Reporting on the #1 Party School

Anyone who knows me knows I love radio and, in particular, I love the popular radio show, This American Life. Anyone who really knows me knows that not only have I listened to nearly all 567 episodes of the show, but also knows when I had the opportunity to see TAL host and co-creator Ira Glass at a live show in Madison as a 16 year-old, I nearly collapsed in admiration. He was to me what One Direction’s Harry Styles was to typical teenagers I knew. An idol.

Ira Glass has a particular knack for creative storytelling that truly sticks with a reader. TAL transcends the limits of radio and paints a picture for every listener, as though he or she is right next to the reporter at the time of the interview. Any time I listen to an episode I’ve heard before,  the narration is so vivid and striking that it evokes the memory of where I was when I first listened to the episode.

Sarah Koenig’s report for weekly radio show This American Life, ‘#1 Party School,’ is one of the shows that firmly plants itself in my memory. I remember first listening to it as I lay in bed sick one winter afternoon, staying home from school. I remember listening to the opening segment, during which Sarah details records audio of a typical weekend in State College, Pennsylvania as the night unleashes drunken college students on her lawn. I remember rolling over in my bed as she described one student urinating on a nearby sidewalk, wondering if college kids were really that idiotic (they are!).

I listened to it another time on my first drive up to Madison as a high school junior. Sitting in the car and hearing detailed reports of just how wild students would become in State College on game days, I remember silently fearing the content would prompt my mom to begin a “drink-responsibly” talk to encourage me to make good choices. Luckily the program ended with segment on Penn State’s initiative to subside binge-drinking on campus, and though their efforts returned bleak improvements, it managed to be enough to delay her lecture.

Listening to the episode a third time this past weekend gave me insight into the depths the producers and reporters go to to capture every angle of the story. Koenig gathers literal man-on-street coverage, producer Nancy Updike talks to local business owners, other reporters binge-drinking and party atmosphere from the university’s perspective. The program is so thorough that you can’t help but have a detailed image of drinking on Penn State’s campus, even without any physical imagery.

It’s these type of reports — those that are so compelling, detailed, and visual — that I one day hope to contribute to the media landscape.

And who knows? Maybe twenty years from now, teenagers will collapse when they see me. Let’s hope so.


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