Critique: Non-Fiction Audio Story

Glassblowing Program Trains Students to Craft Tools for Science

In the above link, NPR covers a story about the one-of-a-kind scientific glass blowing program at Salem Community College in New Jersey.

Audio fits this coverage piece well, with the number of interviewees (three) and the subject matter involved. Hearing the quotes directly from a teacher and students at the college program gives a feeling of being there and knowing the people. The hiss and sizzle of glass being made in the background and moments where it is featured prominently creates a dynamic sense of place for the piece. The final product of audio is fast-paced, interchanging thoughts from multiple interviewees with narration and natural sound – making for an engaging piece of audio that might fall flat simply as text.

Narration by NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang trades back and forth about half and half with words by interviewees, so spoken word dominates the audio atheistic. Intermittent background noise of the glass blowing lab makes the audio busy, although it keeps the listener in the moment. There is no sense that any of the audio was recorded at a different location, although it likely was.

A loud noise precedes interviewee Katie Severance’s reaction, “That was a backfire for sure.” This switches the focus from one interviewee to another, and follows up the transition in narration from teacher to student. The enthusiasm of Severance’s comments adds a playful energy and explains the attraction of the craft. Natural sound like this gives an aural glimpse into the raw moments of the interviews, although again, this well-timed reaction to natural sound could have been created back in the studio.

The audio story is accompanied online by several photos of the students who were interviewed, and a piece of finished glass product. This gives a good connection visually to the audio, putting faces with names and sounds and voices. What could have been really interesting to see online would be video of the lab in action, but since this story was covered by NPR, audio and online visuals are standard, and they do service to this story.

At the end of the piece, music is added, something with an ethereal element. It ends the segment and adds time to process the story before (on live radio) moving on to the next one. When listening to the online audio as a singular entity, the music seems slightly random and unexplained. Was this music made with glass instruments? Or was the audio aesthetic simply chosen because it implies that?

With this audio story, NPR takes a unique and niche story and ties it back into the bigger picture of modern careers, the medical industry, and historic craft. It gives an accurate and appropriate picture of the college and its program, effectively drawing on specific subjects to make an industrial subject personal. And for its short length, this piece is coherent, intriguing, and newsworthy.

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