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Ira Glass Talks Podcasts, Student Journalists And Story Craft

Man with glasses poses for a woman taking a picture of him with her cell phone.
Ira Glass poses for a photo prior to his 2014 appearance at The Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. He returns to The Mahaffey Saturday night. CREDIT WUSF Public Media

Ira Glass, host of "This American Life," will be at the Mahaffey Theater in St Petersburg Saturday.

Part of his visit includes a workshop with student journalists. When asked why it's important for him to pay attention to younger journalists, Glass says he remembers what it was like to be starting a career.

"It really took me a long time to get the craft of reporting and making stories down. It's normal to be bad for a while," Glass said.

He encourages storytellers to pay attention to inner cues.

"You really have to focus on certain things, including just noticing what is amusing to you, and what's interesting to you in the story, and just cultivating that in yourself."

Glass also sees people get stuck on what they think they should be doing, as opposed to how a story could unfold.

"Everybody's so worried, you know, that you're not going to get the facts right, that nobody actually goes to the part that's the more important part, which is to notice where your curiosity is and where you're excited and what you're excited to make," said Glass. "And kind of the more you follow that, the better off you're going to be and the better, more memorable your work is going to be."

Ira Glass's Mahaffey show is called "Seven Things I've Learned," a theme he said came about on a whim.

"I needed to write a speech, and I thought seven things I've learned could be a solid sounding sort of container for whatever I would want to say."

Glass said those things vary from appearance to appearance.

"And so when I give the speech, generally I'll change up the seven things depending on my mood, and it's a mix of just really entertaining stories."

But why seven?

"It just sounded good. I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I don't have a smarter answer than that."

Glass adds that he has seen big shifts in the media landscape even in the past few years, and he recognizes that his work has shaped the change.

"It's interesting to see the number of podcasts, more than radio shows, that have really built on some of the lessons that we learned in making stories of This American Life."

Ira Glass onstage at The Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, 2014
Credit WUSF Public Media
Ira Glass onstage at The Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, 2014

He says what set his show apart when it went on the air in 1995 was that it was the only weekly show trying to do journalism as narrative:

"The stories would be journalistically sound, but they would be stories like little movies where there'd be a plot and there'd be characters, they pull you in, and they pull you forward and they run towards ideas and feelings, and they could be funny, in addition to being serious and like that whole aesthetic."

And in the current landscape, a couple of podcasts stand out for Glass.

"Most notably is the one The New York Times does called "The Daily," which is very much designed as a show structured like our show that is structured as narrative but it's about the day's news that day." 

For quality of craft, Glass recommends "Reply All," which Glass says is ostensibly about the internet and things happening on the internet.

"But really," Glass said, "that's just like a bucket that they put these things into. It's a very entertainingly made beautifully, beautifully edited show and and by that I mean the stories they find are wonderful and they just really make them sing."

"Seven Things I've Learned: An Evening with Ira Glass" is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

"This American Life" airs Saturdays at noon on WUSF 89.7.

Almost every day, I come before the microphone with the same enthusiasm as the Dani Rojas character in the “Ted Lasso” television series. I do 100 pushups, take some laps around the house, thank my supervisors and audience for giving me the opportunity to do what I love, bellow “Radio is liiiife” from the back steps, and bound back to my garret and get to work.
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