Ever since Louis CK logged on to Reddit about a year ago for one of the website’s signature AMAs (Ask me Anything), celebraties have been a fairly regular occurrence on the popular website.

Following President Obama’s AMA in late August, the flood gates have really opened and every day there’s a new famous person falling all over themselves to get a seat on the bandwagon.

I suspect somewhere out there is a group of ad execs and marketing profiteers trying to exploit Reddit and is telling all these famous people to make Reddit another stop on the press junket for new projects. These people are modern days snake oil salesmen who will call themselves social media engagement gurus or community management 2.0 ninja or some other BS in about 3 months.

Anyway, that’s a rant for another time.

Today I logged into Reddit and was in for a special treat.

Ira Glass, the 53-year-old walking hipster nerdgasm in a skinny tie with an affinity for weaving rich stories as the host of This American Life, was on Reddit! Sure he’s just the latest prominent figure to take on the AMA trend, but he was a very welcome one.

I figure all my journo pals that haven’t jumped on Reddit might appreciate what he had to say, so here’s some excerpts.

I do feel odd just posting experts from what he said, but hey, it’s good enough for HuffPo/BuzzFeed/The Daily Show writers/ Bussiness Insider/The New Yorker/Gawker/Wired/ etc etc etc…..


On journalism

In general, the story process is kind of messy. I suppose that’s inevitable. At any given point, we have three or four shows we’re actively preparing, and another two or three kind of burbling up slowly in the background. (There are nine of us on staff. It’s a lot of people. For years, it was just four.)

If we find a story that we love that doesn’t fit with any of those episodes, we invent a theme that could include it.

Then we go looking for other stories that could fill out the theme.

We do this by brainstorming what MIGHT work and then go looking for it. We do this by sending out emails to contributors and asking “have you got anything that goes with this?” We have a doc we send now and then to an email list of hundreds. Occasionally we crowdsource an idea on Facebook and our show’s blog. It’s messy.

What we’re looking for: someone to relate to, a plot that’s surprising that leads to some idea about the world that’s also new or interesting or surprising. Those are the basic elements. Extra points for humor, charm or memorable details that you can’t get out of your head. A great story is like a great melody: it announces its inevitable greatness and you recognize it the first time you hear it. Most stories aren’t that. They do not announce their obvious greatness. 60% are in the limbo region where they might GET great or they might flop, and the only way to figure it out is to start making the story. So you launch in, hoping for that winning combination of great moments, charm, funny, and X factor.

As a result, we go through tons of stories on our way to the few that end up on the air. It’s like harnessing luck as an industrial product. You want to get hit by lightning, so you have to wander around for a long time in the rain.

Here’s the list of story ideas we looked into for the show we did Sept 28th. In addition to the stories that ended up on the air, we collected tape on another three stories I know of. Might be more. The knee defender story I recorded on a plane to MN. Hopefullly that’ll show up in a future episode.

This is pasted in from our staff story list for that week. They are in decreasing order of likelihood of ending up on the air, which is how we always list them. Often the final lineup isn’t determined till the day of the show. Often on the day we broadcast the show we have to decide: will we cut a few minutes from each story to fit in more stories, or will we kill a story?

Send a Message (Jonathan)

Dave Hill: homeless man throws pee on him 10

Great-grandmother predicts baby genders from beyond the grave Melissa Salpietra (Brian) 8-9

