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Although whooping cranes are still endangered, the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis., has worked to help the species bounce back.

Below is a video I produced on the foundation. Enjoy!

Let’s face it: I’ve neglected to write for the ear.

Limiting myself to print and online writing mostly, I never realized how strange my work sounds when read aloud. Last week while producing a radio piece for WORT, a community-based radio station here in Madison, it became perfectly clear that I had to change my writing style to make things work.

The piece focused on Wisconsin’s Sporting Heritage Bill. Click here to listen (Move the cursor to 17 minutes in to listen to my segment).

If I can share one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s this: Economy of words is key.

News stories entirely suitable for print or online can sound like a jumbled mess on air. Take whatever you wrote and parse it in half; avoid strange alliterations; choose the most simple, short words. Pacing matters too, and it’s likely something I’ll have to get the hang of in future radio pieces.

I also didn’t realize the importance of speaking with confidence — I’ve grown comfortble hiding behind the printed word, not reading it to listeners with style.

But there’s certainly hope for this reporter, including online resources and helpful colleagues. I found Michael Meckler’s website on radio reporting useful. Also, having a really patient, experienced person to work with (WORT’s Molly Stentz) helps as well.

Happy listening!

Photo by Ross Murray/Flickr.com

Being relatively new to Wisconsin means I can still act like a tourist when I visit places for the first time. Case in point: The Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wis.

Of course, I decided to take my handy camera. I initially thought shooting with little light would be difficult, but the cave had lighting that seemed to facilitate photo opportunities (for tourism purposes, I’m sure). Most of these shots were taken without flash. Some did turn out blurry, though, which serves as a reminder that I need to take more next time.

The rocks that form the cavern of the cave date back to 400 million years ago. Scientists say the cave itself may have formed roughly 1 million years ago.

Good ole’ Ebenezer Brigham, Wisconsin’s first white settler, discovered the cave while removing limestone from the area in the late 1930s.

Did I mention that part of the cave trails beneath the local highway? What a strange feeling to imagine cars flying by overhead when you’re down there.

Rock structures called stalactites and stalagmites formed by dripping water that entered through a crack in the ceiling. Over time, the droplets deposit minerals where they drip from and where the droplets land, creating these rock structures.

Then I headed over to Mt. Horeb, Wis., to revisit some troll buddies I saw this summer with a friend. The town’s reputation as the troll capital of the world comes from settlers’ Scandinavian roots and one store’s tradition of placing trolls outside to attract visitors. Soon after, other businesses began putting trolls outside to draw attention to their places, especially after a competing highway threatened to remove steady traffic into the town.

There’s nothing like enjoying a sunset with a troll statue and fried cheese curds.

Photos copyright Marianne English, 2011.

Many topics seemed blog-worthy this week, so maybe it would be a better idea to highlight a few links I looked at.

  • Wisconsin’s gun deer hunt kicked off this weekend, a topic tied to a radio piece I plan to produce on the state’s Sporting Heritage Bill.
  • Health news guru Gary Schwitzer cautions against hype about a new stem cell treatment and cautions to never (yes, never) use the word “breakthrough.”
  • My colleague in the pro-track program, Emily Eggleston, wrote a great post about expectations of journalistic objectivity in today’s media climate. Check it out here.
  • Ouch. The AP scolds its reporters against disseminating information about their arrests while covering the Occupy movement. Apparently, the problem is the news getting out by individuals before the organization has time to put it on the wire.
  • Yes — there’s actually a press release titled, “Secrets to the best foie gras.” I’m a bit surprised there’s no mention of how controversial foie gras production is. Just an observation, though. Not sure if the push was for Turkey Day or not.
  • Discovery News‘ Jorge Ribas produced an interesting video about a museum that’s beefing up its interactivity (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the website).

Photo by rubybgold/Flickr.com

Video has consumed my life lately.

What works? How do you tug at the hearts of viewers without overwhelming them? What are good ways to engage an audience? How do you interview subjects about sensitive topics? What are the best ways to avoid clichés?

I’m still improving my technical skills, but I’ve found it easier to envision the stories I want to tell and how I want to tell them. One video, “Penny’s Heart,” serves as an excellent example to draw from. I originally saw the video on NPR’s website last year and was deeply touched by it.

In a sense, the producers framed the story almost like a PSA. They drew attention to a serious issue, put a face to a statistic and led the viewer to action (organ donation).

Despite its literal call to action, there’s more to it.

Maybe it’s a call to live life more fully. Or a chance to view one person’s disaster as another’s miracle. Either way, it makes you think. It makes you feel.

Grab the tissues.

Penny’s Heart was produced by Lukas Korver.

Justin Canha, a young man living with autism, was recently profiled by New York Times reporter Amy Harmon. She details Justin’s life, with special attention given to his artistic abilities. Photo by Justin Canha from Justin Canha Art.

A recent New York Times profile on a young man expanded my definition of interactivity and provided a unique glimpse into the lives of individuals and families affected by autism. After reading about the piece at the Open Notebook, a place for writers to digest and reflect on their work, I noticed author Amy Harmon uses the term “quick links” to describe a unique aspect of her approach — one where she sprinkles multimedia throughout the article to show, not tell, this young man’s story. The links range from photos and videos to audio slideshows on her subject. The term must be relatively new since the results from a Google search yielded descriptions of stainless steel.

If you take the time to read the 7,000 word article (it’s a doozy, but a darn good one), you’ll encounter a video at the top of the page providing an intro and summary of the author’s time with Justin. She documents his “coming of age” and struggle to gain independence as an adult living with autism. He’s about to leave his school program and wade into the uncertain waters employment and perhaps independent living. Five graphs down, you see your first quick link that opens up a video of Justin telling the camera about his family. Interestingly, the player expands over the text and collapses right back where it came from. The video also gives the viewer a sense of Justin’s mannerisms and personality, which are difficult to convey in plain copy without extensive character development.

Other quick links are slice-of-life videos scattered about the article, some revealing family home videos and others showing Justin’s interactions with others around him. If there’s one thing to say about this style of reporting, it’s certainly intimate. Justin and his family left an enormous hole for Harmon to occupy, which allows us to share experiences with Justin, not read about them. He lives, eats and breathes art and animation, and the article reflects that by quick linking to his great work (here and here). Even by looking at his website, I’m deeply impressed and humbled by his artistic ability, which has earned him awards and helped him sell projects for good money on occasion.

Another interesting choice the author made was using every bit of interactivity she could when discussing autism. When talking about therapies and options for the condition, she hyperlinks to peer-reviewed research to back her claims. I imagine she went to these lengths to battle misinformation that vaccines cause autism or that special diets can help people living with it. Writer Seth Mnookin also puts many of these claims to rest in a recent book with similar evidence.

Overall, I think this was a perfect piece for this type of adventurous interactivity. It gave us a perspective and road map we wanted to partake in.

What do you think? Did the quick links enhance the story? Or were they not as effective at times? Any thoughts?

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About Me

Marianne is a science communicator working in Madison, Wis.

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