Monday, February 8, 2010

5-Star iPhone App: 'This American Life'

True, you can hear each weekly episode of Ira Glass's This American Life on the radio, or subscribe to its podcasts, for free. And if you want to hear past episodes, going all the way back to its launch in 1995, you need look (or listen) no further than its online archives -- also free.

So we've never fully understood why folks would pay 99 cents per episode to download them on iTunes -- though we certainly wouldn't begrudge the esteemed public radio program any well deserved income. The economics of purchasing what you could just as easily procure for free makes no sense, but the sentiment we can certainly understand.

But now there's a new five-star 'This American Life' iPhone/iPod Touch app that makes sense both financially and pragmatically.

You get all the episodes (past, present and future) with lots of bonus goodies, for a one-time flat rate of only $2.99, or the price of only three individual episodes on iTunes. Yes, that's still more than "free," but when you see what a nifty portable package this is, you'll realize it's the bargain of the century. Heck, it's almost worth buying an iPhone just to get this app!

Now you can listen not only while you're driving, but when you're taking a stroll or working out or... But that's not why we're plugging it here.

We watch a lot of videojournalism stories to find the creme de la creme for What we find, over and over, is that there are many that represent good video technique and journalism principles, but that they are deficient in their storytelling qualities. They may be decent reports, but that's what TV newscasts are for.

By contrast, videojournalism features beg for a central character and a dramatic arc -- not just soundbites and B-roll. That starts with fashioning story ideas that go beyond showing up and shooting an event. And it entails conducting interviews that compel subjects to relate a narrative, not just answer questions.

In radio, Studio 360's Kurt Andersen, Fresh Air's Terry Gross, and This American Life's Ira Glass lead the pack as masterful interviewers. Videojournalists would do well to listen carefully and learn from their example. (Fresh Air and Studio 360 can also be heard on their respective Websites and via free podcasts.) But This American Life goes beyond interviews and crafts non-fiction dramas -- with engaging protagonists (and antagonists), rising action, conflict, suspense, climax, resolution, and a moral.

So plunk down three bucks and treat yourself to hundreds of hours of invaluable tutelage from the master himself. But don't take our word for it. Let Ira explain it all for you:

Among the many "extras" you'll enjoy: audio of Ira Glass interviewing Terry Gross (and vice versa). "Nervewracking!"

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