How Does This American Life Do What They Do? A Narrative Writing for Radio Course


We are living in what some are calling “The Golden Age of Narrative Radio.” Shows like This American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, Snap Judgment, and numerous other story-driven shows not only dominate podcasts and airwaves but also have created the paradigm for emerging shows like 99% Invisible, Love + Radio, and many others. This class will teach students the practicalities of how narrative radio journalism works as we explore what this narrative movement means for the future of audio journalism. Students will learn practicalities—e.g., pitching these shows by using actual “call for stories” from This American Life and Snap Judgment; the fundamentals of how to record and mix stories using the latest digital editing technology; what narrative editors expect from freelancers; how to adapt a written piece for broadcast; and what kinds of narrative internships are available. We will reflect on the theoretical and ethical considerations for this “Golden Age of Narrative Radio.” We will listen to and analyze works from established shows such as This American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, and Planet Money, along with works from emerging shows such as Love + Radio, Snap Judgment, Audio Smut, 99% Invisible, The Organist, and many others. We will ask questions such as: How does imposing narrative structures affect nonfiction storytelling? How do narrative shows deal with ethical missteps? What does it mean to have “a voice”? Does it matter who gets to tell the story? (Answer on the last question, “Yes.” We’ll discuss why.) Producers, editors, and freelancers for This American Life, Radiolab, and The Moth will visit the class to provide insight into their shows and answer student questions. The class will also take a field trip to WNYC, which houses Radiolab and other national shows. At the end of the semester, students will take over the Hudson Valley community station, WGXC, to broadcast their final projects.