpful for the engineers at your stations, so we encourage you to pass this info along to them if they haven’t yet seen it.

Status Updates From PRX Tech Staff (status.prx.org)
* Problems with FTP servers (delays, availability issues)
* Problems with all or many deliveries
* Website availability
* Other technical issues impacting audio delivery or website use

Managing Status Page Messages
To manage updates, head to status.prx.org and click Subscribe to Updates in the top right.

Lily BuiAnnouncing the New STEM Story Project Productions

Lily Bui posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 | Blog, PRX, STEM Story Project | No Comments

For the second time, PRX received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to fund public radio stories about STEM topics: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One of PRX’s strategic goals is to massively increase listening to public radio works of all kinds. This partnership with Sloan is an opportunity to add to the pool of stories about science. Our goals are to:

• Unleash highly creative, STEM-based original stories and productions
• Educate and excite listeners about STEM topics and issues
• Tell stories and explain STEM issues in new ways

Our editorial team – with help from our science advisory board, representing various academic institutions across the U.S. (and NASA!) – pored through the 100+ proposals we received this year. The topics spanned an impressive range of the STEM spectrum. As you can imagine, the final decisions were incredibly difficult to make!

Without further ado, here are the proposals that will receive funding for the STEM Story Project 2.0! We look forward to hearing the final products in late August as much as you do.

Stylometry, Math, and Art, Jenny Chen – Where math and art collide: mathematicians use stylometry in the battle to determine who created what art.

The Colour of Sound: An Audio Rainbow, Marnie Chesterson – Red and yellow and pink and green. Can you build a rainbow out of sound, not colour? We try, and tell the stories of the noise colors.

Fire on the Mountain: Climate Change, Fire, and the Ecological Future of the American West, Aengus Anderson – In the wake of a catastrophic fire, researchers use Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains to look centuries into the future of climate change.

The Indiana Jones of Mathematics, Ben Harden — The Indiana Jones of mathematics joins the dots between stealth shields, voter theory and osteoporosis as he studies the melting polar ice.

Space Rocks: Interstellar Dreamers Put Their Faith in Asteroids, Audrey Quinn – Life in space has one very practical roadblock: supply costs. We visit aspiring asteroid miners with plans to grab materials already out there.

The Making of a Medical Detective or the Case of a Nutty Affair, Philip Graitcer – They’re called medical detectives. They hunt down the causes of outbreaks. Follow along as trainees learn and solve mock epidemics.

Early Bloom, Peter Frick-Wright & Robbie Carver – Scientists are learning the language of plants. Hear about them and the controversies surrounding the research and the father of the field.

No Vaccination Without Information, Luke Quinton — In 1776 John Adams and his family weren’t just fighting a revolution, they were fighting smallpox. You’ll be surprised to hear just how.

That Raving Animal, Britt Wray — A music industry for animals exists, but different species hear different sounds. One woman throws concerts for animals to test their ears.

Bayes’ Theorem: Finding Truth in a Mathematical Hunch, Sydney Beveridge – From controversy and rejection to mystery-solving and everyday use.

Get into the Groove, Kirsty McQuire — US & UK scientists have found the brain’s rhythm factory. Hear about your internal iPod and new hope for those living with Parkinsons.

This is Crohn’s Disease, Jack Rodolico – A patient with Crohn’s disease visits the best doctor in the world. That patient is Jack’s wife.

That Crime of the Month, Lauren Spohrer from the Criminal Show podcast – Can PMS be so debilitating for some women that it relieves them of criminal liability?

1,000 Meters Under the Sea, David Schulman – Something unusual happens about 1,000 meters under the sea. Ocean physics — pressure, temperature, and saltiness — create a zone called the “sound channel.”

Células Madres: The Mother of All Cells, Anayansi Diaz-Cortes – What is a stem cell? What’s a stem cell transplant? To a scientist? A doctor? A husband? A mother?

Science and storytelling often stem from one common thing: a question about the world around us. In that spirit, we’re confident that these stories help ignite deeper curiosity about our world, as well as the meticulous processes that make the pursuit of that knowledge possible.

Follow #PRXSTEM on Twitter for updates and to get a first listen to projects as they’re uploaded!

AudreyHow to Write a Great Story Title in 10 Minutes

Audrey posted on Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 | PRX | No Comments

I know, writing headlines and story titles is tough. In fact, I spent 10 minutes brainstorming this headline. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but I did it because I wanted to make sure people read this.

Same goes for audio story titles. The good news is, if you spend ~10 minutes brainstorming a story title, I can guarantee that you will come up with a better, more engaging title for your story that will draw in more listeners or even purchasers to your piece.

First, let’s talk about BAD titles and why they might not be helping us.

