Podcast Recap: Spring Break Special

We are spending spring break at the beach this week, but you can listen to a “best-of” podcast episode on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

CCC_Logo.JPG

On this episode, you will hear excerpts from these full interviews:

1. Interview #127: Baltimore, MD Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (with podcast)

2. Interview #129: Portsmouth, NH Councilor Nancy Pearson (with podcast)

3. Interview #67: Duluth, MN Councilor Noah Hobbs (with podcast)

4. Excerpt from “Tear It Down”

tear-it-down-logo-with-bricks-2.jpg

As always, the podcast’s sponsor is Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:

DigDeepLogo-1

Month in Review: May-June 2018

We came back from our hiatus (because of Tear It Down) last month and not a moment too soon! If we hadn’t, we might have missed, for instance, the poor cockroaches that got dumped onto the dais.

Or the mayor who had secret side gossip with council members during a meeting.

And on the podcast, we encountered one councilor who wanted his own coverage erased–a request to which we flatly said “no.” But on the brighter side, another council member offered to have a sleepover in his council chamber–to which we flatly said “YASS!”

To relive the moments that are only memorialized in time on these very cyberpages, surf the May-June Month in Review.

And if you doubt that last month’s council meetings were heated after all, feast your eyes upon the body language right here:

scr3

“Tear It Down” — an explanation

Hello, councilheads! Next week, City Council Chronicles will be off its hiatus and back with new profiles of city council meetings from around the globe.

But until then, I have gotten many questions about “Tear It Down.” I recommend that if you would like to know about some of the work that went into preparing the story, take a listen to today’s special episode of the City Council Chronicles podcast or click play below:

(If you have not yet heard the story, all eight parts are at http://www.tearitdownpodcast.com and you can even read along if you’d like. Route Fifty also did a terrific write-up here.)tear-it-down-logo-with-bricks-2


On the amount of time put into the story:

Amber Bailey contacted me on July 10, 2017 and the story came out on May 10, 2018. So doing the math, that’s ten months. I would say I spent over 1,000 hours on this, which works out to about 25 hours a week. It was a pretty time-intensive hobby.

Probably the biggest single category of work was watching the council meetings. The footage is archived with the local public access entity, which is called ICRC. The very first video is actually from the last meeting in 2014, so there are only 3.5 years of council meetings online. That was still nice, but there are some caveats to that. First, committee meetings did not start to be recorded until the last year or so. And there were several meetings that went untaped.

Watching the meetings, I took detailed notes about what was going on, which included time stamps so I could pull clips to use in the story. (I never counted up how many pages of notes, but my guess is over 200 typed pages just about the council meetings.)

Then probably the second biggest amount of time was spent on transcribing the interviews. I did about 60 hours of interviews and for every hour recorded, I spent maybe two hours transcribing everything. It was very time consuming, but I think it saved me time when writing the story.

On some of the challenges:

One thing I did encounter was that the set of characters in the beginning of the story was somewhat different from the characters who were there at the end. And generally, the people who had a lot to say weren’t around for too long, and the people who were around for long couldn’t remember a lot of things.

The main example of that is in Chapter 4, when the Change*nch co-founder, Nick Link, talks about city administrator Mark Fitzgerald taking him aside and calling him a “puppet master.” In Link’s telling, it was very dramatic and angry. And some people did remember the word “puppet master” being used. But other people could hardly remember what time of year it was or even what year it was. And the only reason I know is because the O’Shea lawsuit mentioned when it happened.

On fact checking:

Fact checking was a big deal for me. I read an article about the fact checker for “S-Town” and how he spent several months verifying the information in that story. One example he quoted was they needed to figure out whether something was “shellacked” or “lacquered” or “expoxied.” And no one could really remember or cared what the distinction was. But he had to eventually call an expert who recommended what word they should use in the story.

And I hold myself to a high standard, but that seemed a little too much for me!

I definitely got corroboration on a whole range of events and assertions. The best sources were obviously the council meeting videos because then I could see for myself what was going on. I did want to be very fair to people. I took out some lines near the end where I just could not get corroboration.

One example that came close to the “S-Town”-style fact checking was that at one point, Al Long in Chapter 7 says that Renee Stiles, when she was on the recreation commission, had a “binder” of plans for community events. I wanted to be accurate and find out if she really did have a binder. So I tried to find out if there was anyone else from 2009 or earlier who remembered this binder. The answer appeared to be no.

So I sent Renee Stiles a Facebook message. And she said months earlier that she was not really interested in speaking to me for the story, but I hoped she might be able to confirm this fact. And sure enough she wrote back and said what she actually had was “file folders” of plans, not a “binder.” So that is why in Chapter 7, you will hear Al Long speaking to the preparation of Renee Stiles in putting on these events, and then I interject to clarify the container in which she kept these plans was file folders.

On the schedule:

It was in early February that I began writing the episodes. That was a hectic time because around then, I set the date of May 10 to release the story. So I needed to write one episode per week beginning in February.

I was aiming for all of the episodes to be between 40 and 50 minutes, which, as you can see, did not happen. I spent a lot of time agonizing over what things to cut, what to include. But at the beginning of April, I had eight scripts that were written out–exactly what my voiceover would be, what the interviews were saying, whatever was in the council meeting clips. And I annotated everything so I knew where to pull the clips from and what part of the interview needed to be pasted into the episode.

In April, I started editing everything together. I finished each episode in about four days, which I consider fast. And again, that’s due to me knowing in advance what day and hour and minute to go to when pulling clips.

The part I hated the most was putting music underneath everything. It is so much pressure to pick the right song! And when you don’t have someone custom composing the music, whatever you choose may be perfect for the first 45 seconds and then it switches to a mood that is entirely different from what the story is trying to communicate.

Or I might have something that’s two minutes long, but I need something for 3.5 minutes. Or there’s the fact that I had a lot of sinister-sounding music and there just weren’t that many different sinister songs to choose from. So that was probably the part I hated the most, even more than transcribing the interviews, was picking the music.

BREAKING NEWS: “Tear It Down” is available

Calling all councilheads! I have a major announcement.

Last summer, a young council member in North College Hill, Ohio contacted me asking for help. I spent the next 10 months chronicling the bizarre situation with her city’s government–where one faction rebelled against the establishment, then began using their power to block, delay, and demolish.

amber1

That audio story, based on 200 hours of council meetings, 60 hours of interviews, and many, many documents, is called “Tear It Down.”

You can listen to all eight parts of the series here.

Please also subscribe on iTunes and leave a rating and review.

You can also join the “Tear It Down” community by following the Twitter account or Facebook page. Spread the word!

NEW! “Tear It Down” Podcast

Big news, everyone: on May 10, I will release “Tear It Down,” a special project I have been working on for nearly a year.

If you liked “Serial,” “S-Town,” or the City Council Chronicles podcast, you should mark your calendars! This is an eight-part audio story about a small city where a group of insurgents seized control of the city council, setting off one battle after another. Some people were chased away. Some people stayed and fought back. And for better or for worse, it changed the city.

Right now, please go to iTunes and subscribe. And follow the program on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Finally, visit the Tear It Down site to see a preview of the series. Get ready for May 10.

tearitdown-podcast-logo