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BEHIND THE SCENES with Jen Nathan **


Could you tell us a little bit about how you came across this story

The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies loves to throw its students into the thick of documentary storytelling. On our first weekend, they drove us up to the tiny town of Machias, Maine, and said, "Good luck! Now go find a story." Since no one in my group had been to Machias before, we decided to explore the town through its yard sales. An ad in the local paper said, "Final Moving Sale. Everything Must Go. Lots of Firewood." My group -- five very talented writers, photographers, and radio makers -- knew there would a story there. We spent the weekend working on the story together. It was meant to be a short-term assignment, but my group graciously allowed me to follow Cedric and John for the rest of the semester

What was most striking to you about John and Cedric's friendship when you first met them

John and Cedric had the rapport of an old married couple. They bickered and teased each other, but it was clear that they cared for each other deeply. They both had health problems (John had lung cancer and Cedric needed an oxygen tank). The tender yet matter-of-fact way these two old friends looked after each other made it clear that this was a story that needed to be told

Do you have a relationship with Cedric now? Has he heard the piece? I sent Cedric a cassette of the piece. He said it's "A very nice story" and that he listens to it often. We kept in touch via phone calls and letters for about a year until he moved into a nursing home in Machias. I don't have his address or phone number there and I've changed phone numbers since then. I'm afraid we've lost touch, but I think of him often and wish I could send him a letter or give him a call. The next time I'm in Maine I'll try to track him down

The scenes in this piece are made rich through your precise use of sound. How did you decide upon this sound design

Salt instructor Rob Rosenthal and my entire class were a huge help in defining the sonic elements of this story. We had a lengthy discussion about how long John's cough should be towards the end of the piece. It was over one-minute long in real life, but we all knew that it wasn't fair to John or to the listener to use the entire thing. We decided that just a few seconds would communicate the severity of John's illness without exploiting him or making the listener too uncomfortable. However, it still makes me cringe every time I hear it

How did you approach your narration in this piece? Finding the right tone for the narration was difficult. It's such a serious topic, so I couldn't sound upbeat, yet I didn't want my voice to be sappy or melodramatic either. Honestly, I wanted to give the listener the basic facts of the situation and get out of the story as much as possible. That's why there is almost no narration at the end of the piece. I wanted Cedric and John to speak for themselves

You wrote an article on the Association of Independents in Radio Web site, discussing journalistic access in delicate personal situations. Could you tell us a little bit about the article

There's no easy way to approach making a documentary -- especially on a subject as intimate as death. It's difficult to know when to push for more access and when to back off and give your subjects a chance to breathe. AIR wanted to explore these challenges and asked me to reflect on my experience producing "A Square Meal, Regardless." AIR has since featured a follow up article by Alex van Oss. Alex critiques two other pieces about death by Gary Covino and Lu Olkowski and gives them each a chance to explain their approach and the decisions they made along the way

You run www.publicradioredux.com. Can you tell us a little bit about the site and its mission

My dear friend and colleague Erin Mishkin and I started Public Radio Redux as a place to spread the word about great radio storytelling. We both spend so much time telling friends and family about all our favorite radio pieces that it only made sense to invite everyone to the party. In the future, we'd love to make it more of a social media site where people can recommend pieces to their friends and post reduxes of their favorite stories. In the mean time, folks can make comments on the pieces we like and keep up with even more public radio goodness on Radio Public, Radio Sweethearts, The Mediavore, Mornings with NPR, and a slew of other public radio sites that keep popping up

What are you up to in radio-land now

I just started work at New Hampshire Public Radio as the senior producer of their midday show Word of Mouth . It's an innovative show all about what's new -- from science and technology to food, art, music, and architecture. It's a blog, a radio show, and a place to get together to talk about how our world is changing.