On me and Ira and editing...


A couple people have asked me questions like this about my Ira Glass interview, so I thought I'd answer here on the blog. Paulscan on AST asked:

Another great interview, but I had a question. Usually, your interviews are edited very well and sound like (exceedingly witty) normal conversations. However, I noticed a lot more pauses before Ira's answers to your questions (which are, of course, a part of every conversation). Is it your normal practice to edit those kinds of things out? If so, why didn't you do it for this interview? This struck me as odd, especially in light of your raised concerns with the Improv Everywhere TAL shows, as well as the questions about narrative storytelling, news framing, etc.

Not trying to imply anything here, just curious.

I would say those kinds of pauses are very unusual, and are not part of every conversation. They were unusual enough, in fact, that I decided to leave them in. I think they reflect the thought that Ira put in to his answers.

Generally speaking, my interviews are VERY lightly edited. If I have time, I'll edit out maybe a few stumbles in speach on the part of my guest, but generally it's almost the whole interview, almost exactly as it happened live. For radio I will sometimes edit out a question (or a line of questioning) for time, but I usually leave it in in the podcast.

This is pretty unusual in public radio -- I make the choice to do this in large part because I'm a one-man band, so I lack both the perspective and time to do a really big editing job like some shows with similar formats (say Fresh Air or On the Media) do. I'm certainly not at all against that, I just don't have the resources. Fresh Air, for example, will often (not always) do an hour or more for an interview that runs at 40 or 20 minutes. Which is awesome for them, they have a big staff of the best producers and editors in the business. I might do it that way if I could, I dunno. For many years TSOYA was live, and I still kind of operate the show that way, only now I can edit out swears.

The only show that I can think of where I've done a lot of editing of dead air is the Betty Davis show, but if I had left in all the dead air there was in that interview, no one would have listened. She hadn't really spoken publicly in like 30 years and is a very private woman, so I felt it was more important to help people listen than to play all these loooooooooooooooong pauses.

A few folks have also asked me (in a very friendly manner) about how tough I was on Ira in the interview. Generally speaking, I'm not "tough" on guests. In part this is because I'm often introducing them to most of my audience, and I think that introduction is more important than "sticking it" to someone. If I really disagreed with someone about something, I just wouldn't book them. That said, I was kind of tough with Ira.

Now let's be clear: I don't think I've ever hidden my affection for This American Life. I think it's the best radio show in history. It is a large part of what made me think a career in public radio might actually work out. As a general rule, I love the shit out of This American Life. So ... that's out of the way.

The reason I asked Ira about storytelling and the relationship between truth and narrative in the interview is that it is A) important and B) the connection between TAL and Ira's book. The book (which is great) is designed as a mini-manifesto about reporting. I also knew that Ira has thought about this issue, because all the choices Ira made in creating TAL come from 20 years of working in public radio news before the show even started. Working with Joe Frank and Noah Adams and whoever else gave him plenty of opportunity to think out his philosophy, and I wanted to hear it. Furthermore, any regular listener of TAL has heard it move towards "hard news" in the past five years or so, and I knew that was a choice, and wanted to know about it.

In other words: I wanted to know the answers to those questions, and I was betting Ira'd have some good ones. Which I thought he did. He could have played the "I'm Ira Glass, and You're Not" card, but instead he chose to give really thoughtful answers to those questions. He's forgotten more about these issues than I'll ever know, so I was glad to hear what he had to say.


An exceedingly well-written and thought-out response. Well done.

Jesse,Yes, thank you for this post. I felt your interview was insightful, and much needed. I too "love the shit out of TAL", and because of this, I want to be able to probe its depths and explore its strengths as well as its limitations. Part of the reason why I listen to TSOYA is because the show takes the next step in the interview process beyond what you can find elsewhere. Most of what is discussed on TSOYA is near and dear to my heart, and I want to discuss these things on the next level--no matter how ridiculous or wacky they are to begin with (eg Stella, Zach Galafiankis, etc.)

Great interview, nice follow-up blog post. I felt a little bad for Ira, he seemed truly self-aware (and a little bummed) when he explained his reaction to the Onion headline.

There's a difference between being tough and merely not giving a guy a free pass, and you did the latter. Ira's a smart guy, and he handled it well, I thought. You were far tougher on James Carr when you called him out on something very blatant (I forgot what it was. I just remember thinking, "But what about...," and then you said the exact same thing a little later.

HELLOI agree that it was a terrific interview. You were both very thoughtful, and in your own ways both very tough: on each other, on yourselves, but also in defense of your own points of view. I agree as well that the question about the role of storytelling in shaping a non-fiction reportage is absolutely necessary and relevant, and you posed it very well indeed. (Bringing in Brooke Gladstone was genius: who is going to argue with Brooke Gladstone? The answer is: no one who is smart). That said, I also think Ira's defense of the ImprovEverywhere story was correct. That was a story about something that happened--an event--and not a feature on ImprovEverywhere per se. You and I both enjoy the impulse of the enthusiast--the pleasure in getting a chance to say: "look at this great/fun/excellent/weird thing that I like, and join me in liking it." I think Ira does as well. But in this case, I have to agree with Ira that the dynamics, meaning, and story of a prank gone slightly wrong is simply more interesting than the story of a prank gone just right.(And for what it's worth, I always thought ImprovEverywhere came off just fine in the piece. I'm going to listen to it again now.) I don't believe it's possible, even in non-fiction reporting, to eliminate the narrative impulse: the desire (and necessity) to organize facts into meaningful order with beginnings, middles, ends. Even "I like this, this is great," is a kind of plotline.I'm not going to get into a fight with Brooke Gladstone over this, but I think denying or demonizing this aspect of writing is like demonizing air. Instead, the challenge to the writer (always) is to not tell the **same old** story. ...To forget the story you might bring with you and instead work hard to listen to the one the facts themselves are trying to tell. (That is why they call me "the fact whisperer." I CAN UNDERSTAND THEIR UNSPOKEN LANGUAGE OF GRUNTS AND BARKS, and it turns out the facts just need to go outside and run around more.)In any case, thanks for more awesome radio. That is all. Jh

Here's a question: the TV version of the IE story ends with the Ghosts of Pasha guy saying that if they had it to do over again, they most certainly would. That's pretty powerful stuff, and it doesn't appear in the radio version. The difference is in the themes of the shows -- it fit the theme to have a sad ending on the radio piece and a softer ending on the TV one. That's a pretty questionable call, in my book, if you're looking for truth rather than narrative.

And I think I was ineloquent in getting to that issue in talking to Ira, in part because I was worried I was getting hung up on IE just because Charlie is my friend.