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Long-Form Storytelling: Podcast and Written Form

In today’s day and age, podcasts are exploding. Podcast numbers have doubled in the last year and continue to grow exponentially. Podcasts provide a unique method of storytelling and therefore it may be useful for students to know how to tell a story through a podcast. “JOUR 113a: Long-form Journalism: Storytelling for Magazines and Podcasts” was created as a course that plans to highlight the differences and commonalities between long-form storytelling in written format and long-form storytelling in audio format for podcasts. The course was originally created in fall of 2020 and this semester Professor Neil Swidey will be teaching it for his second time. 

In class, Professor Swidey plans to choose a version of a topic that was covered in written format and another version that was created in the podcast format. This will allow students to learn certain universal principles of good storytelling that are present in all forms. He explains, “so we’ll take something like immigration and take a magazine piece about the history of immigration, how we got to anti-immigration view in this country and the ebbs and flows over the history of the country. And then we’ll study a two part series on immigration from This American Life.” In addition, Miki Meek, the producer of This American Life, will be a guest speaker in this class and discuss the process of creating a long-form story in audio format so that students are able to fully understand what works differently in audio format storytelling.

In terms of future goals, Professor Swidey hopes that students become “thoughtful consumers of long-form storytelling and confident producers of long-form storytelling.” He plans to have students pursue subjects that they’re interested in and apply rigorous standards in order to produce compelling journalism.

In class, Professor Swidey plans to have students engage in peer-feedback. In addition, one of his goals is to “break down the barriers between the campus and the real world that’s out there and bring great journalists who come from very different backgrounds and have diverse approaches and storytelling techniques to campus or to the class so that students can engage with them. I found that these really accomplished journalists really like hearing from our students. They like how serious and engaged the Brandeis students are.” Previously, Wesley Morris, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times, visited the class and the students engaged in a master storyteller kind of workshop where they asked him questions about his process. Overall, the process will consist of discussing, interrogating, and workshopping. 

The class will begin with a short story that is either told by a guest speaker or by Professor Swidey. Then students will discuss the mechanics of storytelling and isolate a particular part of storytelling. In addition, students will engage in discussions online through Perusal and LATTE Forums and bring this discussion into class and apply the lessons they have been studying in class to the work they have been studying. Then the class will break up into small groups to discuss the works they have been studying or to give each other feedback on their pieces.

Professor Swidey explains that the hardest part of storytelling is maintaining the interest of the audience in a long-form piece. The risk of losing an audience is quite large and they get larger the longer a piece gets so one must learn the skill of how to attract people’s attention. He highlights how one should try to “keep your audience invested in your narrative that’s so compelling and so engrossing that they’ll miss their shuttle bus, they’ll miss their favorite netflix show, they’ll miss a class just because they’re so immersed in this story they they don’t want to leave it until they find out what happens.”


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