Edward Stephenson, Tobacco Auctioneer

Tobacco warehouse, Richmond, Virginia, circa 1918.


Keys to good storytelling: strong, simple writing; solid voicing; professional recording and mixing; compelling characters; a seductive narrative; visuals…..

What else?

John Biewen says “sure-handedness,” a compelling, internal logic where one idea flows seamlessly into the next.

John’s a freelance radio producer and the Audio Program Director at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). He’s taught techniques for sure-handedness to hundreds of students and shares a few of those tips on this edition of HowSound. We also listen to a CDS student production from 2003 about Edward Stephenson, a tobacco auctioneer. It’s produced by Mara Zepada and Kate Waters. John says it’s a great example of sure-handedness.

And, with all your spare time, check out a slew of CDS-produced stories at PRX.

Ciaodah, Rob



7 comments to Edward Stephenson, Tobacco Auctioneer

  • mark

    Thanks, I’m a science teacher and I found this really good advice for planning lessons (especially as when you are studying physics you don’t get much training in communicating science).

    Really enjoy the podcast.

  • Ben Markus

    Extremely helpful. After getting an essay back soaked in red ink, my college english professor implored an outline. “A” papers soon followed. How did something I’d known for years get ignored.

    As you say, it can seem like such a simple thing — to make an outline. But I can’t think of a more important, oft overlooked, aspect of produced story telling. Whether it be news or documentary.

  • jessica

    This could not have come at a more perfect time! I’ve just started editing my first piece, and have been trying to figure out how people do this. The tip about making a list of all the elements is especially welcome. Another thing I’ve found very helpful (in putting together the 5:40 I have so far), is having a naive listener hear your drafts. They’ll stop you as soon as they get confused, which can be helpful when you’re up to your eyeballs in the context and don’t remember that your listener doesn’t know what you do.

  • Rob Rosenthal

    Hey Everyone — Organizing info for a story is a BIG challenge. So glad you are finding these tips helpful. If you have some you’d like to add to the discussion, bring it on.


  • [...] Sound’s 10/19/11 podcast covers the concept of “sure-handedness” to enhance the quality of an audio story. The [...]

  • Outlines! Oh, how I loathed them in school. But I like to think I am older and wiser and can handle such things now.

    Good story, btw. The catch in his voice got me a little choked up, too.

  • […] is an idea from John Biewen. (Here’s more about it on How Sound.) Our teacher, Rob Rosenthal says you should be able to summarize your story in “quick, dumb […]

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