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Storytelling tips and best practices

Editing & Structure

The journey from print to radio storytelling: A guide for navigating a new landscape

Print and audio journalism exist in the same world — but the terrain is different. Let this serve as your map.

You asked: How do you tell a story in 3 acts?

The three-act structure is the most basic organization a story can have. The number three has a sort of magic to it. It feels unsettled, so it propels things forward. Beginning, middle, end. This, that and the other thing.

6 tips for catching your writing mistakes (and protecting your credibility)

No one is available to read behind you and it’s nearly time to hit “publish.” What do you do? Call on the copy editor within.

Unleash the trainer within! (We couldn’t resist … )

Journalism coaches, professors and trainers — this one’s for you! As the new year begins, we thought we would share a few of our favorite guides aimed at helping you teach and inspire others: Plan your editorial project (with many sticky notes): Have you resolved to be more deliberate in your project or coverage planning

Beyond the 5 W’s: What should you ask before starting a story?

We all know the classic “5 w” questions journalists ask: Who, what, where, when, why (and bonus, “how”). But you should also consider the six additional questions listed below, which complement those fundamentals. They are informed by journalism but focused on storytelling. Your answers to these questions may change in the process of reporting. That

A good lead is everything — here’s how to write one

I can’t think of a better way to start a post about leads than with this: “The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead.” — William Zinsser, On Writing Well No one wants a dead article!

What NPR One can teach us about local story ideas

The first question I get from station reporters and editors about NPR One is almost always, “What type of local stories perform well?” It isn’t an easy question to answer. There are lots of factors to consider when we analyze what works well on NPR One. But a good place to start is by looking

Score! Best practices for using music in audio storytelling

Music can help make our stories more engaging and immersive. And listeners are used to hearing music propel audio storytelling, especially on podcasts. Still, it remains controversial to score radio features, especially on NPR’s newsmagazines. The main reason people object to musical scoring is that it’s manipulative. I’d argue that’s exactly the reason to use

The audio editor’s resource: Tips for shaping great stories

As an editor you vet, you push, you critique, you support; you also teach. As you improve stories, you grow the people who tell them. The story’s moment passes — but the journalist keeps working; hopefully, telling better stories each time. All this to say, editing is a complicated craft — just as writing, reporting,

Front-end editing: The ‘secret ingredient’ of great audio storytelling

I’m biased, but I think the editorial process is the secret ingredient in NPR’s great storytelling. In fact, I’m going to go back and emphasize that word: process. That’s because editing is a collaboration between the reporter and the editor that begins even before the story is assigned. Over time, this collaboration makes for better reporters and better editors.

Understanding story structure in 4 drawings

1. The flatline story This is the structure of a lot of stories we hear on the radio. It’s a series of quotes from people (the vertical lines) commenting on one topic (horizontal line). He said. She said. Critics disagree. It has a beginning and an end, but gives us little reason to keep listening.

Six ways to run a listening session

If you work in audio journalism and storytelling, you know that “listening is our gold standard,” to quote former NPR editor Sara Sarasohn. We all have opinions about what we hear and need perspective on what we create. We all aspire to do great work, but we can’t do it alone. A listening session is one

How Joe Richman makes ‘Radio Diaries’

Joe Richman created Radio Diaries in 1996. He began giving tape recorders to “ordinary” people and working with them to tell stories about their own lives. Joe also produces audio histories. A distinguishing feature of his work is the lack of an authoritative, reportorial voice; Joe is a master of the non-narrated audio story. His work has

How NPR covered the Paris attacks

An NPR crew prepares a broadcast from Paris on November 18, 2015. Photo by Russell Lewis/NPR In the days after the attacks in Paris, NPR deployed on multiple fronts, with special coverage by shows, Newscast reports, continuous updates online, and on-the-ground stories by reporters, producers and hosts in Paris. Different types of stories emerged. Here is a sampling (and

How to edit with your ears

If you haven’t listened to a story and all of its sonic elements, you haven’t edited it.

Russell Lewis’s guide to fact checking

Note: This post is adapted from a presentation Russell has created on fact checking. What is a fact? Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean it’s true. You also can’t trust that other sources, reporters and/or news outlets (even the New York Times) have gotten it right before you. Trust, but verify People don’t

Vocabulary for an audio editor: 15 things to say… over and over…

These editing tips come from Sara Sarasohn, a longtime NPR editor and producer who has worked at All Things Considered, the Arts Desk, and NPR One, where she leads the app’s editorial efforts. As you read this, imagine you are speaking to your reporter. Each of these recommendations is a question or line to use during

An accuracy checklist to take with you

The checklist that follows is a reminder of things we all know we should do. It’s meant to be particularly useful to correspondents and producers. They collect the information we put on the air and online and they are expected to do all they can to make sure that what we report is accurate. Think

Understanding story structure with the "Three Little Pigs"

This is an excerpt of a piece written by former NPR editor Jonathan Kern. It has been lightly edited. One of the under-appreciated challenges in putting a radio report together is ensuring that the story has a logical structure.  All too often, reporters assemble their pieces by collecting their best tape, and then writing copy that

Exercise: Imagining your story

The following is an excerpt of a post from It was written by Rob Rosenthal, lead teacher for the Transom Story Workshop. He also hosts the podcast How Sound. What he’s describing is a great exercise. It can free you of the inevitable limitations of journalism (you can’t make people say exactly what you want!) but

How a long audio story is different from a short one

Jonathan Kern was a longtime NPR editor (among other things) and author of “Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production.” What he describes as “long” are long pieces for news magazines — roughly, 6 minutes or more — but this guidance is helpful if you’re crafting an even longer story. The basics

Guiding reporters: Questions an audio editor should ask

A lot is asked of editors. They have to help shape a concept into a story. They have to ensure the facts are correct and the reporting is fair. They must have an ear for pacing and rhythm, good tape and bad tape. If they can tap dance while doing it, all the better! Here is a checklist

‘Once upon a time’ and other devices for starting your story

Every story has its own style of adventure. Here are different to take listeners on a journey.