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Storytelling tips and best practices

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What’s in your bag, Gregory Warner?

For this month’s What’s In Your Bag we reached out to Gregory Warner, host of the new NPR podcast Rough Translation. His work has taken him across Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now he is based in New York City after a long stint as NPR’s East Africa correspondent. He carries all of the essential gear

You asked: How can I get better at standups?

On-scene narration, often called a “standup,” can lend your stories a feeling of urgency, momentum and — when appropriate — drama. When we say audio stories “take you there,” standups are one of the best ways to achieve that. You — the reporter or producer — turn the microphone on yourself and give listeners in-the-moment observations or insights.

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

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

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

3 simple ways to find story ideas

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 and humorous anecdotes. We asked her to some of those ideas in this post. It’s a great starting point for the next time you’re

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!

How audio stories begin

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 One, we can see the listener tuning in, becoming captivated or dropping out. It’s exciting … and terrifying. Visualizing

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.

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

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.

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

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 like them. She thought it was different for me, a person of color.

A checklist to organize your story process

With so many different ways to tell stories, I created this checklist of questions to keep things organized. The list is a work in progress — often more aspirational than actual. Pitch time Is this a radio story, web story or both? (Consider content and turnaround time) What visuals would make this an exciting story

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 inject ‘documentary flair’ into your story

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 documentary-style radio into everyday reporting (even when you think you don’t have

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

How to ‘interview’ a big pile of data

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 a smoking gun. In fact, such analysis rarely leads to great insights. That’s precisely why learning how to quickly ask some basic

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

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 topic and the people in the story. And, you’ve got a rough outline of how you think the story might be told. Check. Check.

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

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

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

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

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,

‘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