These Politics Are Making Me Thirsty
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
This presidential election feels like it’s moving at gastropod’s pace. As subtle as a leviathan, this large body exerts an irresistable gravitational force on everything around it. We keep talking about it here in the office, but we’re also wondering how much politics we can all handle, and trying to balance relevance against saturation.
We’re trying to give voice to some interesting people during this election season, but next week, we’ll back off the political stuff and re-air our show on autism. Following that, a show on leadership, religion, gender, and race with the dynamic preacher Vashti McKenzie. It’s about her but also very much about the issue of biography in this election cycle.
Then comes the weekend prior to the election. What to do…
We will be airing a repeat that week, and the question came up: relevance or saturation? Can we provide a non-political alternative, or should we offer something useful for the occasion? We decided that we couldn’t well ignore the reality of the situation — gravitational pull.
So we went back and forth on what show we wanted to repeat that weekend. An initial thought was our program with three prominent Evangelical Christians. Pro: a look at how this influential community, if they vote as a bloc as in past elections, might sway the election. Con: an abundance of coverage of this issue lately.
Then came the thought of airing our classic program, A History of Doubt. Pro: remaining skeptical in the face of dogmas (and partisanship?). Con: it’s not a political show, so let’s not force it to be.
So finally, we decided to repeat our program on the history of the church-state separation in the U.S. Pro: interesting historical perspective on the issue of faith and politics and how they’ve related. Con? It is a fairly new program, but the timeliness of the subject seems to override that concern.
The week after the election, we’ll broadcast our new program on the science of revenge and forgiveness (and yes, we do talk about some politics in that, too). And the next couple of weeks/months will see some serious, newsy topics: Shia Islam in the context of Iran and geopolitics; potentially the economy, finance, and what we do with all this depressing information; and a potential two-parter on the ethics of international aid and development.
Lots of serious shows coming up looking at serious issues. It’s a serious season, I guess.
Forgiveness and Revenge, A Call for Music Ideas
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
Yesterday we had our cuts and copy session for an upcoming program on forgiveness and revenge and today we recorded the script. I am now looking for music to use in the program and thought I’d reach out to you for help. What music do you find evocative in expressing forgiveness? How about the desire for revenge? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a song explicitly about these themes, and thus instrumental pieces are always welcome.
So, whaddya got? I am all ears!
SoundSeen: Titling a Show on Seane Corn’s Yoga
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
In between the interviewing and scripting, the SOF staff congregates for two editorial sessions where we hash out the details of each week’s program. The first — which we call cuts and copy — can be really rough around the edges; the second — which we call the final listen — is more of a fine tweaking of script changes, music selections, Web language, and, at times, we’re still coming up with a title for the episode.
This happens to be the case for our upcoming show on yoga as conveyed through the experience of instructor Seane Corn (I dig her Jersey accent!). We regularly struggle at naming each program, especially because there are various approaches to it: an apt description of the content, a clever literary device, a poetic encapsulation, a highlight of an outstanding idea, keywords that trigger curiosity, etc.
But, the title has multiple purposes. It’s spoken by Krista in the radio and podcast; it populates the subject line of our e-mail newsletter and browser title; it complements the feature image for the program Web site and all sorts of data in third-party vendors like iTunes, Google, Facebook, last.fm, Yahoo, and so on. Can one title serve all masters? Probably not. But, in the end, we just want people to listen to the show so we’re trying to take a more direct approach in front-loading the words or ideas that will appeal to you and others. See what we came up with.
I’d love to hear where you stand on our titles, or if you have thoughts of your own. I’m open to advice. Cheers.
Don’t Say the Words
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Races: athletes in China, candidates in the U.S. My mind races ahead to the month of Ramadan, which begins in September.
Upcoming guest James Prosek — fisherman, writer, artist — insists that some species should be left nameless. Let nature be mysterious. I agree with that when it comes to my own quiet spiritual/religious practice, of which the thirty-day marathon of daily fasting is a public part.
It’s hard to wake up before sunrise, try to eat something, sneak in a few more hours of sleep, then go through the day without food, water, or a full night’s sleep. I’m already a clumsy space-case on most days; then, it only gets worse. For thirty days I strive for grace but battle irritability. I reach for understanding but collide with doubt. I pray for a compassionate heart but am too hungry to be unselfish. That’s when the meaning behind this marathon, this race, shines.
I know, too, that the Muslim world struggles the same way. I’m not talking about Asia or Africa. I’m talking about my parents in their empty nest fretting about their unmarried 31-year-old son. I’m talking about my little sister who just moved by herself to Toronto. I’m talking about the bounce of my grandmother’s laughing belly. I’m talking about family I have here and the eagerness of my cousin’s kids to earn holy Brownie points. And in this small world of mine, we are exhausted by the political talk about the larger Muslim world, salt in a wound — a wounded body that once soared like a gymnast.
Krista just last week interviewed dapper expert Vali Nasr. It’s a great interview about the political situation in the Middle East. We planned to broadcast this program in September, in the lead-up to the November election… and in the middle of Ramadan. Something about that felt off to me, like a program about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal on Christmas.
