Comments by Tanya Ott

Comment for "Parents for Peace"

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Review of Parents for Peace

Anna Norberg's audio montage features parents of British soldiers killed in Iraq. The segment is very intimate and sounds almost like a radio diary. You really feel for these parents. Unfortunately, it's got a couple of things working against it:

1. The heavy accents may cause some listeners to miss some of what's said

2. The piece is somewhat dated now because the main interview subject talks a lot about Tony Blair, who's no longer in charge.

3. There are production issues that may distract listeners (i.e. lots of nat sound under first montage of bites; a lack of room ambi to mask the edits in the long montage segment with mother Rose Gentle; an odd phone call interruptions that's included in the interview with Gentle). These aren't major issues, but they may be distracting to some listeners.

What is striking about this audio postcard is that unlike many of the American parents we hear from who've lost children in Iraq, these British and Scottish parents are unabashedly critical of Tony Blair and the British government. It's a perspective that is often not expressed in, for instance, the soldier obits we hear on NPR. Still - the piece could sound like an unanswered indictment of Blair and program directors need to know that going in.

Comment for "Nature Profile: Outdoor Worship"

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Review of Nature Profile: Outdoor Worship

Nice little slice of life piece with a quiet, reflective tone. The reporter and the interview subject both have a conversational tone that pull in the listener.

Comment for "Flying squirrels + treadmills = Science!"

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Review of Flying squirrels + treadmills = Science!

Fascinating - FASCINATING! - topic and well-written copy, but this story begs for sound. Listeners don't just want to be told what the squirrels do. I want to be in the laboratory with them -- show, don't tell.

While this story lacks the nat sound that would truly make it a driveway moment, it is a solid 2 minute piece of science journalism that be used as a drop-in with a longer piece to fill out an E segment of Morning Edition or a local news magazine.

Comment for "Return of the Neighborhood Beat Cop"

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Review of Return of the Neighborhood Beat Cop

This sound-rich feature covers all the bases. The reporter does a nice job with scene-setting, while still imparting the factual information in a conversation tone. Well done!

Comment for "If You Can't Take the Heat"

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Review of If You Can't Take the Heat

This sound-rich feature has a lot of potential, but unfortunately it tries to do too much. The set-up promises a story about the culinary delights of the firehouse, and the first few minutes of the story focus on food. But then it devolves into a "newsier" examination of changes in the firefighting industry (i.e. decreased number of calls, different kinds of calls, changes in technology). This is a completely different story and only muddies the stew.

Comment for "Education For Change"

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Review of Education For Change

This story offers and interesting look inside a school for girls in India and inside the motivations of its founder, who spent most of his career in corporate America. The story is compelling on many levels - the writing and narrators delivery is solid, the use of music and nat sound is effective, and, most importantly, the story itself works.

Comment for "Love, War, and PTSD"

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Review of Love, War, and PTSD

Producer Karen Brown has a history of producing very well-researched and compelling stories on mental health and this piece is no exception. I have to admit that when I first started listening I worried that even a good non-narrative story would be laborious at just over 11 minutes long. Once or twice I felt like it was "long", but then the husband or wife profiled in this piece would say something that was just so genuine and heartbreaking that it drew me back in immediately. And the use of music in this piece was stellar!

This piece is produced in Massachusetts, but I only caught one location specific reference (clinic in Springfield) and I think it could easily air on any station in the country. Memorial Day would be a wonderful peg for this story, but it could air any time.

Comment for "WTMD's Good People: Cathy Mclean" (deleted)

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Review of WTMD's Good People: Cathy Mclean (deleted)

The activist featured in this audio postcard, Cathy McClain, is quite engaging and tells interesting stories about the Cherry Hill neighborhood. You get real sense of the development of this community from past WWII prominence to decay and then rejuvenation. While the story is, in some ways, a universal one of urban decay and renewal, I suspect listeners outside of Baltimore may find it too "local" to that city. Perhaps it would work if it were aired as part of a larger "urban voices" series, but otherwise - probably not a good fit for many stations.

The use of music beds under McClain is inconsistent. The first music cut is quite appropriate and timely, but later selections compete with her voice and draw attention away from what she's saying.

Comment for "Children and Mental Health"

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Review of Children and Mental Health

The reporter tries to cover her bases, but in doing so tries to cover *way* too much. This feature, which is too long at 7 minutes, covers a "topic" -- Mental Health and Kids -- but doesn't present a story. The comments from the two experts are generalized to all kids with any mental illness, as if ADHD, autism, and manic depression all present the same issues.

The piece would be much stronger if it examined, in depth, on issue, i.e. the controversy surrounding off-label prescribing of drugs or the controversy around diagnosing mental illness in preschoolers or the tracking program being used in the local school. A more tightly focused story would allow the reporter to really examine an issue from multiple angles.

