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American Journalism Review
Over the Transom  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   October 2001

Over the Transom   

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (, a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      

The idea that, with the Internet, anyone can be a journalist makes many in the media shudder. At, the thought is celebrated.

A public radio playroom of sorts, encourages the exploration of new voices and techniques; discussions about the state of radio; and interactions among producers, subjects and listeners. Those who want to give the medium a try can find tools and instructions for editing and recording. The site serves as a stage for submissions its staff finds intriguing. And special guests--Studs Terkel was featured in July--offer their thoughts, take questions, prompt talk. Producer/ Editor Jay Allison calls it "a street-level entrance to public radio." Radio types and normal folks can get recognition for their recordings. "I love the idea of different voices on the air," he says. "I love the idea of people being able to speak to each other on the airways unmoderated by commercial concern."

This summer, the site highlighted a raw, emotional piece by Jake Warga based on a conversation Warga recorded with a friend who had attempted suicide and ultimately killed himself. "When Brian Took His Life" was Warga's first radio piece, and he used to learn editing techniques. Seattle's KUOW aired the story, and thanks to its life on Transom, public radio's "This American Life" plans to do so, as well.

Allison says he receives dozens of submissions a month. Stories have been picked up by the BBC and National Public Radio mainstays "Weekend Edition" and "All Things Considered." pays a fee to showcase the work initially--"microphone money," Warga calls it, plus a T-shirt; payment from NPR and such is up to the producer and the organization. Transom only asks that its name be mentioned on the air.

Allison, who has worked extensively as an independent public radio producer, says journalist, author and public radio enthusiast Bill McKibben floated the idea of creating such a site. Allison ran with it. Launched in February, is operated by Atlantic Public Media, a Woods Hole, Massachusetts-based nonprofit that Allison created eight years ago to produce radio projects. Part-timers pitch in to vet submissions and keep the site running. Initial funding came from the Florence and John Schumann Foundation.

The advantage for young or new producers is that public radio folks are backing it. The site's advisers include such names as Ira Glass, Susan Stamberg and Alex Chadwick. For Warga, who previously worked in film and is starting graduate school in London this fall, the interaction the site fosters is key. "The community that Transom creates is really quite wonderful," he says. "It jars you from the solitary confines of production."



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