  • Very Long
  • Example: Joe Bob and Marty Frank – musicians – in Conversation: Talk about their favorite music – newshole version

    Simply put, very long titles look bad and often times they are hard to read on mobile devices. Keep your titles short and catchy.

  • Vague
  • I know the urge to name your title something sort of vague and artsy. I am a poet, that’s basically what I was put on this earth to do, but having a title that you think is cool (like for example, a cool quote from your story) doesn’t always do your story justice. It doesn’t help us understand what we’re about to listen to or why we should take the time to listen to it. Give your listeners a reason to give your story a shot.

  • Part of a series/no title
  • Some of you may have a weekly series and may not feel the need to even come up with a title. I see a lot of titles on PRX that look something like this…”Episode 202.” If one of your goals is that people listen to your story on the web then a title like that will give someone zero reasons to click on your story and listen.

Let’s move on to GOOD titles and what makes them good.

  • Short/catchy
  • You probably read this a dozen or so times a day, but I’ll reiterate: Facebook and Twitter have changed the way people are consuming media. You have just a few characters to get people to click on something you’ve shared. Make them count.

  • Shareable
  • I’ve started up a listener newsletter where I share audio stories that I love and the first thing I do is give each story a better headline/title. When you’re brainstorming your titles, put yourself in the shoes of someone like me. Or an editor at a blog that writes about podcasts. Or an editor at a major public radio station who might air your story and share it on the web to their huge list of Facebook followers. Rather than quickly coming up with something on the spot, think about what will make people want to share your story. What makes it compelling to lots of people?

Now get to work!

I highly recommend trying this exercise which we gleaned from the folks at Upworthy, a site for viral content. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Now, try to write as many headlines as you can. Shoot for 25. At first, you’re going to write a lot of really crap headlines, but don’t let that discourage you. Keep writing until 10 minutes have passed or you’ve reached 25 titles. I swear it will feel like running through mud and then miraculously you’ll realize you reached the heart of your story and you’ve come up with a pretty awesome title.

More headline writing resources for you to check out:

- Upworthy’s Secret Sauce to virality. This is pure gold. Flip through these slides (like the images above) to see why people share things and what you can do to make your work more likely to be shared by lots of people.

- Buffer’s guide to How to Write The Perfect Headline: The Top Words Used in Viral Headlines.

- More tips on writing “pearls of clarity” for your titles, headlines, and subject lines.

Conor GilliesHello from Conor

Conor Gillies posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Blog, Introductions, PRX | No Comments

Hello friends,

Some quick introductory words for my first day as an intern at PRX. How did I get here?

I was born in Brighton, UK to an artist and teacher and grew up in Southern Maine in a town called Yarmouth. I went to school at Boston University, where I studied cultural history and wrote a final paper about composers John Cage and Erik Satie, two exceptional dudes.

About the same time as the paper, I began work on Stylus, a documentary program about sound, music, and listening. My co-producer Zack and I made a pilot episode about silence and pitched the series to WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station. They eventually picked it up and, along with a bunch of wonderful people in and around the station, we produced four themed programs. We’re finishing up that first series now.

I’ve arrived at PRX to continue work as a producer of public media.

I love radio. Partly because it is a creative medium, but mostly because it is an essential institution.

The question often asked of radio people, these days, is “How do we make audio go viral?” It seems, to me, that the far more basic question facing our moment is: How do we save ourselves from Total Noise? How do we maintain the best public space for listeners, producers, and communities to work together and stay connected in a meaningful way?

PRX continues to carve out that space, and I’m very excited to help do a part.

AdrianneADRIANNE MATHIOWETZ WHERE AM I NOW

Adrianne posted on Thursday, July 10th, 2014 | Blog, PRX | No Comments

Enjoy this guest blog post from Adrianne Mathiowetz, who worked at PRX from 2005-2008 and now works at This American Life.


Eating ice cream at PRX cookout 2006

110 months ago I graduated from college and started my first job as an editorial associate at PRX. 80 months ago I went part-time so that I could also work part-time, and remotely, as the web manager for This American Life. 74 months ago I left PRX to spend the free part of my workdays “focusing on my writing.” I’ve been asked to say something on the blog about what I’ve been up to since.

71 months ago I threw my lit magazine rejection letters into the trash as I moved out the apartment I’d shared with my now-suddenly-ex-boyfriend, 53 months ago I stuffed everything I owned into my now-suddenly-new-boyfriend’s car to drive to Portland, Maine, and 50 months ago I graduated from the documentary photography program at Salt. 49 months ago I moved in with my sister in to Minneapolis to start a side photography business, 42 months ago I helped the Mpls Photo Center organize a benefit auction so I could spend the following spring taking classes on studio lighting and portraiture, and 38 months ago I went to Kansas City to kill an animal with my bare hands only to throw it away after it spoiled in the fridge. I still think about it when I’m driving anywhere on a hot summer day, and there are a few passengers in the car but no one is talking.


