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BEHIND THE SCENES with Sarah Neal-Estes


Let's start with the Brief History of ASR..

Like many journalism schools, Indiana University School of Journalism cut its audio program in the 1990's. But now, with audio audiences growing each year, we have the opportunity to rebuild. In the planning stages in 2011, Interim Dean Michael Evans and I decided to blend the benefits of student radio, classroom instruction and newsroom internships, "Why not combine them?" So, through two courses and a club, ASR students have editorial and creative freedom, course instruction, student internships with NPR affiliates and direct access to nationally acclaimed audio professionals (more on that key factor below)

We made it national for two reasons. A national publication gives our students a place to develop storytelling skills, to learn to identify information that would be equally valuable to anyone anywhere. It also allows us to invite students everywhere, of any age, living at any location. We now have almost 100 student members, many are not enrolled in the classes and about 20 attend other schools. We want to do this because we believe journalistic audio is not only a great way to relay information to busy people using mobile devices, it is also (and more interestingly) suited for relaying the type of information that makes people want to understand each other. We think that, the more young people are introduced to this and learn how to thoughtfully represent themselves and others through audio, the better the world will be

We are just over a year old now and still building the national program. This next year will focus on extending training resources to more students and networking with other journalism programs (we want to brag on and share everyone's great audio work)

How many shows are currently in production

Let's see... Stuff You Pretend to Know (where we hope to clean ourselves up for pleasant, intelligent dinner conversation), Sportsmanlike Conduct (our sports show), Local Nation (students travel and report on local music scenes in different cities - Nashville, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh...), WordShop (our feature show), The New Black (fashion meets the collegiate psyche and closet), Oh The Places We Go! (an audio blog about studying abroad) and three shorts series that tell stories about memories, tattoos and the things we love and hate to do... or just do ... so six feature /talk /reporting shows and three shorts series, so: nine

What do you think draws students to the program

They love great audio stories. And really, who doesn't? But before that, what gets them to enroll or become a member, is one of two things. First, many want to work for or design their own public radio show. In the last year, specifically, students have been obsessed with one of the following: TAL, Radiolab , Snap Judgment , State of the Re:Union , NPR news magazines in general, 99% Invisible , Love + Radio , The Moth , Story Corps and TED. Second, while most of the rest of the students also have warm feelings for certain public radio shows, they really start the program because they understand that audio is a great way to get information to busy people using mobile devices

Once in the class, they love production. But I think the biggest thing they enjoy, besides their own work, is the phenomenal instructional support we enjoy from truly amazing, award winning professionals. Nikki Silva, Peter Breslow, Soren Wheeler, Tamara Keith, Amy Mayer and Libby Casey have given audio production lessons by Skype, phone and in person since the very very beginning, when ASR was just one audio class. And each semester the list of very busy audio producers who are incredibly generous with their time grows, including Tina Antolini, Julie Shapiro, Robert Smith, Jay Allison and Ira Glass. Thank you all so much, your generosity makes all the difference

What's surprised you most about the stories students have produced with ASR, as Faculty Director

They are fearless and have endless enthusiasm. I'll list a few examples

Assignment: "Try this fun, Radiolab production style," and this is Robb Jacobson's FIRST audio piece, I don't think he'd even held a mic before

And then our newsiest show, Stuff You Pretend To Know , produced an episode on South Sudan... right? They live in Indiana. In this episode, which Daniel Kuol recounts his story as one of The Lost Boys of Sudan and NPR Africa Correspondent Gwen Tompkins and IU history professor Michelle Moyd help us understand the fight over resources that fueled the civil war.

A few students wanted to make a music show, and I'm all for any kind of music show, and what they came back with is more like State of the Re:Union meets All Songs Considered . They travel (on their own dime) to a different city each semester and report on one aspect of that music scene for about three days.

Every week - they record clear voice tracks under pillows, research their b*tts off, compose sound for things they can't record (like concussions), delve into hard topics like sexual assault, and teach people without equipment to record on their iphones. These kids are amazing

What are ASR's near and distant goals for the future

Near goals... A studio and more equipment? :) We want to host a Traveling Transom Workshop and work as much with Rob Rosenthal and Jay Allison, Jones at Generation PRX and everyone in the audio education community, as they will allow us to/have time for/will put up with

Distant goals... In the following years, I hope we will make ASR a go-to opportunity for a broad range of students interested in audio - those who want to dedicate their lives to it and those who want to pick up professional-level skills. Overall, we want to open up more audio opportunities (production and enjoyment) to more people. It is my belief that conscientious audio stories bolsterour community and that it helps everyone if more people know how to produce them

BEHIND THE SCENES with ASR students Lynn Beavin, Barton Girdwood, Lauren DelPlete, Rochelle LeBreck, Lauren Linder and Eddie Suarez

Describe your process for putting together a WordShop (WS) show. Who does what? How do you decide on which stories to include

Lauren DelPrete ( WordShop senior producer): The first step to creating a WS episode begins with searching in the ASR archives for unused features from past semesters. Next, WS staff meets and picks a word for the upcoming episode that relates to the archival pieces. Since the three features have very little to do with each other, it often takes some creative writing to make each piece fit together under one word

Once the word is chosen, staff pitches story ideas for the remaining pieces and distributes the stories to WordShop reporters. As senior producer, my job is to stay in contact with the reporters, and to assist them with any issues that come up along the way. Once all three stories have been reported, I do the final edits and mix them down into a final audio file. Then the ASR staff and I choose the order of the pieces, I write the script and then I choose the music for the episode

