I was interviewed by Canadian producer Michelle Macklam for an article she wrote for the CBC’s Doc Project titled When the personal becomes public: the art of making intimate radio documentaries.
After producing her beautiful documentary Longing To Belong – about an adopted woman who reconnects with her biological parents – Michelle had questions about the different approaches and experiences of radio producers who work with these kinds of personal stories. My own PhD research is exploring these same questions, so we had lots to talk about.
There are also interviews with some of my favourite radio producers – Neil Sandell, Mira Burt-Wintonnik, and Tally Abecassis. I really liked the way the article came together. It’s so nice to have all these thoughts and perspectives in one place.
I recently presented the creative practice component of my PhD at the International Radio Conference at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. I led a 90 minute listening session and discussion which featured my 2 part radio documentary Murder in a Small Town.
It was a slightly terrifying but incredibly valuable experience to listen to my audio work in a room full of people and receive feedback. It was also great to unpack some of the ideas I’m exploring in my research. After completing the creative practice component of my PhD I’m interested in a closer examination of the relationship between the producer/storyteller and subject/storyteller, how this shapes the documentary process, and in turn, the final documentary product. I feel very lucky to spend more time with these ideas and I’m looking forward to digging deeper over the coming years.
While I was overseas I also visited and interviewed Danish radio making legend Rikke Houd. This recording will contribute to a series of research interviews I’m collecting about the different experiences of radio producers who work with personal narratives in their documentary work. I’m drawing on Rikke’s award winning radio piece Woman on the Ice. There’s a particular sensitivity in this style of radio that I deeply admire, and I loved spending time with Rikke and learning more about her storytelling approaches.
This has been my home for last few months- an editing cave at the ABC in Sydney.
I’ve been working on a 2 part radio documentary for ABC Radio National’s Earshot. It’s about a time from my childhood that’s always haunted me. In 1990 my school friend’s mother was murdered on their farm outside the small country town where I grew up. Over the last year, I’ve gone back to where it all happened, and have explored how the event affected the community and the families involved.
It’s been a long and involved process, so doing the final mix this week feels big. I’m working with Andrei Shabunov, one of the awesome sound engineers at the ABC.
This is perhaps the most exciting part of the process, witnessing the magic that brings all the sounds to life! Almost there…
The programs will be broadcast later this year.
I had heaps of fun chatting with fellow audio nerds Jaye Kranz, Tiger Webb and Heidi Pett on the Radio Gaga panel at Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival. We shared ideas about radio’s ‘New Journalism’ phase and how the role of the narrator might be shifting from a traditionally objective standpoint to a more subjective voice.
There are mixed feelings about this trend which is often seen as a shift to a more American style of radio. But I think it’s a great opportunity for producers to be a little less stodgy, or authoritative, and perhaps be more transparent about their role as storytellers within their work. We often make radio about things we genuinely care about, and as long as we don’t start stepping all over the story unnecessarily, an active voice might inject an authenticity into the work that we want to share. It might also help develop different creative audio styles and more distinct producer voices. You can really hear this in independent podcasts like Love and Radio and Strangers.
So if a subjective voice serves the story and moves the narrative forward in an interesting way, then why not utilise it? Perhaps the dilemma is how to not to let a ‘trend’ overtake the question of purpose, and consider what works best for each individual story.
I went to the Walkey Foundations’ Storyology conference in Sydney recently. It’s a gathering and information-blast for journalists and media-makers from Australia and overseas. Despite the slight depression in the air after the news of budget cuts and huge job losses at the ABC, there was still some inspiration to be had.
I really enjoyed the practical sessions like Aela Callan’s (Al Jazeera) ‘writing tight for TV and radio’ and ‘DIY Radio Doco’ with Gretchen Miller (ABC Radio National).
But my favourite session was Geraldine Doogue and David Leser in conversation about personal narratives. They talked about journalists crossing over into the unfamiliar territory of sharing their own story. They highlighted the increasing demand for ‘the personal’ in the media, and journalists’ hesitancy to share their own narrative. As Davis Leser pointed out:
“we set the conversation but never reveal our motivation”
David’s began writing his most recent book as a biography about his father, but it soon shifted to memoir.
“I couldn’t write about him without writing about myself”
He ended up producing a deeply personal portrait of father and son, and the complexities of family. For the first time, he turned his skills of investigation and truth seeking towards himself.
Geraldine shared her reluctance to write a memoir because she doesn’t feel ready to confront her grief over her husband’s death. But David argued that’s the perfect reason to write one. He suggested that writing about grief and writing through grief was the most cathartic way for him to recover after his father’s death.
