Posts Tagged ‘This American Life’

TAL: 500 shows later and going strong

Ira_bottleOdds are, if you listen to public media via radio or podcast, you know what TAL stands for: This American Life, the show imagined and hosted by Ira Glass.

Today at 11 am (and at 1 pm on Friday) we air the 500th episode of TAL, still attracting old and new listeners, still surprising us with stories from around the nation and the globe.

Is it like a parent being asked which child they love the most when everyone asks Ira which shows of the 500 are his favorites? Apparently, Ira’s not scared.

Ira Glass writes:

With our 500th show approaching, people keep asking me about my favorite episodes over the years.  Here’s a short list.

Some are listener favorites:

Notes on Camp

Harper High School One and Two

The Giant Pool of Money

Somewhere in the Arabian Sea – I love how funny and human-sized everyone is in this show.  It’s a surprisingly funny show about the war on terror.


Ira’s list of show titles ideas before settling on This American Life.

Switched at Birth – the structure of this show – where the whole episode you wonder how a mom could know for decades she was raising the wrong baby and finally, she answers it in the end – is perfect.

Break-Up – The standout story is Starlee Kine’s essay on breakup songs, which includes an interview with Phil Collins that’s so menschy and real, it changed how I saw him forever.

Babysitting – especially the interview with Myron Jones, which is the best interview I’ve ever done, mainly because he had so much grace and humor talking about his past.  Any question I could think of, he’d come back with an amazing story, which is rare.

My Big Break – David Segal takes a turn in the middle of this story that’s one of my favorite reveals in any radio story ever.

Harold Washington – How can you go wrong when the central figure in your story is funny and cantankerous and bighearted and idealistic and utterly pragmatic and on top of all that, totally charismatic?  If you don’t know who Harold is, be prepared for a treat.

Heretics – Carlton Pearson, like Harold, is someone they should make a movie about, for lots of the same reasons.  An idealistic preacher whose idealism costs him pretty much everything: the church he runs, his reputation, his fortune, nearly his family.

Some shows are favorites of mine for purely selfish reasons, because making those episodes meant something special to me.  For instance, putting together the memorial show for David Rakoff, or visiting David Sedaris in Paris in 2000, or having my mom on our first episode in 1995 (she died in 2003), or playing old tapes of my dad as a radio deejay in his 20s, or visiting Georgia over and over getting to know people and trying to get them to speak on the record about a small town judge, or getting a chance to talk about marriage at the end of the Rumspringa relationship story in What I Did for Love, or going to Medieval Times with a Medieval scholar I really liked, who’s since passed away, Michael Camille, or devoting an entire hour of radio to my own neighborhood diner.  Those shows:

Our Friend David

Americans in Paris

Act One, What I Did For Love

Act Three, Medieval Times, Simulated Worlds

Act Two, Accidental Documentaries

Very Tough Love

24 Hours at the Golden Apple

Then there’s the Christmas and Commerce show, which has David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries in it.  That story – first on Morning Edition and then on This American Life – was his first time on the radio and our first time working together.  Putting it on the radio changed my life as much as it changed his.

Ira_couchIt’s hard choosing favorite shows when you’ve made so many.  It’s like, you love different episodes for different things.  On our website we have lists of favorites, a short list of seven, a longer list of 62, and then – if that weren’t enough – a third list of eleven very early shows.  And sure, it’s lame that we can’t just come up with a succinct list of three.  But when you’re working on a show where the whole point is that you’re only putting stuff on the air that you really really love, you end up with a lot of shows you feel very strongly about.

– Ira


Check out this link to a Slate interview with Ira that includes three short videos of Ira on “The Art of Interviewing,” “500 and Counting,” and “Embracing Entertainment.”

Things You Can’t do on the Radio: This American Life goes live, on screen

On Thursday, May 10, This American Life will perform a live episode of their show and “beam it live via satellite to more than 500 movie theatres around the US and Canada!” (this from their website).

