After the Quake: Patients and Healers


My brain tingled while interviewing Dan Grech for this Saltcast. Dan is the News Director at WLRN in southern Florida. He’s also a producer for the station’s public affairs program Under the Sun.

Early in 2010, Dan produced a story about four doctors who traveled to Haiti soon after the earthquake. One of the doctors videotaped part of the trip and captured a remarkable moment in a medical tent. Dan viewed the tape and said “Radio story!” So he interviewed the four doctors and mixed the interview tape with audio from the video.

But, Dan thought the piece needed a bit more sound. So, he added some tape recorded at a Haitian airport and from the medical tent — sound recorded long after the day of the video tape recording. And that begs the question: Can you do that? (Hence, the brain tingling.)

On this Saltcast, Dan and I discuss that very question and a few related ethical issues surrounding what could be called “mis-appropriated sound.”

Have a listen!



PS – Here’s a link to Dan’s Marketplace story referenced in the Saltcast. Mind you, it won’t make sense to listen to this without listening to the Saltcast first!!

PPS – CORRECTION – An earlier version of this podcast was posted with a mistake. I said that the audio of the tarmac and the medical tent was recorded “long after” the videotape recording. Not true. Those sounds were recorded at about the same time. The reposted version of this podcast corrects that mistake. Also, a shout out to Kenny Malone. Kenny worked with Dan Grech on this project and was responsible for, among many things, the overall production style of the piece.


  1. 6 Responses to “After the Quake: Patients and Healers”

  2. By Martyn Moore on Jan 8, 2011

    This was fascinating. Especially the discussion at the end about the ‘grey area’.

    When I was a news journalist working in print, the grey area was easy to define: the words had to be true.

    When I moved in photojournalism it began to get blurred. I worked with a photographer who had little cardboard discs of different sizes next to the photographic enlarger in the darkroom.

    If his photo of a goal being scored at a soccer match didn’t have the crucial “ball in the frame”, he would place a cardboard disc onto the paper when he printed, showing the white “ball” just beyond the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand.

    Now Photoshop has taken the possibility for deception to new levels. The blurring of the line between editorial, advertising and other commercial activity (where manipulation is the name of the game) only adds to the problem.

    Sound manipulation is very interesting. Adding in sound from nearby and relevant locations wouldn’t trouble me. It’s no different to cutting continuous speech into shorter bits and mixing them with edited comments from other people.

    Sequencing is changed and editing techniques are employed because most times the raw ‘tape’ is just too dull. Editing is an essential part of what we do and with editing comes a degree of manipulation.

    I also have no problem with the story of the coin dropped into cash box. It was an acceptable re-creation of the actual event and hurt no-one.

    But I’d like to throw in another hypothetical.

    Imagine that piece featuring the coin falling into the cash box won an award.

    In the judge’s comments one remarked: “The attention to detail was wonderful, and the presence of mind that enabled the producer to capture the VERY MOMENT the coin rattled so poignantly into the empty cash box was superb. A lesser producer might have missed that moment and, for me, that’s what set this work apart and made this feature a winner.”

    Could be an interesting acceptance speech…

  3. By Rob Rosenthal on Jan 12, 2011

    Martyn, Thanks for writing. So, what would you do? Would you let the judges know that it wasn’t the VERY MOMENT? Best, Rob

  4. By will rogers on Feb 25, 2011

    I once produced a radio piece about making a film. I wasn’t comfortable with narrating the piece myself (“This is me making a radio piece about me making a film…”) so I wrote the narration from the perspective of my assistant director, Jon.

    He made some simple changes to the script, and was generally excited about narrating the piece.

    Do I feel dishonest about this process?
    Hard to say. To be truthful, I feel pretty twisted about the entire thing, both the film and the radio piece we made about it.

    …for the film, I wanted to document an event so beautifully that the event itself could die. It’s sort of like the science fiction scenario where people choose a simulated reality once it’s more beautiful than the real one. The more I disliked the thing I was documenting, the more of an incentive I had to document it well… how’s that for a work ethic?

    One word to summarize: complex.

    I’m not so much drawn to that sort of thing anymore, and that feels good.

    Thanks so much for doing what you do, Rob. And thanks also to your editor.

  5. By Vincent Tomasso on Feb 11, 2012

    Sorry about the delayed comment, I just found out about Saltcast from a post on TAL’s facebook page about the How Sound podcast a few weeks ago. Listened to the first podcast of HS and that lead me to here. I have been catching up since, listening to a dozen or so episodes a few time a week. I have a question for Rob. Rob, it seems that you still had reservations about the staged coin drop to capture the moment,even though the moment had actually happened and the staging wasn’t created, just recreated by the personnel involved,close to the time it took place with the actual items that made the event in the first place. If Dan had used a larger coin, or a more hollow box or any other device to manufacture the moment, that would be suspect but I don’t see how what he did is any different from asking an interviewee to repeat something they just said because it wasn’t clear on the tape or phrased in a useful way etc. You clearly advocated such interviewing techniques, especially when producing a narrator free piece. Just curious, not judging(and I am aware that there is no way to not come across as judgy when starting a sentence”You clearly advocated”). I would like to thank you for putting these up! I am a public radio and podcast junkie and have really enjoyed catching up on these. Looking forward to listening to the HS podcast, already subscribed, just have to get there! Thanks again.

  6. By Rob Rosenthal on Feb 13, 2012

    Hi Vincent,

    Really glad you are digging Saltcast and HowSound. Thanks for listening. And, many thanks for writing.

    I think I could sleep at night if I had asked the ice cream seller to re-do the plopping of the coin in the cash register. 🙂

    I suspect, though, I would have hesitated asking him to do it. And, knowing me, I probably would have mulled for a ridiculously long time before putting it in the piece.

    Perhaps I just need to get over it. (Wouldn’t be the first time.)

    But, I’m concerned about slippery slopes. And, if am willing to draw the line there, what next step might I take?

    Maybe the answer is “it depends” which means there’s not a one-size-fits all answer.

    Your analogy is a good one — what’s the difference between asking someone to repeat something vs. asking someone to re-plop a coin in a cash register? Probably not much. Though, asking someone to repeat something doesn’t feel performative whereas asking someone to repeat an action feels performative. My job as a reporter is to capture life as it is, not life as I’ve directed it to be.

    That said, I’ve asked people to answer a question after I’ve given them the first few words, something like: “When I milk cows, I think about….”

    In those very rare instances, I’ve been very cautious about what I say to the interviewee. I’ll say things like “This is going to be weird, but I think I may need to put words in your mouth. If this doesn’t work for you, just say so….”

    Anyway, for me, I’m most comfortable staying away from that edge — the start of the slippery slope where I’m asking people to perform. But, I also realize there’s the reality of working in the field and the need to “get the tape.”

    There. Is that answer muddled enough for you? 🙂

    Thanks again for writing.

    Cheers ,

  7. By Rob Rosenthal on Feb 14, 2012

    I woke up this morning having this additional thought about my last post. I’ve never put words in someone’s mouth if I was working on a journalistic story — at least not that I can remember. I’ve done that for commercial work, audio tours, oral-history style projects for non-profits, etc. Just sayin’. — r

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