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Behind the Scenes with Paul Ingles


What made you want to do the Taken Too Soon project?

This actually was one of those "middle of the night" ideas. I had recently talked with another producer about preparing holiday specials for stations to use. I recall waking up at 3:34 AM with the question in my head: What would be an appropriate special for Memorial Day this year? I thought of a roll call honoring the war dead but asked myself what was missing from what Americans had heard in that vein. It was the names of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who had been killed. That led to the idea of doing a program that blended the names of all casualty categories, including others -- like soldiers, contractors, and journalists from other countries -- whose names were rarely mentioned on American media.

How did you get the names and the stories of how the soldiers / journalists / civilians / contractors died?

There are a number of sites that are cataloging the information that the Defense Department has issued about those killed among coalition forces. I used CNN's site the most for the names of soldiers killed. Other Web sites featured listings of journalists and contractors. When I used one of those names, I would cross check the story with an online search that would usually turn up a newspaper article to confirm or add detail to what the other site said. As for Afghan and Iraqi civilian deaths, I started with iraqbodycount.org. It listed the findings of an on-the-ground survey of Iraqi civilian deaths done by the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict. Also Marc Herold, an American international economics professor, has done a lot of work researching the names of civilian casualties in both Afghanistan and Iraq, so I drew from his Web sites as well.

The ABC program Nightline made lots of headlines for devoting an episode to listing the names of soldiers who've died in Iraq, but they didn't include the stories of how they died. Why did you want to include this information?

Not to be sensational for sure. I just felt that just to say the names doesn't adequately connect the listener, or viewer, with the violent and chaotic nature of war. And even though it's difficult to hear, it's journalistically incomplete not to tell more of the story. It's not like "now they're here, now they're gone." In the case of the soldiers, they died doing their job but it's a very dangerous job and it seems important to acknowledge that. Some died trying to save others heroically, some died in tragic accidents, some died in direct combat, and many have died in car bomb incidents. It seems appropriate that to completely honor their sacrifice, it's best to acknowledge how dangerous their work is. Same with journalists and contractors. With the innocent civilians, they didn't sign up for the risk but they are dying nonetheless. Not to acknowledge the circumstances is somehow being dishonest with the reality of the situation.

There are about 135 names and stories told in the piece. How did you select the composition of the group?

I started by pulling about 300 names from all casualty constituencies from the various Web sites. It was mostly a random selection. I'd face a Web page with dozens of names, I'd close my eyes and scroll down, stop scrolling, open my eyes, and take down the name that my eye first focused on. I did want to be sure that I had a soldier from each U.S. state and soldier names from some of the other countries which had experienced losses in the war effort so I did select for that at first. As far as the final mix, I wanted there to be at least as many civilian names included as soldier names, even though the loss of civilian life is far higher. I tried to convey the high loss of civilian life by doing one five-minute portion that accurately represented the ratio of civilian deaths to coalition soldier deaths. Even at conservative estimates, that's 15 to 1. So one segment has 15 Iraqi civilian names followed by one solider's name. There was no science to the mix after that, other than spreading out the names from the different groups and giving some representation to each.

There are several radio producers heard over the hour. Why and how did you get everyone involved?

I knew a single voice reading the names would test listeners' patience. I went from the idea of asking a few people whom I knew to help voice it, to putting a call out to members of the Association of Independents in Radio to see who might be interested in contributing. So I posted an e-mail to the list asking for help and within 48 hours almost 40 producers said they'd be willing to read part of the list. After I compiled the entire list, I sent about eight names to each producer, they cut and edited their tracks in their own studios, and e-mailed them back to me. The result is a bit of novelty in the listening experience in that you're never sure what kind of voice you're going to hear next. And the multiple voices lends to this sense of shared sacrifice that I was going for. We didn't list the names of the producers who contributed their voices during the show. It would have taken up too much time. But their names are on the Web site and I hope they know how much I appreciate their participation.

