April 8, 2011

Good Ethics vs. Good Storytelling & What We Crave

There’s a nice article in the New York Times magazine about my favorite radio show, RadioLab. And there is a fantastic interactive that the New York Times Magazine created isolating some of their storytelling sounds.

storytelling sounds of radio lab make you think deeply about a story

RadioLab is a brilliant show about science, told in an extremely clever non-traditional way. I’m always struggling with the line between good ethics and bad storytelling in new media. Many of the sounds on the show are created and the editing is extensive. But rather than being bad journalism, its brilliant storytelling and it just won a Peabody Award for…..
Immersive and boundlessly imaginative, the series uses pithy prose and state-of-the-art sound to illuminate complicated scientific and philosophical subjects

Here’s a great quote from the NYTimes story written by Rob Walker:

“I asked Abumrad what a traditional radio producer would make of his meticulously constructed bruup bruup fhewm fhewm. “They would say it’s insane,” he said. Early on, he had to deal with “radio people” who thought he was wasting time on “artsy-fartsy namby-pampy” technical distractions. “But do you want to know why ‘Radiolab’ has worked beyond public radio?” he asked. “Because it sounds like life. You watch TV, and someone has labored over the feel. Look at ‘Mad Men’ or ‘The Sopranos’: the mood, the pacing, the richness of it, comes from those fine, quote-unquote technical choices.”

and even better, another quote on why it’s important to make things that last, not just things that are fast.

This approach — a smaller number of shows, painstakingly assembled and treated more like small movies than like regularly scheduled programs — addresses a different tension, around new habits of media consumption. That is the tension between relevance and disposability. Discussions of technology and media tend to focus on speed — what’s the fastest way to break the story, consume the story, influence the story? After all, media consumers today seem like info-rats chewing through heaps of micro-facts and instant-expiration data points.

But the other interesting thing about media these days is that it can stand perfectly still. In fact it loiters: shows don’t simply spill over the airwaves and evaporate; they linger on DVRs, DVDs, various online services. Newspaper articles pile up in Web “archives.” And clearly we still accept, still crave, some deeper media experience too. In experimenting with a show that produces (at most) 10 episodes a year, WNYC was specifically thinking of HBO’s success in building powerful cultural franchises that ignore the mores of traditional broadcasting.

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