have developed two educational resources around the Youth Portraits
Series: the Youth Portraits Study Guide and
the Recording and Interviewing Tutorial.
can use the Youth Portraits stories to help other young people
explore their sense of self. The 60-page study guide is more than
just a prescriptive curriculum with lesson objectives and end-of-chapter
tests; it invites students to relate to the narrators and learn
from their stories.
You can download
the study guide as PDF file using the link below (please note
that the file is 2.8MB and may take some time to download):
Portraits Study Guide [PDF file]
used the study guide, please share your thoughts with us by filling
out our study guide evaluation form.
guide was produced by Stacy Abramson out of WNYC.
It is a collaboration between Sound Portraits, WNYC, the New York
City Department of Education, and Friends of Island Academy, and
was made possible with funding from the Open Society Institute.
a print version of the study guide, for copies of the series on
CD, or for more information about the guide, please e-mail Rebecca
Weinstein at RWeinst3@nycboe.net.
and Interviewing Tutorial
Learn the Youth
Portraits techniques for arranging interviews, making broadcast-quality
recordings, and getting good tape. The "Taping Tips"
handbook used by Youth Portraits participants is divided into
up the interview
need some basic recording equipment: For recording, we used a
Sony MZR700 MiniDisc recorder (approx. $200)
and a Shure SM-58
microphone (approx. $100). Then we edited the pieces on an iMac
using Digidesign's ProTools Free editing
software, which you can download for free from Digidesign's
your interviewee. When you set up an appointment, you should
explain to the person you are interviewing what the Youth Portraits
project is. Tell them how much time the interview will take
-- around an hour or so. Also, be sure to ask if it's okay to
use excerpts of their interview in your radio piece and on the
your questions. A few days before the interview, write up
a list of questions. Bring your list with you, and go over it
on the way there. The more familiar you are with your questions,
the easier it will be for you to ask them in a conversational
style. You want to sound natural, not stiff and formal.
your equipment. Before you head off, make sure your equipment
is working. Record yourself talking into the mic for a minute,
then play it back. And be sure to bring more supplies than you'll
need: at least four MiniDiscs and two extra AA batteries for
at the interview
a quiet place. Always conduct interviews in the quietest
possible place. A living room or bedroom with lots of carpeting
is best. Large rooms that have an echo sound terrible. Kitchens
sound terrible because they tend to have a a lot of reflective
surfaces. Turn off anything that is making noise -- you can
even ask your subject if it's okay to unplug an appliance if
it's making a sound). Close the door, too. Never record interviews
when there's a radio or television on in the background, because
the tape will be impossible to edit. When you're visiting a
subject and trying to decide where to do the interview, explain
what you're looking for sound-wise. You might want to say something
like, "This is radio. The room doesn't have to look nice,
just sound nice. Even a closet is fine."
up the microphone. Connect your microphone to the jack with
the red band around it -- the hole farthest to the right, next
to the battery cover. Keep the microphone about five inches
(one spread-out hand's length) away from the mouth of whoever
is talking. You may feel strange getting so close to the person
who you are interviewing, but don't worry, you'll get used to
it. Never put the microphone down on a table when doing an interview.
Always hold it in your hand.
headphones. Always wear headphones when recording. If anything
sounds weird while you're recording, something is definitely
wrong. Stop right there and figure out the problem. There's
no point in proceeding. The tape will be unusable.
To record, slide the red RECORD button to the right. Be
patient -- the machine will take a couple seconds to get going.
Always double-check that you're actually recording. You should
see a tiny black REC box and a spinning disc icon in the display
and sound should be coming through your headphones. If the sound
is too loud or too quiet, adjust headphone volume using the
+ and - buttons on the machine. Don't use the remote control
on the headphone cord. It could mess the machine up.
hit END SEARCH before you record. This fast-forwards the
disc past everything you've already recorded. If you don't do
this, you might accidentally record over interviews you've already
done. Don't accidentally erase your old interviews! Even if
you're using a brand new disk, press END SEARCH anyway, just
to stay in the habit.
back. The easiest way to play stuff back is to press END
SEARCH; use the menu button to scroll through your tracks, and
when you reach the right one, press PLAY. If you want to fast-forward
to the middle of a track, press and hold down FAST FORWARD until
you get where you want to go; if you want to go backwards within
a track, press and hold down REWIND.
your equipment -- again. Always make sure that you're actually
recording when you think you are. It's a good idea to make a
10-second test recording at the beginning of an interview and
play it back to yourself to make sure everything is okay. Then
you can start recording again with peace of mind!
