For my audio project, I wanted to create a true story, documentary style piece, styled similarly to documentaries heard on BBC Radio 4 and podcasts like This American Life and Radiolab. I wanted to emulate a particular intimate interviewing techniques that I had previously heard on podcasts such as the story showcased in an episode of This American Life called anatomy of doubt. As this story unfolds, the interview is carried out in such a way to capture the emotions of the interviewees which helps bring the audience into the story and understand the personal struggles of each person involved in the piece. This style of interview does not edit out audible sobbing or snuffling from the participants, which help the piece convey an important sense of realism.
As someone who has survived sexual abuse and feel that it is an important issue to confront and speak of, I wanted to produce a piece about my similar experiences as a teenager. Unfortunately, I was advised that this topic might be too much to confront personally and was advised to come up with another idea. I regret that I maybe should have made a more compelling pitch that showed the structure and delivery of such a piece that still delivered a deeply personal piece, but also showed that I had considered an approach that would still be protective of my own mental wellbeing broaching such a tough topic.
Still wanting to remain true to the style of producing work that means something to me personally I decided to create a personal piece about my journey towards coming to terms with and understanding my recent diagnosis of dyslexia and dyspraxia. When I was researching what dyspraxia actually meant I found that most adults who are diagnosed later in life past their teens struggle to understand what the disability is and what it means going forward. This piece was intended not only to satisfy my audio project but also as a cathartic way to research and deliver a compelling piece about the disability and its effects, which might be able to help others to understand the confusing nature of dyspraxia as well as hoping that I would learn more about it myself.
Because I changed my idea a little late into the term, it meant that I had a little less than the idea amount of time to organize and arrange interviewees for the piece. MY first port of call was to find a charity to speak to that may have contacts with people who were willing to speak to me for the piece in the hope of raising awareness. I contacted the Dyspraxia Foundation and spoke with a representative about my course, recent diagnosis and plan for the piece and she was able to put a call out on their social media accounts asking if ambassadors and people who have worked with the charity in the past would be interested in taking part in an interview. She got back in touch with me a few days later with a list and contact information from a few people who would like to be involved. Unfortunately, there were a number of reasons why some of these people would not work from scheduling conflicts that meant that some of these contacts would not be able to contribute to the piece until long after the deadline date past. There were some of the contacts that I spoke to on the phone that I deemed as not right for the piece. This was due to some advice I had heard from Gimlet podcast founder Alex Bloomberg that mentioned that just because someone has something interesting to say does not mean they are a good interview subject, especially if they lack charisma despite having expertise in the subject. This was talked about indepth on an educational podcast about podcasting and radio production called Gimlet academy and the episode it was featured in was “The Search for engaging voices.”
This left me with just one person from that contact list that I knew I would be able to conduct and interesting and articulate interview with.
When looking for work experience I spoke with a Senior Editor at the Daily Mail newspaper called Struan Robertson who offered me work experience in the Daily Mail offices. Although I have an interest in producing journalistic audio projects, I did not feel like this would have been a good fit as I found out that most of the work experience would be more geared towards maintaining articles on their online website than producing any sort of journalistic work. Whilst this would provide experience working in a professional office environment, it was removed from the audio based work I was keen to learn about and gain valuable experience in.
I then was able to reach out through my network of past and present student colleagues at the University of Westminster and get in contact with the Technical Manager at talkSPORT and talkRADIO. When discussing the working role, he had available, although it lacked in the journalistic side of the experience I ideally wanted to pursue, it was a Technical Operations role that did involve working with industry standard equipment and software like Burli and Zetta, working under the guidance of Producers to help play a role in live speech broadcast. Working as a tech op to Penny Smith each weekend allowed to not only learn how to use industry standard desks and software, but also allowed for me to gain an insight into a seasoned industry interviewer and their technique as well as the role of the producers and assistant producers who help to bring everything in the show together and ensure it runs smoothly. Being a part of these broadcasts has helped raise my confidence in my technical abilities while learning about the complexities of other job roles in the industry.
Since I’ve started working at talkRADIO, I have experienced the extremely busy and often chaotic world of live radio. It’s all well and good having a plan A, B and C, but I have seen that a lot of the time, all it takes is somebody to not answer a phone call, or for a skype connection to be bad, to throw the production plan off for the morning, so being able to have as many contacts or back up options as your memory on your computer will allow for will be vital. I think I really underestimated the importance of having a well maintained and up to date client book, with info on what they do and what they are like on air. The rapport you have with the people you build connections with I have noticed can be the key to a great interview or not being able to get people to speak on a show.
Finding a commission was very hard at the start. Because my idea had changed and I was having to start a new idea, my focus was on getting interviews and creating a piece of audio, and I let getting a commission become somewhat of an afterthought. Although I had a streak of luck as the show producer I work with at Talk had taken an interest in my project. I have been very open with my diagnosis, and have spoken with her about it, so when I mentioned I made a piece about my diagnosis, she asked to listen to it and said she would love to commission the piece and will use it when she is building a show focused towards that topic. I have learnt from this, that being open, speaking with people, and taking a bit of pride on your work, enough to speak with others, could be really useful for me in the future. I know this is not the conventional way to obtain a commission, and it meant I did not have to work to a brief set by a client, so this is something I will hopefully get more experience of in the future.
I plan for the next 12 to 18 months growing my skills as a tech op, gaining valuable experience and contacts, after which I would like to move on to more production based roles. Ideally, I would like to work as a producer or editor for factual based programming, with more journalistic reporting than the live environment that I am currently working in. However, I recognize the value of the experience that is gained through working through the ranks. This can help extend not only my technical skillset, but most importantly, my network of contacts that will prove extremely vital when I hope to move on to making larger scale documentary pieces. It also provides valuable experience on working under pressure to tight deadlines which must be met at all costs, which is extremely important in my development.
My 5-step professional development plan with be to start with building a solid database of contacts, as right now I have contacts spread across different social medias, and it needs to be on one centralized system. The secont part of this development plan will include attending more networking events. I am quite a shy person so this will hopefully be a good challenge for me. Hopefully the more I network, the wider range of interesting and useful people I will come across.
My third step will be to bring together a collection of my work and build a web portfolio and/or website. I have never been an overly active person on social media in my private life, so the thought of creating a ‘social media presence’ still feels a little alien to me, but I know it’s important, so I will make more of an effort to publish my work online, show case my abilities.
My fourth step is to seek out mentorship – or somebody who will take me under their wing, hopefully in an area more focused on the style and genre of radio reporting I hope to be able to create in time. It is always extremely useful to have someone who has a lot of experience to offer critical feedback on projects as sometimes you become to married to certain ideas or have spent too long working on something to realise that it won’t work or could be approached differently. This is something I have found beneficial in previous pieces of work. In the past, I have spoken with Simon Elmes, for guidance and direction on pieces I have made for university, and have found his knowledge and expertise invaluable.
My final goal is to start actively applying for entry level work as an editor in factual audio production. My first port of call will always be people I have met previously if they know of any positions, as I have found radio is quite a small world, and failing that, I would look into positions and commissions for stations such as BBC 4 and BBC world service. The podcasting that I enjoy is currently the US based programming such as NPR and Gimlet media’s plethora of programming, If I could create a story telling format of a similar style that holds more appeal to a UK based audience, that would be my dream.