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« What Child Is This? | Main | Art Imitates Life or Vice Versa? »

Sound Reporting, by Jonathan Kern

By Richard Head
December 26, 2009

I've stumbled on what has become a valuable resource for me as a citizen journalist, particularly for those times when I'll want to talk with someone directly in an interview.

A recent book entitled, Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production, has a wealth of information, tips and techniques, and personal accounts about "getting the story" from the NPR reporters we hear on public radio every day. Author Jonathan Kern is the Executive Producer for Training at NPR, and he has worked in almost every position in radio news, including executive producer of NPR's All Things Considered.

Now, before you dismiss the book as something you don't want to bother with because it's about audio recordings and radio, keep in mind that the majority of the book deals with topics contained in chapters that Kern titles "Fairness," "Reporting," "Field Producing," "Story Editing," "The Reporter-Host Two-Way," "Hosting," and "Beyond Radio," among others. So the material has terrific value for those times when you want to venture into direct interviews, rather than reporting what others have already written.

In an early chapter titled, "Writing for Broadcast," Kern contrasts a Washington Post story and an NPR story the same day about George Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina.

You have to give out information at the pace and in a form that allows people to absorb it. Successful radio writing--at a minimum--has to be intelligible to people who are listening, not reading the newspaper or watching TV...There are many ways to make acceptable radio writing better, but at the very least it has to be comprehensible the first time a person hears it. For most listeners, there isn't a second time.

My point in including that last phrase is that, as citizen journalists, we're in much the same situation because we'll seldom have a second chance to grab someone's attention. And we don't want to sound like mainstream media anyway; we want to sound more personal and down to earth--just the approach that radio takes.

In the chapter on Reporting, Kern lists seven "...qualities and skills shared by successful reporters of all stripes." Besides curiosity, skepticism, and a desire for the truth, a good reporter must be able to listen well and absorb information quickly. He then covers how to develop news sources, and how to get people to talk on the record.

In another chapter on Story Editing there are sections detailing how to identify the ingredients of a story, how to structure or sequence it, how to create intros and exits, and how to put new life into old story lines that need to be updated.

If you're looking for new tools and new ideas, this book should be a great addition to your bookshelf. And, at $13.60 from Amazon, it's a real bargain.

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