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A Day In The Life Of Colorado Edition

An image of a planner sitting on top of a desk, filled with writing and notes. Newspapers, printed news articles, and sticky notes also take up space on the desk's surface.
Erin O'Toole
/
KUNC
A lot goes into the planning process for a single episode of Colorado Edition.

Colorado Edition celebrated its first birthday this week and to mark that milestone, we decided a little gift was in order for you, dear listeners. Don’t worry, it’s nothing expensive, just a little token of our appreciation: We’re offering a glimpse behind the curtain so you can see a day in the life of Colorado Edition – how the show comes together from concept to completion.

Step 1: Brainstorming

The Colorado Edition team – that’s Erin O’Toole and Henry Zimmerman of course, but also producer Lily Tyson, executive producer Brian Larson, and production jack-of-all-trades Rae Solomon – consider the important issues of the day and decide what we want to unpack. Sometimes that’s a story happening locally, like the resignation of Weld County public health director in the midst of a pandemic. Sometimes it’s a national story – like the Black Lives Matter protests – that we localize to understand how it plays out in our own communities. We field pitches from KUNC’s own extraordinary newsroom and from our media partners, like the Colorado Sun and Chalkbeat.

In choosing which stories to cover, we consider what’s floating around the public discourse, information that might be useful for our listeners and which stories can help Coloradans makes sense of our changing world. We also get to follow our own curiosity – and that can be really fun!

A white dry erase board hangs on a wall, filled with writing about the Colorado Edition production process. Includes notes on what items to publish to which platforms and at what step that is done. The final item on the checklist is "Margaritas!"
Erin O'Toole
Details are important to make sure that each episode of Colorado Edition comes together, both from a production and a publishing standpoint.

Step 2: Shaping the Format

Once we decide which stories to focus on, we turn to how we want to cover them.

Sometimes, we find a topic can be best understood in conversation with one, really knowledgeable expert. Last May, for instance, we wanted to cover Colorado’s supreme court case about faithless electors. It’s an arcane topic, and not one that most people get emotional about or experience personally. In advance of the oral arguments for the case, we spoke with Princeton politics professor Keith Whittington, and an expert in constitutional law, who was able to break down the stakes of the case with us, so we could all understand it better.

Sometimes a story is more complex; it may have so many angles that a single expert can’t cover them all, or maybe the topic is very contentious and multiple sides need to be represented and explained. In that case, we like to produce a conversation with a reporter – either from KUNC or from our media partners – who has been researching the topic, and can cite what they’ve learned from multiple sources.

For example, in August, Colorado Edition aired a conversation with KUNC reporters Leigh Paterson and Adam Rayes about the myriad protests in cities up and down the front range this summer. The reporters had been on scene at several of these protests and were able to talk in depth about a sensitive subject to help our listeners untangle a complicated situation.

Reporters in KUNC’s newsroom do a lot of in-depth research. They’re not only looking what is happening in the world, but placing things in context, and trying to understand how events of the day impact people and communities. When stories like these come together, reporters produce feature stories. These are narrative; they usually focus on a central character at the heart of the subject, and bring the listeners into a scene all through sound. Features take more time and effort to produce, and the Colorado Edition team is always proud to highlight the extraordinary feature story production of KUNC’s newsroom.

Step 3: Producing

A lot of work goes into producing a conversation for Colorado Edition. Once we’ve decided on the topic we’d like to cover, the next step is searching for the right person to talk to. Sometimes we can tap our go-to sources, but it often requires some serious sleuthing.

We might identify one or two likely candidates, but then we put them through a screen process we call the “pre-interview.” A producer speaks to the potential guest on the phone to get a better sense of their expertise, figure out what they are likely to say, and dig around for any interesting angles we might have missed in our initial research. But we’re also vetting potential guests to make sure they are what we call in the radio biz “good talkers.” We want to speak to guests who are not only knowledgeable about a subject, but who speak in dynamic, engaging ways. After all, monotone and jargon do not come across well on the radio!

Producers take everything they’ve learned through research and the pre-interview and use it to craft an interview script. We think about creating a coherent narrative arc through questioning, and we want to make sure the interview hits on all of the important – and interesting – points of a subject.

The hosts do their own research and edit the script in preparation for the conversation. In normal times, guests will call in or connect digitally with the host, who is in the studio. During these strange times, most of the recording is happening at home, using video conferencing platforms like Zoom.

Hosts will record themselves with professional equipment, and a producer might be on the line to record, listen for glitches or mistakes, and generally ensure a smooth and complete recording session. The producer is also listening for how they might want to edit the conversation, which is the next step in producing the show.

Producers or hosts edit, or cut down, the audio recording of the conversation, trying to create a perfect balance of timing and clarity. We might cut out false starts, digressions, or even entire questions, if the answers were less pertinent than the rest. Most raw recordings are between 12 and 20 minutes long, but the produced conversations usually end up somewhere between 5 and 9 minutes long

We end up with a collection of pieces – both conversations and features – that more or less fill the time we have allotted for the show. The Colorado Edition team scripts around these pieces, writing introductions, transitions and conclusions, for instance, and the hosts record their lines.

Finally, a producer stitches the whole show together, combining the host lines and the produced pieces to create a coherent listening experience that makes the show sound smooth and (hopefully) makes all of the production work invisible (or inaudible) to the radio audience.

Step 4: Putting it Out in the World

The last step of the production process is putting the show out into the world. You may be surprised to learn that this is one of the most complex parts of production, because the show lives in several different places! It airs on KUNC at 6:30 pm Monday through Thursday, and again at 8:30 the next morning. We also release the show as a podcast and post it to KUNC’s website. Finally, we share the show with our radio station partners in Carbondale (KDNK) and Paonia (KVNF). We have to tweak the show slightly for each and every one of those platforms and distribute each unique version through a different channel.

It can take some real time to prepare and distribute all the versions of the show so that our listeners can have a seamless experience across all our platforms.

And that, more or less, is how the sausage gets made at Colorado Edition. A small, but mighty team puts together the show four days a week. Sometimes we start the morning unsure what the show is going to look like at the end of the day, and we just barely make it over the finish line. Other times, everything miraculously comes together beforehand. Either way, we want the show to sound so good that you’ll never know what kind of a day we had back here in production.

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