So I explained that to the rest of the gang, trying not to get caught up in the emotion of naming something I prefer to keep nameless. I’m a radio producer, supposedly professional, but some things hit close to home and push you away from objectivity.
All other times of the year, we have our daily toils and the evils in the news. But not in Ramadan. Ramadan is a time of self-perfection and moral beauty. Ramadan is something to protect, for all the discombobulation I feel at 4 a.m., when sleep makes sense but fasting doesn’t. And even though I don’t know how to say all this out loud, I hoped to have said enough when we huddled to discuss my concerns about the air date.
Part of me felt unreasonable trying to mess with the production schedule, but I’m grateful to the others on staff for understanding my concerns. We pushed the broadcast date of that Vali Nasr show by three weeks, to October.
And, hopefully, we’ll be able to put together a true Ramadan show next year.
Summer ‘08 Lineup
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
These are just some ideas we’ll be researching this summer:
- The ethics of international aid, the moral impulse behind it, and the relationship between wealthy and poor countries as a matter of policy
- Music… The “music show” idea just won’t die, but we just can’t seem to find a way to pin down such a broad topic
- The spiritual scene in China right now as its economy soars and it hosts the Olympics
- Gay marriage, as Kate posted earlier
- The relationship between humans and animals, the bonds that exist there
- The ups and downs of the faith angle in the U.S. presidential campaign/marathon/extended director’s cut of Lord of the Rings
We’re digging up some great names and speakers, but don’t be shy about suggesting someone.
Catholic Voices and Cherry Blossoms in Brooklyn
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Spring has finally arrived in the upper Midwest. And it’s about time because Andy (the new associate Web producer) and I cranked away in our flourescent-flooded cubes on last week’s site for "The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic — Hearing the Faithful." (Long title, non?) The production process took some surprising turns that ended up with a format-breaking radio broadcast, and some pretty groovy ways of telling individuals’ stories online.
We wanted to produce a show delving in to the Catholic Church from a practitioners’ points-of-view for some time now. Oh, to find a way in… We first started out working with two compelling conversations Krista had with Fr. Donald Senior (mp3, 1:49.05) and Sister Katarina Schuth, (mp3, 1:09.05) two Catholic theologians and educators who navigate Church doctrine and seminary life as a daily vocation. The entire staff was smitten with the uncut conversations, so Krista edited and scripted around them. Usually, when we’re at this stage of the process the show is a go because of the significant amount of effort and time required.
In an unusual turn of events, the staff listened to the first cuts-and-copy (c+c) session. FYI: during c+c, Krista reads her script and the staff listens to the in-cues and out-cues for the isolated audio segments. Then the staff critiques and suggests changes. No music or actualities are placed yet. Strangely, we felt like the humanness of the Catholic experience was lost in the edit — the essence of the story that sometimes gets lost in reporting on the Catholic Church.
I suggested that maybe we could do something similar to our program on the spirituality of parenting. Since I was going to ask our audience to contribute their stories and experiences of being Catholic, maybe we could introduce their voices. Lay Catholics might give the program a certain grounding and represent the complexity and diversity of how the tradition is lived.
We received well over 300 responses to begin. We isolated about 30 responses, asked people if I could interview them, and ended up recording each person reading their essay, with follow-up conversations (which we hope to release in the coming days). Rob and I were moved and amazed. Rob whittled that number down to about 15 for a group listen with Krista and the rest of the production staff.
What resulted was a surprising declaration by our host: these stories are the show. I was a tad stunned, and I’ll admit, excited. That ended up being the easy part.
We had to ask ourselves how we’d step it up online too, rather than only producing a single page for the site representing these voices. We needed to let all those stories breathe oxygen rather than subterranean database CO2 where they’d never see the light of day, never contribute to the depiction of what it means to be Catholic. So we did. We crafted a pretty groovy dynamic mapping application and theme-based display that will continue to grow and convey more individual stories — the core of what we do here at SOF — and gave them greater context through geography, visuals respondents submitted, themed commonalities, and through the wonder of audio for a select number.
And we got to work with some smart colleagues in other departments under such tight deadlines: Maria, Dickens, and Jinzhu in IT and Melody at MPR’s Public Insight Network.
How does the timelapse video of cherry blossoms factor in? Well, I just needed a moment to be mindful, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, and smell the virtual blossoms until Minnesota’s arrive.
Ideas We’re Pursuing
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
With fewer travel commitments in the coming months, we’ll have more time to set up interviews and produce programs. So, we’re currently pursuing a number of interesting voices, recording interviews, and producing shows with interviews we’ve recently completed. Which all means that in the coming weeks and months, you may be hearing shows on:
- the resurgence of Humanism
- the state of the Catholic Church
- the ethics of international law and the torture issue
- the sustainability of languages
- a biographical program on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
- a round-table discussion with several prominent Evangelical Christians on how their political engagement has changed since the last election
A lot can change during the production process, but we are working on getting these shows on the air and on the Web. Just a little sneak peek at what’s cooking.