With only three weeks until it was set to air, WordShop #11: LOVE was composed of three archived pieces. Considering Valentines Day was just around the corner, and Rochelle Lebreck's ultimate story about love, the word for the episode was an obvious choice. Lauren Linder's piece, a compilation of personal accounts from all over the country about how the 9/11 tragedies affected them, was a bit of a challenge to fit under this word. But what made it work in the end was that through each person's reaction to that day, the story highlighted the patriotism and love that Americans felt for their country after such tragic events. Lastly, Lynn Beavin's good-humored, quirky story about her love for late night grocery shopping was the perfect addition to this episode, and definitely stretched the context for exploring "love"

How does their "audio-ness" impact these stories? Would you tell them differently, with visual aids

Lynn Beavin: This piece ( Brown Bag ) just seemed to fit perfectly as an audio story, capturing the trippy and fluorescent atmosphere of late-night grocery muzak, goofiness of the self-check machine's voice, or the occasional profound moment between fellow sleepy shoppers and stockers

Lauren DelPrete: What makes these three stories so special is that they were completely meant for audio. In print, the stories of grocery shopping, true love and 9/11 are just any other story, but when told in audio, the creative possibilities are endless. For example, Lynn's grocery store piece is neither newsy enough for print nor dramatic enough for television, but between her heartfelt description of Kroger at night, the Kroger employee's raspy voice, grocery carts slamming into each other and items being rung up and being placed into bags – this piece is audio gold

Rochelle's Blush is another perfect example of a story that was meant to be told in audio. The fragility and age within Rochelle's grandmother's voice, makes a quote like, "Never trust a boy who kisses you on the neck," make sense. Also, the way Rochelle incorporated clips from old movies and Sinatra songs brings the reader straight to the 1930's, where the story was set

Eddie Suarez: I can't imagine a world without sound. I feel like radio lets your imagination flow and expand while television constricts your brain to what the producer wanted you to see. "Audio-ness" frees your brain. I feel like visual aids would detract from the magic radio gives. Think of it like reading Harry Potter vs. watching the movies. I liked the version that I created in my head far better than the one on the screen

I have a theory that every producer has a "favorite moment" in her/his stories. What are yours

Lynn Beavin: I loved what Smokey had to say. I only interviewed him for about five minutes but he opened up right away. I wanted to get to just the very salt of what he had to say in the piece, and some of my favorite moments were Smokey's laugh and his pithy quotes about getting help for people and providing customer service

Barton Girdwood: When I'm building out a story, I'm always working towards that gut-wrenching moment that gets people to cry. I can't help it. I was raised on the Academy Awards. And it's that tendency, I think, that keeps me from seeing the humor in my own pieces. But it's when you put it in front of an audience and suddenly they're laughing at something, and you're sitting in the back having that epiphany of "omg, that quote is hilarious"-- that's my favorite moment in a piece. My favorite moments are the little things that an audience reveals to me about something I put together

Rochelle LeBreck: My favorite moment (in Blush ) is definitely when my nana says "do I talk into it like this?" It is such a real moment and shows the generational gaps between the young and the old. It is natural, and prepares the audience for the story that is about to be told. It is also just a silly moment. I had explained to my Nana how to work it and she still double checked, and catching the moment on the audio tape was priceless

Lauren Linder: My favorite moments in my piece are those places where I feel the emotion of a memory or the intensity from a news clip. For example, near the beginning of my piece I have a news clip of Matt Lauer saying, "so the questions have to be asked was this purely an accident or could this have been an intentional act." Following this sound bite I used a clip from one of my interviews which said, "everybody thought at first it was an accident." Finally, I inserted a clip of reporter Don Dahler, at the time for ABC News, saying, "it does not appear that there's any kind of an effort up there yet now remember, oh my god!..." This ‘oh my god' marks the time when the second plane hit. You can hear the studio crew echo Dahler saying ‘oh my god' and then hear Diane Sawyer say ‘oh my god.' This sequence of clips flows so perfectly as it tells the event almost exactly as it happened. Following the first plane, there was confusion for both reporters and viewers as to whether it was an accident or on purpose. You can hear this confusion in these clips and hear and feel the intensity of the traumatic situation

Eddie Suarez: For this piece ( Don Fidel ) definitely when I blended my dad singing now with him singing when he was six. By my luck, he was in the same key! Couldnt believe how well it transitioned perfectly

What draws you to audio storytelling, as a medium

Lynn Beavin: I love that, in depriving us of other senses, audio enriches the listening and hearing experience. By depriving certain sensory inputs, audio makes us think about things - often even everyday things that we see or smell, perhaps, on a habitual basis - in a new way

Lauren DelPrete: What I love about audio storytelling is the ability to connect with the listener on a really personal level. Whether it be listening to a story or the transition music that is fading in and out, audio can truly be a mood changer. For example, in the "Love" episode, I used Bob Marley's "Is This Love" to begin the episode. Every time I hear that song I want to raise the volume and sing along; there isn't another song that puts me in a better mood

Barton Girdwood: Audio requires the producer and their audience to meet halfway, somewhere in between the real and the fantastic. A producer's job is to give their audience road signs in the mind; the producer gets us to where we're going. But the audience takes those road signs and brings them to life, giving hands and feet and movement to a voice. And when something takes place in the mind it adds a little magic. Just like when I was little, and I'd play with action figures. The setting and voices for my characters weren't in front of me; they were in my head. And it was because they were in my head that I could experience my action figures' fantastic world. And yeah, audio is the quickest route to getting into the mind, making it come alive, asking it to experience the fantastic. I guess that's why I love audio storytelling

Rochelle LeBreck: Audio storytelling is like reading a great book. You can't get enough of the characters, the storyline and the emotional tie you have to it. I never knew that you could tell such a heartwarming story through sound. However, after a couple of interviews and putting together a puzzle of sound, I realized I put together a book of sound. And now I want to create more books of sound

Eddie Suarez: "Everyone you ever meet knows something you don't" -Bill Nye