RealJobs: Ari Daniel Shapiro

I tell stories for a living.  Mostly stories about science and the environment using radio and multimedia.  I do work for a variety of public radio outlets that broadcast nationally, as well as university departments and research institutions.  I produce audio only stories as well as audio slideshows (audio tracks + pictures and video).  Here are a few of my pieces:

On any given day, I’m usually working on half a dozen projects simultaneously.  Each radio piece or podcast involves:

  • thinking through what the story will be (usually with an editor, though the shape of a story usually changes as I work on it)
  • collecting tape (this is one of my favorite parts of the job because it lets me meet new people, explore their world for a stretch of time, and really get to know them and the issue they’re passionate about)
  • logging tape (different reporters take different approaches – I prefer to write down everything someone says in an excel spreadsheet because it helps me find the audio I want to use when I’m writing the script; for me, it’s a way of staying organized)
  • writing a script (this involves blending my own written narration with tape that I’ve collected in the field; I also think about how to layer in natural sounds that help tell the story)
  • editing the script (I work on the script with my editor either over the phone or by sending the text back and forth a few times over email; the final edit involves me reading the piece aloud and playing the cuts of tape)
  • voicing the piece (I speak the written segments of narration into a high quality microphone in a radio studio; recently I’ve been reading my pieces to a colleague who mentors me in terms of delivery and emphasis)
  • mixing and bouncing the piece (in a program called ProTools, I combine my voiced narration with the tape cuts and ambient sound to create an audio draft of the piece; if this is a piece for a radio station, usually they do the mix; regardless, my editors listen to the mix and bounce the final piece)
  • airing/posting (we air the radio piece on the program or we post the podcast online)

An audio slideshow works similarly except that I work with a photographer in the field to collect photos.  Instead of voicing the audio slideshows, I rely on the interview subject to supply all of the narration.  This means a much more involved edit of the tape.  I mix the audio in ProTools and produce the finished visual product in Final Cut Pro.

When I was at BC, I majored in biology and minored in math.  I worked in a couple of labs while I was there (those of Dr. Seyfried and Dr. Strauss in the bio department), and decided to continue studying science after graduating.  So I went on to get a master’s degree in animal behavior from the University of St Andrews in Scotland and a Ph.D. in biologically oceanography from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  As I was finishing up my Ph.D., I realized that I didn’t want to continue doing research.  I ended up working on a science radio project with Atlantic Public media – a creative radio outfit based in Woods Hole.  And I fell in love with the storytelling and the constant learning that’s required in my job now.

If you’re interested in this line of work, I would recommend checking out the following websites:

  • www.transom.org – A showcase and workshop for new public radio
  • www.prx.org – The Public Radio Exchange, an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming

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