Editor’s Note: AIR is looking for candidates interested in becoming better editors through our Better Edit Fellowship—brought to you in partnership with PRNDI, the Public Radio News Directors Incorporated. Read on for contributing writer Emily Boghossian’s best picks for learning how to work the editing game, then apply to Better Edit! The deadline to submit is this Friday, July 14, at 5 p.m. PT.
Listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first cut of “My Shot,” and you’ll hear it in the first few bars. Editing matters.
Any audio producer who has gone back and forth with a good editor knows that “most things that are great get great through editing,” (Ira Glass, Longform). But not every producer has access to a strong editor. Lately, the “good editor” is becoming more and more of a unicorn—high in demand and, according to NPR Training’s Alison MacAdam, low in supply.
And while we need to correct the industry-wide shortage by building clearer, more inclusive pipelines for editors, maybe this dearth is an opportunity for producers to sharpen their knives. If great storytelling = great editing, we should all strive to be better editors.
So, this week we are listening to the editors in our lives. We made you a list of resources guaranteed to grow your toolkit. Now, go forth and slash.
Editing from the get-go:
Front-end editing: The “secret ingredient” of great audio storytelling | Andrea De Leon for NPR Training
Before you pack your TASCAM and hit the road, ask yourself: What introduction do you hear in your head? How could this story unfold? Who is the main character?
Bring Extra Batteries | Rob Rosenthal for Third Coast Audio Festival (TCAF)
Rob Rosenthal provides a checklist of things to think about *before* you go out into the field and collect 93 hours of tape.
‘Butt cut what?’ A glossary of production terms | Alison MacAdam for NPR Training
BEEB, butt cut, button, bed. A handy glossary for self-taught newbies and producers in need of a brush-up.
Structuring your story:
How to Construct a Compelling Story | Brian Reed for The Conference
Action. Reflection. Stakes. S-Town‘s Brian Reed breaks down good storytelling by relaying the most boring story he can think of. Additional reading from the audio canon: Ira Glass explains storytelling in four parts.
Lessons from Making a Historical Documentary | Alex Lewis (Localore ’15) and Yowei Shaw (New Voice ’11) for Transom.org
Structuring a longer-form documentary? Find macro and mini story structures. Alex Lewis and Yowei Shaw’s first-ever historical doc yields all kinds of useful tips. Bonus: Insights on mixing via Jeff Towne.
The audio editor’s tips for shaping great stories | Alison MacAdam
A carefully curated list of resources for editors. Go! Use! Also, bait, hook, and eat your audience in the first 10 seconds with Alison MacAdam’s guide to how audio stories begin.
Turning a Narrative Story into a Documentary | Kevin Pang
“There it was. The heart of our story.” Kevin Pang shares editing insights from the world of film.
The Shapes of Stories | Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut brilliantly maps “man in hole,” “boy gets girl,” and Cinderella, reminding us just how much we miss him. Here’s a list of his eight tips for writers.
What to cut and how to cut it:
From the Archive: Editors + Reporters | AIR
Get inside the editor/reporter relationship with this long-buried oldie but goodie from the AIR archive. Additional archival reading: Grade-A editor/producer teams discussed their process at a 2004 Third Coast panel titled “Trust Me, I’m an Editor.”
“He made me kill my darlings”: Inside the dark art of a documentary editor | Neil Sandell for CBC Radio
“Never say ‘this won’t hurt a bit.’ Killing darlings always hurts. Be understanding.” Neil Sandell’s guide to editing other people’s work with a kind, steady hand. Useful for editors and edit-ees alike.
Your Baby’s Ugly | Jessica Abel for Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio
Jessica Abel observes (and draws!) the nail-biting magic of collaborative editing. Featuring teams from Snap Judgment, This American Life, Radiolab, and more. Jessica also tackles story structure and suspense in her Story Building series.
What To Cut | Lauren Spohrer for Catapult
“The only person you aren’t allowed to edit internally is the president.” Criminal’s Lauren Spohrer reminds us that everything we hear on the radio is editing, and she teaches us how to cut and rearrange without misrepresenting meaning and manufacturing emotion.
Behind the Scenes at LST with Peter Clowney (AIR Better Edit Mentor ’17) | The Longest Shortest Time
Hillary Frank knows she’s done something right when Peter Clowney laughs. Hear what gets cut from LST, what stays, and why.
Cultivating the editor in your brain | Julia Barton (AIR Better Edit Mentor ’17) for Transom.org
Step one: Decide if you are an “Animal” or a “Mineral” producer. This should absolutely be a BuzzFeed quiz.
First Off … This Is In Really Good Shape | Jorge Just for Third Coast Audio Festival
Gimlet’s Jorge Just reveals what the editing process *sounds* like by playing sample pieces in various stages of completion. And while you’re in the TCAF archive, check out these editing magic tricks via Deborah George.
Fake news and true facts, and the licenses taken in pursuit of narrative | David L. Ulin for Nieman Storyboard
“I don’t believe in truth, let me come out and say it, but at the same time, I want to ask you, point me toward a journalist who does.” David Ulin on truth, trust, and the power of editing in 2017.
“Power of Narrative” conference: Nikole Hannah-Jones on difficult topics | Daniel A. Gross for Nieman Storyboard
The incomparable Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses her piece about school resegregation and the specific challenge of editing difficult subjects.
You’ve read all the articles. What’s next? Apply for AIR’s Better Edit Fellowship to further solidify and finesse your skills.