Anatomy of a This American Life story

By Bill Healy

A few weeks ago, This American Life aired a story by SJNN Fellow Adriana Cardona-Maguigad about an informal pipeline of addicts stretching from Puerto Rico to Chicago.

I invited Adriana to speak to my audio reporting class at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism about what it took to put the story together and what it was like to collaborate with producers at This American Life.

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Among her biggest pieces of advice?

Keep track of your audio and transcriptions, Adriana said. That way when you’re editing with different people you know where everything is.

Keep your recorder with you at all times too, she said, noting that there were times in Puerto Rico when she would bring a recorder to the beach with her.

Adriana said she was unprepared for what came after the story aired.

“I never really thought about the aftermath,” she said, “the explosion it would create.”

Adriana said she put all her energy into getting the yearlong investigation to air and didn’t consider what kinds of energy would be needed to work on follow-up stories. “I need to be ready for that explosion” in the future, she said.

Earlier last week Adriana published some reactions to the story – both positive and negative – in The Gate, the community newspaper she runs in Back of the Yards.

In the hour-long discussion, students asked Adriana about finding the balance between being a reporter and someone who directly helps people in need. Adriana spoke about her experiences with one person in particular and said, “He’s not just a source. He’s a human being.”

[The audio was recorded by Northwestern graduate journalism student Ellen Kobe. Photo by Viviana Bonilla in Puerto Rico.  Adriana is holding the microphone.]