Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Happy Birthday Ira Glass

image lifted from here

It's the birthday of This American Life host Ira Glass, born in Baltimore (1959), who started working in radio, by his own account, "totally by accident." He was 19, had just finished his freshman year of college, and was looking for a summer job with an ad agency or a TV station. He searched all over Baltimore and couldn't find anything, but someone at a rock 'n' roll station knew someone at NPR's headquarters in Washington and gave Ira a phone number and said, "They're kind of a new organization, so call."

He managed to talk his way into an internship despite the fact he'd never once listened to public radio. He started out as a tape cutter and as a desk assistant, graduated from Brown University, and continued working for public radio as newscast writer, editor, producer of All Things Considered, reporter, and substitute host.

With each story he did, he would incorporate specific elements that would either play up his strengths or make him work on improving his weaknesses. He was a really good tape cutter, and he'd always put in a least one or two tape-to-tape transitions, where the story would go from one quote to the next without any intervening narration. He didn't like the way he sounded on tape, and he invented a whole series of stories where he interviewed people and then cut himself out of the tape completely.

As he went on, he found that the most interesting stuff came out when the interviewer was chatting, seemingly casually, with the interviewee. Now he says: "If I had to give just one piece of advice to beginning reporters about the single-fastest way they could improve their stories, it'd be to get themselves into the quotes. Asking tough questions. Cajoling the interviewee. Joking with the interviewee. Thinking out loud."

In 1995, he launched This American Life. In its first seasons, he managed to convince a lot of otherwise reluctant stations to carry his show because if they did, they could also use the entertaining pledge-drive skits that he created and produced, which always brought in lots of money for stations.

With This American Life, he's done stories about babies switched at birth, about frenemies, and poultry, and mind games, and guns, and infidelity, and the devil, and highway rest stops, and credit default swaps.

Ira Glass said in a recent interview: "It's hard to make something that's interesting. It's really, really hard. ... Basically, anything that anyone makes. ... It's like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that's written or anything that's created wants to be mediocre. The natural state of all writing is mediocrity. It's all tending toward mediocrity in the same way that all atoms are sort of dissipating out toward the expanse of the universe. ... So what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such an act of will. ... That feels exactly the same now as it did the first week of the show."

He's the editor of an anthology called The New Kings of Nonfiction (2007).

text lifted from The Writer's Almanac

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