, an online project of Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, provides tools for public radio production and features original work from first-time producers. It also hosts forums for the general discussion of public radio journalism and storytelling. What follows are a few excerpts from the Transom discussion boards. Some exchanges are sequential. Most are not. The following comments were selected from recent conversations on the general themes of radio documentary and the role of public radio. Transom is frequented by seasoned journalists, beginners and listeners. The happy equalizing effect of online conversation is that it matters less who you are than what you have to say. – Jay Allison

“It was slowly discovered that there can be no such thing as an objective documentary. However, it’s such an attractive illusion that documentarians are always finding new ways to fake it. That’s our job.” – Larry Massett (independent radio producer)

“I’d say that what’s left out is at least as important as what’s put in. This is where the tension comes from. And if the overall tension of a story is just right, then it stands on its own, like a tensegrity structure – tension and compression, strings and rods. If there is too much or too little of one or the other, the thing falls apart.” – Scott Carrier (writer, independent radio producer)

“Reality is just a bunch of raw data.” – Carol Wasserman (“All Things Considered” commentator)

“For newcomers struggling to edit their tape down to manageable size, the best technique would be the old one of recording everything on reel-to-reel analog tape. This has one great advantage (assuming, of course, you were not silly enough to make a backup dub): at some point in the editing you will lose the tape…. It will vanish; or you’ll step on it by mistake and crush it. Then, fate having made these decisions for you, you just work with what’s left.” – Larry Massett

“We work in documentary because we don’t have enough money to hire good actors.” – Scott Carrier

“It’s one thing to write a piece of fiction and say, at the end, well, okay, that sure didn’t turn out exactly as I imagined it would, and quite another to sit down to write about, say, grandma, and have grandma come out looking like nothing so much as a wet cardboard box filled with old issues of Reader’s Digest, a sewing machine, and a pot of boiling cabbage.” – Paul Maliszewski (writer)

“Sometimes I feel like I’m so much more manipulative on the radio. I know how to use my voice to make you feel a certain way. And that’s not writing – that’s acting. I get tired of acting sometimes. Which is why it’s nice to be able to go back to the cold old page. Also, real time is an unforgiving medium.” – Sarah Vowell (writer, editor, “This American Life”)

“Think of comedic timing, where a pause after the punch line allows the audience to process the joke. Then think of some nervous humor-impaired friend who can’t tolerate that tiny silence and jumps his own joke with premature explanation.” – Carol Wasserman

“Reading most long sentences is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.” – David Clark (writer)

“Nailing Jell-O to the wall isn’t as hard as you’d think. Getting your mother to appreciate it is much harder.” – Andy Knight (listener, critic)

“Radio is like food. You spend days and months and hours gathering the ingredients, cutting, mixing, making it cook. The minute it hits air/the table, it’s gone – but it’s transformed. The memory of it lingers, almost like a dream.” – The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, independent radio producers)

“Throw out all the good tape. Keep only the great tape. Invent some artifice to string the disparate pieces of great tape together into something that sounds like a story. Invent many excuses to tell NPR why this works so well and not even a second can be changed. When NPR tells you to cut it to half the length, throw away all the great tape and keep only the absolutely stellar tape, then repeat above steps.” – Barrett Golding (independent radio producer)

“We are committed to never altering the spirit or intent of what someone says, but we do cut the hell out of them.” – The Kitchen Sisters

“I strongly believe that everyone has a story to tell. I also believe some are unwilling and others are unable to tell their story.” – Andy Knight

“Look for the people in the funny hats. With some people, it’s apparent that they have stories they want to tell. With others, you have to find out where they keep their hats.” – Jay Allison

“People tend to spill their guts on long drives.” – Scott Carrier

“It’s hard to find unprocessed voices that are coherent and honest and clear.” – Paul Tough (story editor, The New York Times magazine

“Listening to the radio every day for an entire year was a prison sentence. It was the most depressing, annoying, debilitating project I have ever undertaken, and I have a master’s degree in art history.” – Sarah Vowell

“Public radio has always felt like the lecture hall of the world’s greatest free university. You still need to get yourself dressed and down to the library to do the reading, but you can show up for the talks in your jammies. Which is a great convenience.” – Carol Wasserman

“I still maintain excellence shows up more often in public radio because no one owns public radio, except the public.” – Ian Brown (radio host, “This Morning”)

“The BBC is like a beacon, it can turn a cool beam of light on a story anywhere in the world and people see what’s going on. American public radio is more like a campfire, where we like to swap personal stories and feel like we’re sharing the experience and the understanding.” – Tony Kahn (radio host, “The World”)

“You hear stuff you haven’t heard before, from a stranger or from someone you know, and you think, ‘Yeah, I am connected.’ I think that’s the goal, the responsibility, the challenge of public radio.” – Studs Terkel (writer, oral historian, radio host)

“What would your ideal radio day be?” – Sydney Lewis (oral historian)

“I’d want the human voice expressing grievances, or delight, or whatever it might be. But something real” – Studs Terkel

“I still believe in public radio’s potential. Because it’s the one mass medium that’s still crafted almost entirely by true believers.” – Sarah Vowell

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