The Voices: Ali Adelman, Deborah Begel, Michelle Betz, Maeve Conran, Bob Davey, Jamila Davey, Stasia DeMarco, Stephen Erickson, PW Fenton, Tim Forrest, Kate Fotopoulos, David Gans, Rachel Goodman, Roberta Griego, Ashley Gross, Paul Ingles, Rachel Kaub, Bob Leedom, Karen Lewellen, Thomas Marzahl, Amy Mayer, Don McIver, Evan Moulson, Paul Nelson, Nanci Olesen, Lu Olkowski, Claire Schoen, Kerry Seed, Sandra Sleight-Brown, Nancy Solomon, Katie Stone, Polly Stryker, Jim Terr, Rhoda Weill, Eric Whitney

What did you want to get out of the piece? What kind of emotions are you trying to evoke?

I don't produce radio with the intent of evoking any particular emotion from listeners. In one way, like all art, the piece is a reflection of my own take on things. Personally, I can't think about just the sacrifice of American soldiers without thinking about people from other countries who have also sacrificed. And I especially can't think about war without thinking about non-combatants who wind up dead. So, I put it out there and people will feel what they feel. Some will be offended that I took a holiday that is meant to only honor Americans who have died in service to the country, and added names of people from other countries. Some will think it's an appropriate connection to make. Some will find it too uncomfortable to listen to and turn it off. I expect some will listen intently and be moved emotionally. Some will be agitated politically. Some will find it tedious listening. Some will find it riveting.

Do these stories represent what is missing for the coverage of the war? Does the piece stand on its own or act as a supplement to typical war coverage?

You could look at it that way I suppose. I was certainly motivated in part by the fact that every day for three years we've heard news reports of another 12, 20, 66 Iraqis killed in the fighting and classified as "collateral damage," but we never hear their names or their stories. The U.S. military certainly doesn't want to publicize the incidents, whether the deaths are the result of coalition operations or from insurgent activity, so the stories aren't generally told here in the U.S. The other reasons the stories of civilian casualties aren't told are that a) there are so many and b) many American broadcasters can't pronounce the Arabic names. So why bother, they say, "Let's just say 23 died today." But if we find it appropriate to single out some of our own war dead and tell soldiers' stories, it seemed to me, on this one occasion, for this one program, we can afford the time and effort to spotlight some of the stories of Iraqis and Afghans killed.

Is there something about the stories being told through audio that makes them more compelling? Would a written work be equally effective?

I think people would be more willing to listen to such a list and the short stories about the deaths rather than read it. But the people who maintain the Web sites obviously feel that it's worthwhile to document it in print. There might be compelling ways to do something similar in print. I'll leave that up to print people to explore that.

As it was coming together, was there anything that surprised you about the piece or the process?

As with almost any project, it always takes longer than you think. The hardest part of this one was getting accurate phonetic pronunciations of the Arabic names in the list. A couple of our volunteer producers who speak Arabic stepped in to do phonetic spellings to help the others who didn't speak Arabic. I also have an Iraqi friend in town who helped me with most of the names. We sat in a coffee shop for a couple of hours one day going over the list. He'd say the name, I'd write it phonetically, then get those pronouncers out to my volunteer announcers. I'm sure a few people sitting near us in the coffee shop were trying to work out just what we were up to. In the end, I'm sure that some of our Arabic pronunciations missed the mark a bit -- but at least we tried. There was also some variance in recording quality of all the announcers since they used a variety of equipment and settings to make their recordings. Some did it in top of the line studios, some did it into a minidisc machine at their kitchen table. In other projects, I'd have been more selective and not use the less pristine recordings but in this case I let them go because again, it offered some degree of variety to the sound of the voices. It gave more of a sense that these voices were, in fact, coming from all over the place. I also intended on saying more about the people in the lists -- something about their families, their hobbies, what they were like. But when I realized that that kind of information was only available about the American soldiers, through more detailed home-town newspaper accounts, and not about everyone I was planning to list, I decided not to use it for anybody. I should say something about the music. I have several musician friends whose music seemed to fit the contemplative mood of the piece. We didn't take up time to list their names during the program but we do have them on our Web page for the program. I also used two vocal tracks that to me evoke the sense of loss. One is Eddie Vedder and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn singing "The Long Road" from the Dead Man Walking CD. The other is Bruce Springsteen's "Missing" from The Rising .