“the writer’s job is to utter the unutterable and to find the truths that come to all of us….. [and] grief is what unites us. All those walls of separation drop in the valley of grief”
I found these two great thinkers incredibly honest and generous with their own experiences. And it definitely got me thinking more about the positives of being brave and sharing one’s own story, and how it might make us better equipped to help others share their personal story.
On the back of Third Coast I’ve spent a week in New York doing some more reserach interviews with radio producers and radio storytellers. I hung out with The Heart’s Kaitlin Prest and interviewed her in her bedroom closet- possibly the coolest sound-recording studio I’ve ever been in. With lace fabric hanging around us, we chatted about getting personal with interviewees, finding boundaries in an interview, and how at times- she nudges up against them. Kaitlin’s an incredible producer who deals with personal stories and matters of the heart. She’s also doing really pioneering creative audio work which you can listen to here. This is another interview I can’t wait to to transcribe and dig through more.
In keeping with my reserach on the experience of people who’ve shared their story on the radio, I’ve also chatted with some of the audio diarists from the Teen Diaries and Teen Diaries Revisited series. These started back in 1996 when Joe Richman gave a group of teenagers from around the US tape recorders and asked them to record their own lives. Then 16 years later, Joe followed up with 5 of the original diarists and produced the Teen Diary Revisited series.
I spoke with Melissa who was a teen mum back in 1996, and Josh who was struggling with his Tourettes. Talking about their original diaries there were some similarities to LeAlan Jones - they felt their audio documents captured a youthful innocence and important moment in their lives. It was also interesting to hear how keeping diaries as adults was perhaps harder because they were more self concious after the success of the earlier series and had a greater appreciation of the broadcast outcomes. I highly recommend listening to both pieces. They’re great examples of how hours of audio can be expertly crafted into short audio documentaries. Joe Richman is a master and the the whole series is fantastic. My interview with him also gleaned some insights from a man seriously dedicated to his art.
I also went to a Teen Diary Revisited event hosted by Joe Richman and the legendary Robert Krulwich from Radiolab. It was a great night and so interesting to hear Josh, Melissa and Amanda (another diarist from the Revisited series) chat about their audio diary experiences. A video recording of the night is available here.
I’m in Chicago at the moment doing some research interviews and gearing up for the Third Coast Conference this weekend.
On my first day in the city I met up with LeAlan Jones who shared his personal story in the seminal radio documentary Ghetto Life 101. In 1993, LeAlan (thirteen at the time) and his friend Lloyd Newman (fourteen) collaborated with public radio producer David Isay and produced audio diaries of their life in Chicago’s notorious South Side public housing projects. The boys’ candor, humor and honesty provided the listener with a direct perspective of the harsh realities of poverty and violence in their neighbourhood. Ghetto Life 101 won numerous awards and to this day is considered a significant work in the history of radio documentaries. Along with LeAlan and Lloyd’s follow up piece Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse (1996), these works championed a new style of self-authored storytelling on the radio.
My conversation with LeAlan is a part of a series of interviews I’m doing for my PhD research into the experience of people who share their story as part of a radio documentary. LeAlan and I chatted about how he feels listening to Ghetto Life and Remorse today. I was curious about how documenting his story all those years ago may have affected his life. One thing that came up was how LeAlan negotiates his youthful perspective and insights recorded in the documentaries, with his 35-year-old self today.
” the most difficult thing for anybody to be, is to be honest with them self. And for me, my life is disciplined by the voice of that 13 year old, and the honesty of the 13 year old”
I got the feeling that LeAlan’s story, eternalised on the public record, has been a check point for him throughout his life, and one that he is immensely grateful for. LeAlan also talked about how sharing his story gave him a stronger sense of his own “voice” and the importance of his own narrative:
“The voice is consistent [and] documentation is what allows humanity to evolve….. growing up I was very fascinated by ancient Egypt, [and] more importantly, I was always fascinated by the writing they had on those tombs …. So for me, the microphone is my ability to document my tomb. I mean I’m going to die one day, but I’m going to live forever through my voice”
I’m in Canberra this weekend doing some interviews for a new radio documentary. A few of my favourite things so far…..
- spending time with old friends and sharing stories
- setting up my gear all over a hotel room and nesting in out of the cold
- listening, logging, computering, and luxuriating in full immersion audio nerd time
- running around Lake Burly Griffin and soaking up the winter sun