inside story

One Step Script at a Time
By Bonnie Swift on 1/9/2014

We don’t know who this story comes from, and perhaps because the author remains anonymous, listening to The Age of Consent feels like being on the receiving side of a confessional booth. This story is essentially a series of incommodious admissions, portrayed through a series of vividly-narrated, increasingly intense moments. 


In the interest of protecting the author’s privacy, This American Life’s senior producer Julie Snyder reads the story on the air. It’s recounted in the first person, and centers on the author’s teenage daughter’s first foray into sexual activity.


Like any great story, this one is told in such a way that it feels organic and spontaneous, but also like any great story, it is actually very carefully engineered. In radio in particular, a story’s design remains well hidden because so much of its power comes from feeling authentic, intimate, and spontaneous.


Fresh Air Extraordinaire
By Bonnie Swift on 3/3/2013

A while back, I wrote a post about the expert kindness of Ira Glass, where I said that Glass’ gentle touch was the secret to his success in a risky interview situation. But I’d like to revise my argument here, to take into account the tactics of another interviewer par excellence, NPR’s celebrated Terry Gross.

Terry Gross is kind, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not gentle in the same way as Ira Glass. She has a way of probing her interviewee about their apparent contradictions, or their less than noble deeds, and once identifying a difficult point, she does not stop after a single question, but tends to push the point, and then push it again. Somehow, her persistent jabs do not come across as attacks.

How is this possible? Is it the neutral tone of her voice? Is it her genuine curiosity? Is it that her critical questions are preceded by and interspersed with praiseful ones?