Also - noticeably missing in this feature are the voices of children and/or their families. The reporter concludes the piece by saying efforts to speak with children or their families were not successful -- but it sounds like a cop-out. If you can't get a source that's crucial to a story (i.e. the people actually affected by the story), then perhaps you shouldn't do the story. Mental health is a very sensitive subject which I've covered at great length in feature and documentary work and even though it is sensitive you can find people willing to be interviewed.

All of the above said, the reporter does make an earnest attempt at covering a complicated issue(s). She has good vocal quality and obviously did some research.

Comment for "Little Eight John" (deleted)

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Review of Little Eight John (deleted)

This story telling has such charisma and energy that I don't know how a listener could avoid being drawn in by her voice. That said, the segment is too long (we get the point - Little Eight John is a holy terror) and there are noticeable edits in the production. If these issues are addressed, this segment would make a nice "storytelling" break in a locally--produced arts/culture program.

Comment for "Three Women"

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Review of Three Women

I expected the subject matter -- living with breast cancer -- to be emotional, but what I didn't expect was to actually learn something new. But I did! As a white woman (and former health care reporter, no less) I had no idea that some medical professionals assumed that people of color could take higher doses of chemo because of the melatonin in their skin!

This montage of three women speaking about living with cancer is well-produced and thought provoking. It's laid out in a very logical fashion with each soundbite building on the next, and it gives listeners an insight into universal themes and perspectives that are specific to minority women.

Well done!

Comment for "Spices of Life: Needling Nina"

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Review of Spices of Life: Needling Nina

Like Nina, I too am suffering a wicked cold right now and feeling stressed (perhaps not the best time to write a PRX review, huh?), so I was very intrigued by the subject matter of "Needling Nina". The story delivers on some fronts but misses on others.

First - the actual radio story. The production is solid: editing is smooth and the music adds to the experience. Nina has an authentic voice -- she sounds like a "real person", someone I might like to meet at a dinner party. The acupuncturist, though, is hard to understand because of the thick accent. I found myself listening more for the "mood" rather than actually learning anything about acupuncture or eastern medicine. It's hard to do an "experiential" story like this for the radio when so much of the gee whiz is visual. The story does a good job of conveying the scene, but I'm glad to see there's a companion video (though that won't help radio listeners not near a computer).

The bigger question is how stations would use this story. It's billed as a potential "drop-in" for national or local newsmagazines, but there's no set-up. We don't know who Nina is, why we should care, etc. She's a "personality" just because she's in a radio story... but unless the listeners is used to hearing her very regularly, she's job this lady doing this thing on the radio. The listeners won't feel a connection to her. This is the biggest issue the series will have to tackle -- the packaging of Nina and why we should care what she's doing. But - if the producers can figure that out - they may have a winner.

Comment for "Our Walls Bear Witness (Voices on Genocide Prevention)" (deleted)

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Review of Our Walls Bear Witness (Voices on Genocide Prevention) (deleted)

The interview gets off to a slow start, but once it's rolling the discussion is engaging and the topic is certainly timely.

Sound quality is an issue... while you can certainly understand the interviewer and interview subject, the sound is a bit muffled - as if on cassette or by phone.

Another consideration is the source of the interview. The interview is with a photographer whose work is being displayed at the Holocaust Museum and the interview program is produced by the Holocaust Museum. This could raise ethical questions for some news organizations that have policies against airing programs paid for and produced by the sources being interviewed.

Comment for "When Reporters Help - Reporter Notebook" (deleted)

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Review of When Reporters Help - Reporter Notebook (deleted)

This story touches on a theme that all reporters have had to confront at one time or another in their careers... should you, can you become personally involved with your sources by offering them help? The reporter lays out some very compelling cases from his work in Africa -- a struggling father who pushes a cart around town all day long to make ends meet and a young girl whose terrible family situation has lead her to the streets and drugs.

The stories are heartwrenching and it seems the reporter has given much thought to who he helps and why. But, the story itself doesn't share that thinking. It doesn't discuss the very serious ethical issues that helping sources presents for reporters. Does buying a source a lunch encourage them to answer questions in a way they think the reporter wants them answered? Does giving the father what amounts to 1/2 a month's salary mean you're essentially "paying" for interviews? Does the reporter worry that word will get around that he's generous with interview subjects and that that might taint the kind of interviews he gets?

I suspect the reporter has considered all of these questions and more, but none of it is included in this "reporter's notebook". The piece is probably best used as a set-up for a longer discussion on the challenges faced by reporters in the field or the ethics of interacting with sources. It could be fodder for some very interesting conversation - especially for a talk show.

Comment for "Are Animals Creative?"

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Review of Are Animals Creative?

This is my second hearing of Sean Cole's lovely piece on the artistry of animals -- and I could listen again and again in a heartbeat. It's a compelling question he asks and the answers he gets, while certainly not "answering" the question, do make you think about the fine lines that separate (or don't) man and beast.

From a technical standpoint the production is flawless and the use of nat sound is creative, but the real gems in this segment are Sean's writing and delivery.

This piece would air quite naturaely in a local arts & culture program, but I can definately hear it in a newsmagazine program as well.

Well done!