NPR Training
Storytelling tips and best practices


What makes a good pitch? NPR editors weigh in

  Pitching is hard. Every one of us has gotten excited about an idea, prepped it, pitched it … and been shot down. It’s disappointing and, sometimes, demoralizing. Of course, no journalist has a 100 percent pitch acceptance rate. But there are ways you can approach pitching that will increase the likelihood of getting a Continue Reading >

What’s in your bag, Leigh Paterson?

The tools we carry around on a daily basis can say a lot about what we do, how and where we work — even our personalities. What’s in your bag? is a new regular series about the tools used by people in public media. We all use the basics, but the way we personalize our kits is where Continue Reading >

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 Continue Reading >

3 simple ways to find story ideas

Sally Herships is a contributing reporter at Marketplace. She also teaches radio journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Sarah Lawrence College. Over the summer, Sally did a callout on social media asking where public media journalists get their story ideas. The responses were fantastic and spanned everything from standard journalistic practices to creative Continue Reading >

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

Hannah Bloch is a digital editor for international news at NPR. She also wrote this post on writing short.  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 Continue Reading >

How audio stories begin

This post was written as a companion to a session at the 2016 Audio Storytelling Workshop in Washington, D.C. Once upon a time … … we sent radio stories out into the ether and judged their success by letters, emails, crude quarterly ratings and annual awards. Now, we can dissect listener behavior, minute by minute. With platforms such as NPR Continue Reading >

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

Andrea de Leon is a Senior Editor and NPR’s Northeast Bureau Chief. 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 Continue Reading >

Reporter two-ways: Improvisation within a structure

Watch the webinar For many public radio reporters — even some of the most experienced ones — the prospect of a two-way can be daunting. You’ve been gathering facts and collecting tape, and now, you have to sit down in front of a hot mic and communicate what you’ve learned in conversation with a host. If Continue Reading >

Understanding story structure in 4 drawings

Robert Smith is a correspondent with NPR’s Planet Money. 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 Continue Reading >

Don’t ‘radiosplain’ and other ways to report on communities that aren’t your own

Leila Day is a reporter and editor at KALW in the San Francisco Bay area.  A reporter-in-training once told me she wanted to give up on reporting. On one assignment in an unfamiliar community, people didn’t want to talk to her.  She felt out of place — and presumed people wouldn’t talk to her because she wasn’t Continue Reading >

NPR’s Emily Harris made this checklist to organize her story process

Note: Emily Harris is an NPR International Correspondent in Jerusalem. With so many different ways to tell stories, Emily created this checklist of questions to keep things organized. She kindly gave us permission to share it here. Emily notes the list is a work in progress — often more aspirational than actual. She welcomes suggestions for Continue Reading >

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 Continue Reading >

How to inject ‘documentary flair’ into your story

Linda Lutton is an education reporter at WBEZ in Chicago.  Editor’s Note: If you’ve ever covered something like a school board meeting and thought, “There’s no way I can make this interesting,” let Linda Lutton prove you wrong. This post is based on a Third Coast Festival presentation she gave at the 2015 PRPD conference about how to infuse Continue Reading >

NPR’s Howard Berkes: The fundamentals of field reporting

Correspondent Howard Berkes joined the NPR staff in 1981. He has covered space shuttle disasters, mine safety violations, the Unabomber and neo-Nazi groups, the rural American West, and many Olympics, just to name a few of his many subjects. His reporting has taken him all over the world. STEP ONE: Prepare Tap local knowledge. Consult local public media Continue Reading >

How to ‘interview’ a big pile of data

David Eads is a News applications developer for NPR Visuals. Follow him on Twitter @eads. You can also watch a video walkthrough of these tips. When confronted with a big pile of data, these tips will help you find sense in the numbers, find story ideas, and ask further questions. Like interviewing people, these techniques won’t necessarily uncover Continue Reading >

Before the first question: How to prepare for an audio interview

Rob Rosenthal is an independent producer and a teacher. This piece originally appeared on the public radio website,, and was republished with permission.  You have characters. Check. You have a sense of what you want to record for ambient sound and active tape (the close-up sound of people doing things). Check. You’ve researched the Continue Reading >

Active sound: How to find it, record it and use it

This guidance comes from an NPR seminar by Robert Smith and Jeff Rogers in March 2002. It is just as relevant today. Many of the ideas and advice were provided by Terry Fitzpatrick, Howard Berkes, Jonathan Kern, Sora Newman, and the APRN Focus News Workshop. Active sound makes a report sparkle. It is sound that isn’t Continue Reading >

Pitching to NPR? Our bureau chiefs share their process

On NPR’s National Desk, four bureau chiefs edit news stories from around the country. They are Andrea DeLeon (Northeast), Russell Lewis (South), Ken Barcus (Midwest), and Jason DeRose (West). This is their outline of the process for pitching a story for a news magazine such as All Things Considered or Morning Edition – and getting the Continue Reading >

On deadline? Follow these tips to get on the air fast

Say it’s 9:00am and you just got an assignment. It has to be on All Things Considered by 4:00pm. You may have to throw your dreams of perfection out the window, but you can still produce a satisfying story, if you use strategies like the ones described below. These tips are adapted from former NPR Continue Reading >

Radio 101: The life of a story from concept to air

If you are new to radio, this post should help demystify the process. This guidance comes from Jonathan Kern, author of “Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production.” It has been lightly edited.  First, you need a story. That may seem obvious, but often people begin by proposing an idea – the Continue Reading >

Write how you talk #1: The basics

As Robert Siegel is quoted in the book Sound Reporting, “This is one of the most commonly offered pieces of advice… and it’s one of the most commonly ignored.” Why is it so hard to write how we talk? One reason: It’s not how we’re taught. We learn to write with book reports, term papers, Continue Reading >

Once upon a time … and other devices for starting your story

It doesn’t matter how many phone calls you make, how much reporting you do, how much awesome tape you record. If the beginning of your story doesn’t grab listeners, they’re gone. And by “beginning,” we mean the first minute or so, intro included. The following ideas are prompts for getting started, but also structural frames Continue Reading >