Self portrait in Du Bois, Pa.

38 months ago I got an IUD and wrote about it, 34 months ago I looked at houses with a realtor in Detroit and proposed to my boyfriend offering him health insurance (he declined), 27 months ago I went to St. Louis to take photos for a Love & Radio episode about a man who turned his home into a holocaust museum, 26 months ago I did something emotionally ill-advised on a rooftop in a strange costume, and 23 months ago I stuffed my grandma’s ’95 Taurus with books and clothes and my terrified cat and I drove from Minnesota to New York. 18 months ago I started freelance shooting events for WQXR and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 13 months ago I drove the car back home listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, 11 months ago my boyfriend proposed to me with a swiss army knife (I declined), and 9 months ago I told a story about a personal Craigslist adventure in front of a large crowd of public radio peers at RadioVision. 7 months ago spoke with Andrea Silenzi in a Greenpoint bar for “Why Oh Why” about that IUD (still think it’s the greatest, ladies), 6 months ago I went to Washington, DC to shoot another Love & Radio story, and 2 months ago I moved for the 4th time within Brooklyn into a Bushwick apartment with three college friends. 2 weeks ago I finally sent my parents most of the money I’d borrowed.

Right now it is 0 months ago. Right now it is right now: I’m in the This American Life office, making sure our digital ducks are in a row for tomorrow. Tomorrow, I go to Portland for a week long multimedia intensive at Salt. Tomorrow I get on a train, and that is always exciting.


Erika LantzPower to the people! (And how to find a story)

Erika Lantz posted on Monday, June 16th, 2014 | Blog, PRX, Second Ear | No Comments

If you like art, you should check out Veronica Simmonds. She’s spending all her time chatting with artists and making radio stories about them. (Jealous yet?) To top it off, she found this guy who’s so obsessed with shortwave radio he designed an immersive art piece around it. She produced the story, and we workshopped it together in this month’s Second Ear.

Veronica’s taking over the rest of this post to tell us about it:

__________________________________

Producer Veronica Simmonds

Producer Veronica Simmonds (photo by Katie McKay)

There is a big difference between a topic and a story. Big differencebut one that Im always struggling to understand. 

Ive been producing a podcast for Visual Arts News for over a year now. Its a great gig: I get to interview all the rad artists working in Atlantic Canada. I interview them about the cool ideas behind their projects, then weave those together with music and ambient sounds, and the result is usually an interesting audio journey. But are these stories? Not really.

I reached out to the Second Ear program because there was one piece I produced for Visual Arts News that I thought had legs. It was about an artist named Michael McCormack who makes work about shortwave radio. As a radio nerd this was enough to get me interested. But, what was really curious was how Michael connected to his grandfather. As he talked about the different elements of his work, they all somehow linked back to his grandfathers experience as a ham radio operator. 

When I first produced the piece, I focused on the topic of shortwave radio: what it is, why its important for people, and what Michael is doing with it. Talking to Erika and Genevieve from PRX was totally invaluable because they challenged me to focus instead on the relationship between Michael and his grandfather. They encouraged me to see the art and even Michaels identity as an artist as secondary to that relationship. As simple as that may seem it was actually a total revelation for me. I usually start these podcasts by naming the artist and saying what their working on, but this new approach was totally freeing and I think led to a way more compelling listen. People first! Projects second!

All this to say, I still dont know exactly what a story is, but Im a little closer. From now on, Im going to start my pieces with people, not their projects. Stories happen with people: what are their intentions, why do they do what they do, whats changing for them. Cool art projects come from people, but the people should come first. Power to the people! (and their stories!) —Veronica

You can submit a story to Second Ear during the first five days of every month. Follow #SecondEar on Twitter to hear the latest and share your thoughts.

Erika Lantz4 Ways to Make Your Art Story Sing

Erika Lantz posted on Friday, June 13th, 2014 | Blog, PRX, PRX Remix, Second Ear | 1 Comment

Photo by Michael McCormack

Photo by Michael McCormack

Each month, PRX editors workshop a radio piece and share the before and after with the world. This month’s Second Ear producer was Visual Arts News host Veronica Simmonds.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Secret Soviet radio signals, lonely spies in the Arctic, and an art exhibit with pulsing disco lights. I’m ready to listen. But you can have all the ingredients and still feel a story isn’t quite “there.” We talked ideas with Veronica; she took or scrapped our advice and came back with a new version of her story.

