Investigative Storytelling, Lessons from a Career in Radio: Master Class with Howard Berkes

This Master Class was originally broadcast on:
September 25, 2015 Enroll Now
Details about an archived replay of the event will be announced soon. If you registered in the live event, you are already enrolled.

Course Overview

Investigative Storytelling, Lessons from a Career in Radio: Master Class with Howard Berkes
Master Class
Time Estimate:
This Master Class comprises two 90-minute interviews with a one-hour lunch intermission.

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About Master Classes

A Poynter Institute Master Class is a unique opportunity to learn from a prominent journalist or other media star in an intimate, exclusive online broadcast or in-person event.

NPR investigations correspondent Howard Berkes has spent 35 years reporting in the audio realm. In 2014, he worked on a series called "Delinquent Mines" that earned him a Murrow award and has shed light on dangerous conditions endured by miners. By analyzing 20 years of data and conducting hours of interviews, Berkes and his collaborators were able to show that not only were there millions of dollars of unpaid fines by mining companies, but also that mines that don't pay their fines are have dramatically higher injury rates.

Berkes' news, feature and investigative stories from the American West, rural America and eight Olympic Games have garnered 20 major journalism awards for breaking news, feature, investigative, science, business and sports reporting. Berkes captures the voices of the people affected and audio of “scenes” and “action,” as well as facts, data and documents.

In this Poynter NewsU event, Berkes will discuss his approach to audio storytelling, including why and how to gather compelling audio, how audio often needs a reporter’s finely-tuned writing to make it work best and how to tell complex stories solely with sound and spoken words. Participants will also hear about Berkes’ approach to investigative stories, including the challenge of rendering reams of data, documents, perspectives and facts into a compelling audio narrative. He’ll talk about how he humanizes data and documents, and how he decides what fits into a story or series after days, weeks and even months of work.

The Poynter Institute offers an added element to its Master Class. If you'd like to attend the Master Class in person and meet Howard Berkes, Poynter provides lunch at no additional cost. Simply select the option to attend in person when you enroll.

What Will I Learn:

The Master Class is partly made up of curated audience questions, but will also cover the following:

Session 1 – Audio Opportunities and Challenges
10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Eastern Time
Why audio and radio are powerful forms of journalistic storytelling
How to capture compelling sound
What to listen for when reporting
How to navigate the “ambient jungle”
How to fine-tune your interviewing skills for audio
What ethical concerns arise in audio editing
How to craft the structure of a story
How to practice and refine your voicing of a story
Why, when and how to incorporate music

Session 2 – Investigative Stories
1-2:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Why investigate
Why investigate for radio/audio
How to work with government agencies, data and documents
How to anticipate and navigate investigative challenges in an audio format
How to humanize data and documents
How to focus the story
How to conduct information triage
Why and how to collaborate with media partners

Who should take this course:

Reporters interested in audio stories, podcasts and all forms of audio storytelling.


Howard Berkes

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.

Since 2010, Berkes has focused mostly on investigative projects, beginning with the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died. Since then, Berkes has reported on coal mine and workplace safety, including the safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine, other failures in mine safety regulation, the resurgence of the deadly coal miners disease black lung and weak enforcement of grain bin safety as worker deaths reached a record high.


Roy Peter Clark (Host)

Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter since 1979. Over three decades he has served the institute as dean, vice president, senior scholar, and member of the Board of Trustees. Clark has written or edited 17 books on writing and journalism, the most popular and influential being “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.” Podcasts of the book have been downloaded more than a million times.

The New York Times Book Review praised Clark’s book “The Glamour of Grammar” as “a manual for the 21st century.” His most recent work includes the book “Help! For Writers,” for which there is a mobile application, and “How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times.” Born in New York City, Clark attended Catholic schools through his graduation from Providence College in 1970. He earned a Ph.D. in English from Stony Brook University. He began his teaching career in Montgomery, Ala., where he became interested in journalism. He was hired in 1977 by the St. Petersburg Times as one of America’s first writing coaches.

Technical Requirements:

This Master Class live event contains audio. Please make sure you've got your headphones or speakers adjusted.

For the best experience, we suggest that:

  • PC users use Firefox or Chrome
  • Mac users use Chrome, Firefox or Safari
  • You set your monitor resolution to 1024 x 768 or higher
  • You use a wired connection instead of wireless

Please test your connection.

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