You may have heard about the new podcast, S-Town, from the producers of This American Life and Serial. They posted all seven chapters last week and, when I couldn’t sleep one night, I binged on it.
It is great, IMHO. Mild spoiler alert, so you may want to read no further.
The podcast is the result of three years of work by Brian Reed, who paints a portrait of a very unusual fellow and his community in a small Alabama town. It feels like a novel, with lots of twists and turns in the plot. Unlike reading words on a page, however, we hear people’s actual voices, which creates a much closer connection with the characters.
I mention this podcast here for two reasons. First, the story has a Rashomon quality, as we see it first from one perspective and then we learn about the same events from a very different perspective – much like the conflict stories that DR intervenors deal with all the time.
I especially like the way that Mr. Reed asked questions. Obviously, he was very concerned about his subjects’ perspectives and feelings – and also was able to ask sensitive, probing questions that prompted very candid responses. He also was considerate about the potential consequences for his subjects. For example, at one point, he cautioned someone about not saying something that might incriminate the person. So, in addition to getting captivated by this fascinating story, DR folks might pay particular attention to Reed’s communication techniques as they provide a compelling model (though obviously not fully transferable to DR settings).