Hear a difference? Here’s some of what we talked about.

Photo by Veronica Simmonds

Veronica’s subject had plenty of clues and history behind the art for a story. She just needed to put them together. (Photo by Veronica Simmonds)

1. Find the story. An artist might be doing something fascinating, but if you don’t find a narrative arc with characters, conflict, and surprise, you won’t keep my attention.

In Veronica’s case, I saw all this potential for compelling stories and intimate moments that were glossed over. So we talked a lot about how to find tension, emotion, and narrative, and she actually interviewed Michael a second time to get tape that would help.

2. Avoid art speak. Don’t let the artist speak in sterile or hyped-up language. Work the interview to pull out the emotion and concrete reasoning. And certainly don’t use jargon in your own writing. (We asked Veronica to cut lines like “his current work is focusing on” or “enter the dialogue.”)

Say things plainly. Clear images, simple language, and strong ideas—not pretense—will bring depth to the piece.

3. Help us picture it. Slow the artist down during the interview to get specific moments and vivid details. Record yourself describing and experiencing the work, and focus on the senses. Help us listeners construct the visceral experience in our imagination.

4. Be skeptical.  Be wary of adopting the language of the artist as your own. Just because an artist claims she’s breaking apart some radical notion with her art doesn’t mean that you should say she succeeded.

To get interesting tape, find time to ask the artist questions from the perspective of the guy who thinks this type of art is a load of hooey. Then, if you like, ask the artist what frustrates him about the way people view art. Maybe you’ll find tension not only in the story’s central conflict, but also in a deeper conversation about what art is.

You can submit a story to Second Ear during the first five days of every month. Follow #SecondEar on Twitter to hear the latest and share your thoughts.

JonesMake Better Radio

Jones posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 | PRX | No Comments

We enjoyed a terrific web event last week for youth producers with guests Ben Trefny of KALW and and Michael May of Salt Institute for Documentary Studies on the topic Make Better Radio.

From the importance of nut graphs to the importance of dance parties, we heard lots of practical, inspirational guidance for youth radio groups of all levels.

You can find an archived video recording of the web event here.

And you can see some of the gems that participants took from the webinar using the hashtag #MakeBetterRadio – thanks to PRXer Audrey Mardavich, all are collected in this Storify.

Many thanks to our guests, to KALW, the Salt Institute, the Bay Area Video Coalition, and to all of the youth radio leaders out there for the amazing work you do.

GenevievePRX is Hiring a Software Engineer

Genevieve posted on Friday, June 6th, 2014 | Blog, Jobs, PRX | No Comments



PRX volunteer day at a local farm (click to enlarge)

PRX is hiring! We’re fun. You can see the details below and apply here.

What is the company?
At PRX you will find talented, passionate, and thoughtful people who create products that bring millions of listeners to shows created by public radio and podcast producers. We also work with top-tier shows like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, and 99% Invisible.

We’ve been around for 10 years, yet still have the entrepreneurial energy and opportunities of a much younger company. We genuinely care about a healthy work-life balance (we feel gross using buzzwords, but 40 hour weeks and flexible hours really are the norm around here).

What is the Software Engineer job?
We are looking for an enthusiastic and creative software engineer with a passion for building robust, scalable applications with simple interfaces. You’ll have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and find your strengths across different technologies. We’re a small organization, so within a few weeks you’ll be expected take the lead and focus on a few projects while being comfortable with having an active support role for many of the other products we work on.

You’ll work closely with our other engineers, product managers, and employees on all phases of the development cycle including planning, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance. We don’t follow Agile with a capital “A”, but work on hitting the sweet spot, which means you’ll contribute to production code within a few days.

What do we build?
If you checkout our public GitHub repositories you’ll get a sense of the projects, team members, technologies and how we work: https://github.com/prx. Our core marketplace product http://www.prx.org is being upgraded to Angular.js and Rails 4 as an open source project. You can also see the iOS and Android apps we created and support https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/public-radio-exchange-prx/id312880534 and https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Public+Radio+Exchange.

Things we’re looking for

  • Relevant experience with frameworks like Rails, Sinatra, Django, Angular and/or a degree in Computer Science
  • Aptitude for learning new technologies/languages/platforms/APIs
  • Be a nice person
  • A design aesthetic and caring about how users interact with the things you build
  • Recommendations for public radio shows or podcasts that we might not have heard
  • Opinions you can back up are great. Opinions you want to experimentally verify are even better.

Key Information

  • Job title: Software Engineer
  • Location: Harvard Square – Cambridge, MA
  • Type of Position: Full-time with benefits
  • Start date: Immediately
  • Telecommute: No
  • Apply here: http://bit.ly/1hDA6ON

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