The theme: things you can’t do on the radio. The line-up: TAL’s host Ira Glass, writers David Sedaris and David Rakoff, comic Tig Notaro, Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington, a short film by Mike Birbiglia, dance by Monica Bill Barnes and Company, music by OK Go, and more.

Where you can see it in our region:

Lake Placid: Lake Placid Center for the Arts

Potsdam: Potsdam Roxy Theater

South Burlington, VT: Palace 9 (there will be another screening on May 15)

Middlebury VT: Middlebury Town Hall Theater

Ottawa: Coliseum Ottawa Cinemas, Empire 7 Cinemas, SilverCity Gloucester Cinemas

Kingston: Cineplex Odeon Gardiner’s Road Cinemas

Montreal: Scotiabank Theatre Montreal

Cote St. Luc: Cineplex Odeon Cavendish Mall

Kirkland: Coliseum Kirkland Cinemas

QOTD: Who keeps you straight?

As our news director Martha Foley puts it:

“The Poynter Institute is the high church of journalism ethics.”

When Poynter published an article on the recent This American Life retraction of Mike Daisey’s story about Chinese workers in Apple factories, we all read it with interest. We’ve been blogging about the issue, most recently in All In. You can read the full article from Poynter on their website.

Here’s the list of questions Poynter would like Ira Glass and the TAL team to answer:

  • What specifically is the fact-checking process at “This American Life”? Does this apply to all stories? If not, which ones?
  • As this show was being produced, did the staff have an opportunity to raise concerns about the reliability of Daisey’s account? Would their input have mattered?
  • Besides the decision to go forward without hearing from the translator, has the staff found other specific failings in its editorial process?
  • Who specifically decided that this story was fit to air?
  • In light of the translator’s account, has the staff considered why they discounted the opinions of their sources who doubted Daisey’s contention that Foxconn employs underage workers?
  • Did the staff consider whether there was another way to air this story without relying solely on Daisey’s account?
  • Will the show change its vetting procedures as a result of this incident?
  • Will staff be hesitant to bring performers and others into journalistic stories in the future? Will they handle those situations differently?
  • Are listeners to understand that all of the stories on “This American Life” should be viewed as literal truth-telling, up to the standards of journalism?

This rigor is what makes Poynter, well, Poynter–the go-to place when questions about best practices in journalism and media come up in our shop. If you’d like to know more about Poynter, go here.

Today’s Question of the Day is:

In your work, what or who is the recognized standard bearer for ethics and best practices?

Mike Daisey, This American Life, and NCPR

Mike Daisey, performer/storyteller

By now, many of you know about  the piece Mike Daisey did for This American Life, during which he provided alleged “examples” or “proof” of worker mistreatment and workplace hazards at Chinese plants producing Apple products. As you also probably know, it turns out Daisey took a lot of “artistic license” with the story–a story that was presented as fact-based, rather than theatrical or fictionalized.

Brian Mann blogged about this. As did Sarah Harris. Many of you commented on these essays.

Ira Glass, This American Life host

Then, Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, produced an hour-long This American Life which NCPR aired on Sunday.

Today, a really interesting personal reflection on Mike Daisey’s work from columnist Jason Zinoman.

The most important part of the retraction program, for me, was the final segment during which Ira talked with a reporter who co-authored a story for the NY Times on working conditions in Chinese plants producing Apple products. Finding out that Daisey’s piece was inaccurate is one thing; hearing what the known facts are in this story is the important follow up.

Too often, news outlets make mistakes and then offer some brief retraction or correction–usually in an obscure location and usually taking up considerably less space than the original incorrect version occupied. Ira Glass acted well in this episode–not only admitting to his own mistake (insufficient vetting of the Daisey story), but then giving as much time and attention to the retraction and correction as the original piece was given.

I’ve been a fan of Daisey’s work, but his conversation with Ira made me squirm. I kept thinking of politicians who try to avoid saying a simple “yes” or “no,” who ultimately will not take the first step of making amends by saying, “I was wrong.” While Daisey says he shouldn’t have offered his piece to This American Life as “journalism,” he defends his “artistic” truth-telling. He doesn’t convince me.

If you’ve listened to the retraction program, what was your reaction?