How do you reinvent storytelling for digital devices?For starters, let’s look at how we’ve reinventing radio all these years. The unfair, but funny, stereotype is that public radio is staid, and monotone, but in reality we’ve been constantly changing
The unfair (but funny) stereotype is that public radio is staid, and monotone. I’m sure we do have shows like this. In reality, our storytelling has been changing for 40 years, and not predictably.All things considered is still my favorite after 20 years. When This American Life came out, it didn’t sound anything like anything that came before it. And then Radiolab did it again. And then Planet Money made mortgage stories and economics sexy. When This American Life came out, there was nothing that sounded anything like it. Then RadioLab came out. And then a few years ago, Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg took an hour to explain how the mortgage crisis led to the financial collapse. That was “the Giant Pool of Money”, it won every award imaginable and spawned a new show, “Planet Money”.
There is a critical tool, one skill that reporters and editors have used for 40 years that keeps us pushing boundaries.Editors are the folks who help radio reporters decide how to tell their story on air.
Walk into an editor’s office with your script, and to this day, some of them don’t want to read. Instead, they close their eyes, and listen to you read it. They want to know how it sounds.It doesn't matter with you're writing stories or building apps to host them. Your ears are one of your best assets and good tech can’t save bad storytelling.
It doesn't matter with you're writing stories or building apps. Your ears are one of your best assets and good technology can’t save bad storytelling.Tools change. We used to cut tape with razorblades. Now we can record, edit, mix, and file a story from an iPhone.As a platforms guy, I think about the new capabilities they bring.One approach to reinventing storytelling is asking ,”what can we do on digital platforms that we can’t do radio.
One approach to reinventing storytelling is asking ,”what can we do on digital platforms that we can’t do radio. In 2010 I worked with radio correspondent Robert Smith on a location-based mobile prototype we called “You Are Here”We asked ourselves what does radio sound like when we know where you’re listening. The second thing we wanted to know was whether we could take classic old stories, hack them for a new purpose, and give them a second lifeOur first exercise was Robert’s idea.
Our first exercise was Robert’s idea.We each took a city - Robert did NYC, I did DC – and we dove into the archives to see what we could find. In a few hours we’d found some sample stories, plotted google maps to understand our story coverage, and loaded the audio onto our phones. We then hit the street to listen with our eyes OPEN.
It was exhilarating. Some stories fell flat and many were incredible.I was walking to Fords theater as I listened to the last story, which was about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth sitting on the steps of the theater, plotting to kill the president. Shots fired. Guards bringing out a dying lincoln to where – there!I was having a moment of revelation.
After that, we could tell what worked by reading a transcript aloud. Certain types of stories were more natural, the narrative was really importantWe had a lot of leeway with location, Proximity was important. The old audio was also a great experience listening remote. We bundled stories into neighborhoods and themes to create little packages of curated listening.Robert had another big takeway. When we do host intros on a radio show, we tell you why you’re hearing a story today, We purposely date it!Robert recorded the intros to remove those references, but in many cases he was also able to hack the entire story angle to make it more compelling on location.
Here’s the original host intro.It’s a remembrance. So Robert repositioned it as a location narraritve.
Robert Audio Recut Part II
Was it gimmicky? Maybe. Is there something there, absolutely.Could public radio do something big with location? We could if we all partnered together with local stations.Krissy Clark is here from KQED and she and StoryCorps debuted a location project last May in New York.
(That was “what can we do on digital platforms that we can’t do on radio).Here’s our second angle: can we make something as simple and wonderful as radio, with a digital twist. This is my radio. 3 knobs. Morning Edition fills my kitchen as I make coffee. I don’t have to do anything else, the show gives me a little bit of everything, it’s never the sameWe set off on a continuous listening project
My colleagues Michael Yoch and Demian Perry come up with a simple concept of what a continuous player should do . It should give you a gift. Give me what I wantGive me what I needDon't give me the same thing twiceSurprise me. The most important one there is “what I need”. We're a news org, we can't just give you what you want. There are some things everyone should know.
The most important one there is “what I need”. We're a news organization, and there are things you need to know. We can’t just play what you want to hear. We decided to include the hourly newscast in the player. Our editors are prioritize our coverage around the clock, so we also decided to put a healthy dose of editorial judgment into the player.
Those were our guiding principles. We briefly entertained the idea of doing more concepting. And then we all decided – we need to build it NOW so that we can HEAR how it works. Then, we can go back and do more thinking, but until we can listen, it’s all just hypothetical.So we built the Infinite Player for us in about 2 weeks. It just happened to be good enough to share. Bonus: there were some surprises
Back to “surprise me”, On our first few days of testing, the Infinite Player threw out a 5 year old story about a Priest who lets his college roommate decide what he gives up for Lent. We were wondering why we got it, and then realized it was Ash Wednesday.WOW. We need to preserve the serendipity of radio. WOW. How joyful. That’s the kind of timely thing we do on the radio.
We need to remember public radio’s strength is local communities. We launched with 3 station partners and see huge We see huge possibilities for stations and local audiences across all devices and platforms.Imagine driving out of Washington DC, and the player automatically adjusts its local news mix from WAMU to WHYY as you approach Philadelphia
WE have to preserve the shared listening experience. We talk about Krulwich pieces at the water cooler and StoryCorps pieces make us call our moms. We need the local pieces that connect us to our neighbors. WE have to keep that. Everyone wants to be included. Don’t leave anyone out.Shared community – you need to hear that krulwich story eveyrone is talking about. You also need to hear those local pieces that connect you to your neighbors. Whatever we do, we need keep making audio that SOUND like us.What about local stations? Bread and butter of our community feel
Thank you all for listening. And if you like what you just heard, please consider giving to your local public radio station
How can we reinvent radio for digital platforms? - News Foo 2011
How do we reinvent radio for digital platforms? Javaun Moradi, NPR @javaun