Tips for Producers from Radio & Digital Storytelling


Every year PBS Kids releases an RFP (request for proposals), and for several years I’ve submitted show treatments. Although, I’ve made it to the final round a few times, my shows don’t get chosen. And for a while, it hurt my feelings (For the record, I love PBS, and it will forever be close to my heart. Alas, reluctantly, I will share my latest proof-of-concept video and then critique it).


At any rate, after reading a few chapters in STORY CIRCLE: Digital Storytelling Around the World, I think I’ve stumbled across some tips to help me in the future. I’ll be referring to two articles: “Radio Storytelling and Beyond” and “Digital Storytelling in Education.” (I should mention that, of course, the goal isn’t just to be selected for production on a show, but also to create engaging and authentic media. Whether one’s goal is to strengthen their television pitches, produce better YouTube vlogs, or educate an international audience, I think the tips mentioned in these articles are helpful).

In “Radio Storytelling & Beyond” Marie Crook shares a few pointers she’s gleaned from leading storytelling workshops for the BBC. (I should mention that Radio stories are two- to three-minute audio stories made in the same way as digital stories —in the CDS [Center for Digital Storytelling] style, but without images.)

  1. There should be no agenda on the part of the facilitator regarding which story the participant should tell.
    —> I think this is incredibly difficult to enforce when producing content for a network with a broad audience, as some stories are more compelling or relevant than other at any particular time. Sometimes because of what’s happening politically, for example, some stories have more significance. All things considered, I think this tip (although difficult to enforce) is a good starting point: that story emanates from character. SO involve the subject in the creation process. Regarding my most recent PBS submission, I should have involved a subject from the target demo in this process. Instead of myself as subject, it should have been a kid!

Now, switching articles, there are some really cool benefits of digital storytelling within the realm of education. Patrick Lowenthal describes digital storytelling as an emerging institutional technology —and I agree! These are just a few of the benefits he lists:

  • Increase student engagement
    Unlike traditional instructional strategies, digital storytelling engages students in the “language of their generation” (Hofer and Swan 2006: 679)

  • Student emotion
    Digital storytelling has been shown “to provide closure to deeply emotional issues in … [students] lives” (Robin and Pierson 2005: 713).

  • Agency
    Some commonly identified benefits range from increasing student reflection (Barrett 2004), engendering student creativity (Hofer and Swan 2006), increasing students’ technology skills (Robin 2006), developing communication skills (Porter 2006), appealing to diverse learning styles (University of Houston n.d.), creating critical thinkers (Ohler 2005/6) and critical viewers of media (Howell and Howell 2003), improving research skills (University of Houston n.d.), and, finally, building learning communities (Standley and Ormiston 2003).

    This element is perhaps the most important to me. How do we create educational media that encourages agency on the part of the consumer? How do we train viewers to be critical thinkers?


I think it’s important to note that the only way to arrive at the benefits that Lowenthal mentions, is to begin with the tips that Crook stipulates (and she share two additional helpful tips in her article). In retrospect, I would have done things differently for my last RFP submission.

  • I should have involved a subject from the target demo

  • I should have let the story emanate from the subject instead of a predetermined script and concept.

I think these two considerations would have fundamentally altered the pitch, and produced a proof-of-concept that mitigated the distance between it and the intended audience.