Issue 221,  published August 6, 2019

Career Spotlight: Ryan Haas, OPB

Ryan Haas’ work on Bundyville was folded into his day-to-day responsibilities at Oregon Public Broadcasting, of which there were already quite a few. In this edition of Career Spotlight, Haas talks to us about editing for audio, sports writing in the Carribean, and the relationship between public media and print media castoffs.

***

Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation.

Ryan Haas: I’m currently a news editor at OPB. I manage a team of four reporters whose beats range from rural coverage in Oregon to criminal justice. My main job is to help them tell their stories better and to connect Oregonians through journalism.

My work on Bundyville is a bit of a side project, but uses a lot of those same skills I utilize in my daily work. During both seasons of the show, I’ve done everything from audio producing to editing to assisting with the reporting when needed.

HP: How did you get here?

Haas: I never would have predicted I would have ended up in public media and podcast production. In university, I studied creative writing and literature instead of journalism, but not surprisingly, I needed a job to help pay the bills when I got into the working world. I started occasionally freelancing for newspapers in 2006, and I had no idea what I was doing. Those first assignments were a crash course in journalism that have been invaluable, even if they paid next to nothing.

My first actual journalism job on staff was as a sportswriter in the Caribbean. There, I quickly expanded to more general news and politics coverage, during which I learned a lot on the job about being creatively solving your journalistic problems in place without free speech protections or a Freedom of Information Act. When I returned to the US, I eventually took a job as the editor of a newspaper in a small Oregon town for a number of years before landing in Portland and joining Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Sometimes people ask me how I ended up in radio when most of my journalism background was in print. I think I came to public media at a time when they were grabbing up a lot of print media castoffs as a way to further build the journalism chops of public broadcasters. I’ve also been involved with sound editing, design and production throughout my life by recording music. I love the technical aspects of creating audio.

HP: What does a career mean to you?

Haas: A career, to me, is about the quality of the work you leave behind. I’ve never been a person who has been driven by status or awards when it comes to journalism. (I actually dread awards season!) But what I do look forward to when I work on a story, as a reporter or editor, is the effect it has on people when they hear it or read it. When someone tells me they felt moved or frustrated or elated or personally conflicted after hearing a piece I did, then I know I’ve done my job. If something I work on can change the way a person thinks about an issue — for example, domestic extremism in this latest season of Bundyville — then I feel I have accomplished something real to nudge our world in the right direction. For me, the goal of a journalist should be to do that as often as possible and hopefully live a life of service educating people in your community.

HP: When you first started out being a person, what did you want to be?

Haas: Probably a ninja turtle? If you couldn’t tell from my circuitous career path, I had no real clear idea of what I wanted to do until well into my twenties.

HP: What does being an editor for a project like Bundyville involve?

Haas: Being an editor for audio, in the journalism sense, requires a lot of skills. Those can be technical, like knowing how to clean (or trash) a piece of bad tape, and they can be social, like building confidence in a reporter who has self-doubt. But I think first and foremost you have to be able to listen for radio that moves you. You have to talk with reporters a lot while they are in the process of doing interviews and gathering tape, and ask them WHY they are telling this story, what are they telling me that will make me feel something? I think about it like being their partner through the reporting process every step of the way. One of the biggest mistakes I see editors make is thinking about the reporting and editing processes as separate. Editors often have a lot of priorities competing for time, but you have to make space so you can live a story as fully as you can with a reporter. You have to be the guiding voice for them when they are buried in tape and have lost the thread of the story they started out to tell. That is how you get to that magic moment in a story when a listener is shifted off their baseline perspective and you ask them to think about a story in a completely different way than they might normally.

You can learn to be that guiding voice for a reporter by constantly thinking critically about your own work and the works of others. One of the biggest issues in the audio industry I see is the lack of editors. There are lots of people who know how to make great stuff, but they struggle to teach others how to do the same. But I think the solution to that dearth of editors isn’t as hard as we may think. The real way to become a better editor is by doing it, and the great thing about journalism is that every story we make or hear or read is an opportunity to think critically about the craft and get better. Taking even a moment of self-reflection about a story you heard (why did I love that anecdote in that story? Why did I get so annoyed at that piece of writing?) can make you better. Learning to do that repetitiously with the media you consume will make you a much better critical thinker, and in turn an editor.

HP: What are you listening to these days?

Haas: During this latest season of Bundyville, I’ve been avoiding lots of journalism podcasts just so I had the brain space to think about our own story. Instead of that, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts that analyze music and sound. Those have included Pensado’s Place, How Sound, Strong Songs, Song Exploder and Twenty Thousand Hertz.

***

You can find Haas on Twitter here.