- Get a
spoken okay. Tell your interviewee that parts of this interview
might appear on the radio or on the Web. Ask if this is okay
with them. Tell them they don't have to use their last name
if that makes them uncomfortable.
people comfortable. Remember that people are often nervous
about being recorded. Try to act as normal as possible. Now
is a good time to explain that everything will be edited, and
that you won't use the whole interview in your story -- only
roll, roll. You can never have too much tape. Start your
machine rolling right away. Make it a practice never to turn
off or pause your recorder. Leave it running as much as possible.
intervewees identify themselves. Always start the interview
by asking the subject to identify himself. Say something like,
"Who are you, how old are you, what do you do?" Or
whatever is appropriate for that particular interview.
Look your subject in the eye. Stay interested and engaged.
the interviewee be more descriptive. When you need your
subject to describe something, it often helps to ask them to
"paint a picture" with words.
the good stuff. Only a small portion of what you record
will make it into your final story. So when you hear something
dynamite -- something you have a strong feeling you'll use in
the final piece -- stick with it. Have the subject talk about
it as much as possible. If a good story is told with a bad ending,
say to the subject, "This is radio and everything will
be edited. Would you please tell the story again?" When
you're on to good stuff, milk it; if it's boring, move on.
- Ask emotional
questions. Questions like "How does this make you feel?"
often makes for good tape. Don't be afraid to ask them. Cuts
with a lot of emotional content work very well on radio.
- Be yourself.
You can laugh with the person you are interviewing or even
cry with them. Real moments are the best moments. If your interviewee
is shy or reserved, try telling them something personal about
yourself. It will probably make them feel much more comfortable
and help them open up to you too.
- Get stories.
Encourage your subject to tell you stories. For example,
if your subject tells you that she used to get into fights with
her father all the time, say, "Tell me about one fight
that stands out in your mind." Make sure your subjects
tell their stories in chronological sequence, from beginning
just sit there. Get people to give you tours and use props.
If your grandmother is talking about the house she grew up in,
ask if she has any photographs that you can look at together
the action. Your listeners can't see what's happening. Get
your subjects to explain what's going on -- "Right now
we're opening up the photo album."
be afraid to rerecord. If your subject is reading a document
(like a letter or poem), make sure you get the whole thing.
If the subject makes any sort of mistake or garbles words, have
them go back a little and try it again -- everything can be
edited. Make sure you are completely happy with the reading.
Feel free to do it as many times as necessary.
- Be curious
and honest and keep an open heart. Great things will happen.
audio notes. After the interview, record audio notes. Describe
what the person was wearing, what they looked like. Paint a
picture of the place you were in. Talk about the mood of the
interview, how you felt at various points. If things went differently
than you expected, describe how. Talk about how you're feeling
now that the interview is finished.
track of your tracks. Each time you stop and start the machine
you create a new "track," just like the tracks on
a CD. Keep a list of what is on every single track (e.g., Track
1, "10 second recording test"; Track 2, "Interview
with Mom"; Track 3, "Ambience from D train.")
the time. A blank MiniDisc has room for about one hour and
ten minutes of sound. Before you start recording, see much time
you have left.
your batteries. Each AA battery is good for about two hours
of recording. Keep an eye on the power indicator in the top
right corner of the display and change batteries frequently!
It's better to throw away a battery that's only half-used than
to have the machine die out right in the middle of a great interview.
worry if the machine goes off. The machine powers off after
10 seconds if there's nothing being recorded onto it or nothing
being played back. Press END SEARCH to start up again.
things carefully. Pack up your equipment neatly. If you
just throw everything in a bag, your microphone cords will get
tangled and your recorder will break. Always pack the recorder
in a pouch, and pack that pouch in the padded carrying case.
your finished discs. When you finish a disc, immediately
label it with the name of the subject and the date of the interview.
If you want to, you can even open up a couple of fresh discs
and create the labels before you go into the interview, so you
can move quickly. Guard your finished tapes with your life!
Protect your discs. Write protecting your discs prevents
you from accidentally recording over stuff. Here's how to do
it: When you're done with a disc, push the tab at the top all
the way to the left. A write-protected disc will look like it
has a little hole at the top.
your machine gently. It's a lot more fragile than a Walkman,
so don't jostle or shake it while playing or recording. Never
force a MiniDisc into the recorder. If it doesn't slide in easily,
it's facing the wrong way. If you're having trouble, pull the
disc out, look for the arrow on the disc, then slip it back
into the player in that direction