Hosted by CIVL Radio as the first of a three-part event series to coincide with the CIVL Mini School, veteran radio producer Scott Carrier was invited to deliver a talk on his experience as an independent journalist over the past three decades, reflecting on his favourite stories and how to make it in radio, as well as offering a Q&A session following the talk.
One of the radio pieces that Carrier played for the attendees was about his journey hitchhiking across the United States, and interviewing people from all walks of life as he went. Published by NPR as a part of their All Things Considered program, it was the work that acted as a base for the rest of his career and propelled him to future success. Part of the reason was his voice, calm and soothing, with an innate ability to pull the listener in with his excellent sense of timing and efficient tone. According to Carrier, the biggest takeaway from hitchhiking across America was that “Americans are crazy, they are batshit crazy.”
While discussing that piece, Carrier mentioned that when first starting in journalism or radio, you should do the story and then present it rather than pitching ideas and then proceeding to do the story. There is a much better chance of that story being accepted or received well compared to ideas, because the finished story shows a sense of commitment to your abilities and togetherness. Additionally, when it comes to radio and / or journalism, the key is stick to your gut as everyone has an opinion that is unique unto themselves.
During his talk, Carrier cited his experience interviewing people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, emphasizing that one of the most important things he learned in his career is to never change the way an interview is going to be based on the person or people being interviewed. Whether the person is a doctor or a homeless person should not act as a bias to the interview.
When genuine care and interest is exhibited by not allowing a person’s occupation, ideologies, etc. to influence the tone, the best responses are elicited.
Furthermore, he mentioned that no matter the experience one has in interviewing people, it’s almost always difficult and that it’s a much better experience having a person there for moral support.
When the interview is finished editing — to which Carrier added that 70 per cent of radio and journalism is editing — the key is that without context, there is no meaning. An interviewee could have the best responses, but without the context to provide a background and a clearer understanding, the responses have no meaning.
To hear his fascinating takes, listen to Home of the Brave, a podcast produced by Scott Carrier where original stories are played along with stories that have aired on NPR and other radio shows.
After the talk, The Cascade caught up with Scott Carrier to learn more about his career in radio and journalism, including a look into his personal life.
In your journey as an independent writer and radio producer, would you have changed anything along the way?
Knowing things now, I probably would’ve done things differently. I mean, I feel alright about it. It’s really important to meet people and develop a network of friends and relationships, and I think I would have put more energy into actually reaching out and meeting people whose work I loved. I can still do that and I don’t; I live in Salt Lake City and I’m a relatively private person. I don’t reach out enough and try to meet people, so coming to these things is really good. I wish I would’ve done it better when I was younger, been more gregarious and more confidence socially because then I would have a bigger network, and the network is the whole thing, the network of friends and relationships. I know now that that’s how things happen.
How do you separate looking for a story in your life from your regular life? Are they one and the same at this point?
It’s kind of the same thing; right now it’s all I do. I do try to do stories I’m interested in, and now there’s no one telling me what to do or how to do it. I mean, there is a difference; I can’t weep and moan on my radio program, no one’s going to tolerate that. You have to stay on subject because the listener doesn’t want to believe all of the problems, they just want you to tell you the story. I’m a different character on the radio program than I am in my real life. I think it’s always like that, you have to have a persona because otherwise you torture your audience with all of your bullshit problems. I leave that out.
What are your thoughts on the state of journalism?
It’s not very good, it’s pretty bad right now. It’s mainly [because] of the consolidation of different companies. There used to be around a hundred and now there are six. That’s a sick, dangerous scenario, and that’s the main reason why journalism is not very good right now. If you’re going to make money, you’re going to be working for one company, the corporate power structure. And the corporate power structure wants to maintain and promote the corporate power structure, which is detrimental to most people on the planet except the rich fuckers.
How do you convert a radio piece to a writing piece and vice versa?
It’s hard. Sometimes with a news story, you can just transcribe and it’ll work but as far as trying to get someone that vicarious feeling, you really have to start over and work the whole story. You use the medium to achieve that effect in the audience. [For writing], you have to set up and explain a lot more, and then in [radio], you use audio and you have all of this information and you can hear it, you don’t have to say it in the narration. You can hear a person is old and about to die by the sound of their voice. In print, you have to learn that you have to say everything; anything you want the reader to know, you have to say it because there are no voices, it’s just the words you put on a page. You also have more control in print as you can limit the information you want. People are talented in one area and not in others; a really good editor is not necessarily a good writer. It’s good to have a good writer and a good editor if they work together. That’s how the best work is done, through team effort, a bunch of specialists coming to work together. That’s how you get the best product.
During your talk, you discussed your childhood. Being in grade one at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, did that affect you in any way, whether in the moment or the future?
I was six and what affected me was how scared all of the grownups were. When you’re six, you don’t really know that much, but you notice the behaviour of your parents and other grown-ups. You could feel it. I remember staying outside, looking at the other kids and saying, “What the hell? What’s going on?” I didn’t understand it, but you could feel the emotion, fear, and being lost. Everybody, regardless of how old they were, remembers that.
What’s the biggest advantage of being in the media?
Meeting people and travelling. Being able to pursue your own curiosities is probably the biggest advantage. You can answer questions you have by going to the experts in the field or actually going to the place for yourself. If things go right, you can get paid and survive doing that. That’s wonderful compared to working a job you don’t like in a place you don’t like. It’s a trade off, because you don’t make a lot of money much of the time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.