Friday, April 28, 2017

The S-Town Podcast

As a "This American Life" fan, and a "Serial" fan, I was for sure going to give "S-Town" a shot.  The season dropped in a full batch, and so I - with a trip coming up - thought I would save it for the flight, which would have been a great idea, but as often happens I was in more of a re-read a book mood and so, I listened to one, but with so many podcasts piled up, I moved on to others, and for me I hit the end of episode 2 and went, oh, yeah, so binge listen it is then. 
The series should come with a trigger warning for depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.  I think it's kind of fun to go into it with very little idea of what it's about.  If you have ever wondered what the process of getting stories for things - be it newspapers, podcasts, radio, etc - not the cutesy movie compressed versions, this provides that.  If you just want to know is there something going on in this small town, that the original email writer called Shit-town, then, well, I can tell you, obviously there is.  But, like novels and TV shows that are more about the process than the results, that's what "S-Town" is.  
It certainly made me think about the statistics of stories that get killed and how many of these take months of searching, of visits and calls, only to turn into not much.  Or not enough for a ten minute segment.  That when we talk about the gutting of journalism, we're not just talking about people available to cover what world leaders say, but about the people available to spend months travelling and emailing and calling and recording in the hopes that it leads to something.  About how some of the best interviews are not where the interview asks a list of agreed upon questions, but when the interviewer lets the subject go on a tangent and draws them out further.  And how those are the little snippets and nuggets that stay with you. 
And as a person who prefers the pantser style of plotting, this idea of showing up with a mike and seeing where things go really appeals to me.  It often confuses non-writers, and even writer people with a more plotter driven style, how do you know if that story has enough if you haven't thought it through.  And the answer is I don't.  I have manuscripts on my hard drive that didn't have enough to sustain a book.  They might become a short someday, or they might just be an idea that wasn't fully baked.  And with experience you get better.  You get better at knowing this is about the right amount of conflict.  Or at being willing to re-write more to bake in more stuff as you go.  
It's also an excellent example of POV.  How you can listen to a story, and feel that you get it, you understand.  And then you hear another take and you throw that in with what you already knew, and see how it fits in and yet shifts your thinking on what had happened.  
If the lack of closure in "Serial" bugged you, I don't think "S-Town" is for you.  This is not to say things aren't found, discovered, examined.  But it is, in the end, as much, if not more, about the process, than the result.