On the Fly Editorial Decisions for WAMU’s 1A

By Dean’s Intern Orion Donovan-Smith at WAMU

Orion Donovan-SmithI’m capping off my year in AU’s graduate journalism program with an internship at 1A, a weekday talk radio program produced by WAMU and distributed by NPR. The two-hour show airs on nearly 250 stations across the country and reaches an average of four million listeners a week, with topics ranging from breaking news (typically in the first hour) to arts and culture (usually in the second). The show stands out among NPR’s programming for its heavy use of listener engagement — through voicemails, social media posts, and occasionally live calls.

For most of the summer, my main role was to edit the 1A podcast, filling in when the regular editor was away. The trouble was I’d never edited audio, much less a podcast. Thankfully, the 1A team has been great to work with and gave me a crash course in the first weeks of the internship, and by the time I took over the podcast I had the basics down.

Still, it was a real challenge to turn the product around in just a few hours each afternoon. While 1A typically dedicates a full hour to a single topic, the podcast has to be cut down to 35 minutes, based on data on how long a podcast most people are willing to listen to. That means cutting not only elements specific to a live show — calls for listeners to tweet their questions, for instance — but also whole chunks of a conversation. I also had to write extra, podcast-specific tracks for the host to read to make the transformation from live show to podcast as seamless as possible.

With just a few hours between a show’s airing and the deadline to submit a finished podcast, those on-the-fly editorial decisions I had to make were the toughest part of editing the podcast. After a few weeks in the role, I felt more confident and was thankful for the 1A team giving me that responsibility. I’ve now handed the podcast back over to the regular editor and will spend the last few weeks of the internship focused on producing shows.