The voice and journalist behind the groundbreaking public radio program This American Life held a private master class with staff, fellows and friends of the Global Reporting Centre, during his speaking tour in Vancouver. One key bit of advice he had for the group of about 50 journalists: “Pick the stuff that interests you.”
Glass has made a career of following his interest and curiosity, using his signature narrative style, married with a creative use of music, to invent a genre of narrative storytelling that has been emulated around the world. In addition to his weekly hour-long radio show, Glass launched the podcast Serial, which quickly became the most downloaded podcast in US history.
When asked what to do with someone with an interesting story who may not be a good talker, Glass had some advice: talk to the people around them – co-workers, a spouse, people who knew them growing up. As for a good opening question, Glass recommends starting with something that people can answer easily, but have an opinion about. The day’s biggest “how to” had to do with gaining an audience’s attention. With so much media available for consumption, how do we craft stories that make people listen? Glass said that, despite the noisy media landscape, a good story well told can still grip listeners and have impact.
The producer confessed that many interviews and pieces at This American Life end up getting scrapped, because the stories or storytellers are not compelling enough, or the reporting simply doesn’t come together. The bar is high, Glass noted, as he inspired the room of veteran and emerging journalists to strive for excellence.
Part of what makes Glass’ work so powerful is that much of the recording takes place not in the studio, but in the field, capturing granular stories from regular people living extraordinary lives. And he was adamant about rejecting what he calls “dutiful journalism,” warning against agenda-driven reporting.
As GRC director Peter Klein noted, Glass embraced his own unique voice and style, and created a form of storytelling that has changed the journalism landscape – for the better.