Sonari Glinton: Black Jesus (Jonathan) 10

Josh Bearman: Galileo sends coded messages to Kepler (Robyn) 7-10

Bill Lahey: dad’s phone calls to kids about divorce (Nancy) 12-15

Lisa: knee defender for planes

PJ Vogt: Craig Schergold gets greeting cards after tumor is removed

Brian: Thai chef punks restaurant w/ wrong name

Starlee & EG: talk to authors of coming out book (Robyn) 10-12

Andrea: getting harrassed by jealous uncle

AZ & HI emails about Obama’s birth certificate

Rob: $15 collect calls from Cook County jail

Jonathan: ABC/CBS Dancing on the Stars

Ruthie: Tourettes guy (Jonathan)

x-Matt: jr high boycotts lunch; gets salad

x-Sam: couple gets divorced to protest gay marriage laws (not until July)

x-Robyn: 13 y.o. writes essay comparing school to slavery

x- Nancy: Nazi reference in Librarian training manuals

x- Bruce: same speech for 19 years about genocide treaty (Lisa)

x- Ben: Iraq war vet flipping off Scott Walker*


The journalistic integrity This American Life presented when it retracted ‘Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory’ is absolutely astounding. Has there been any change in policy since then?

We used to fact check the way they do on the daily NPR news shows (where I worked before doing this show): editors and reporters consult about questionable facts, rundown stuff in an ad hoc way.

Now we have professional fact checkers for everything, including the personal essays.

Still a question is what to do about David Sedaris. He doesn’t pretend the stories are true. He says to everyone they’re “true enough for you.” I assume the audience can tell, he’s a funny writer, there may be exaggerations for comic effect. We have three choices: 1) assume the audience is smart enough to tell; 2) label his stuff on the air as possibly non-factual (hard to figure out a way to do that which doesn’t kill the fun but there probably is one); 3) fact check him the way the New Yorker does. I honestly don’t know where I stand on this one. When I pose the Q to public radio audiences, at speeches and events, they overwhelmingly vote #1, with a vociferous tiny minority who feel strongly in favor of #2.

We’ll pause sometimes if it’s hard for an interviewee to continue, sure. That’s incredibly rare. Almost never happens.

And though I feel emotionally invested in the stories I’m doing, I’ve never come close to getting so emotional that I couldn’t continue an interview. That’s a very romantic idea of what it means to be a reporter. For one thing, it’s not that hard to keep asking questions. Also: you’re there to do a job.

On the show

I wish I had one favorite because it would make it easier to answer this question. I have lots. My favorites tend to be the same as everyone’s – when we started a favorites page we ended up with five pages and dozens of shows.

I like the episodes where we try stuff that’s new, stuff that’s hard. This Week20 Acts in 60 Minutesthe episode on an aircraft carrier (which along with our Habeas are arguably the two funniest hours of broadcasting about the War on Terror; Habeas our goal was to make a show about the writ of Habeas Corpus that a normal person would be able not just to tolerate but actually ENJOY). Testosterone’s another I love. And – the hardest episode of all – not a listener favorite I think but definitely one of mine, is Stories Our Parents Pitch where every act was pitched by a staffer’s parents.


Heh. Too many to name. Death to Wacky. Secret Life of Daytime. Million Bubbles. In those we aimed high and failed. The Adventure stories in Adventure! Julie Snyder and I just got into a conversation disagreeing about 2010which aimed high and I swear hit the mark and she says sucks. Idea of that one was to do a show at the start of the year, not looking back at the previous year like everyone else does, but predicting actual things that would happen in the coming year. I love Shalom’s story in that.

Definitely Myron Jones, from our Babysitting show. He tells the story of an imaginery family his sister would babysit for, named the McCrearies, but at some point it becomes clear that the story is really about what it’s like to have a crazy mom who doesn’t show much love.

The grace he has about the terrible things she did to him and his sister is amazing. (She put him into an orphanage!) A model for how you’d hope any of us can feel about our parents as we age and learn to forgive the things they could’ve handled better.

And he was the rare interviewee who could go anywhere I’d point him. Like: I’d throw him some leading or speculative question like “I wonder where the McCreary kids would be today and what they’d grow up into” and he’d have a thoughtful, funny, utterly broadcastable answer, an interesting answer.

I throw out these questions in lots of interviews. In the good interviews, the people field them and throw them back. In the bad ones, not so much.

He was the best ever. What a sweet, great guy. Passed away a few years ago now.

What was the most compelling segment that never made it to air?

Sometimes the person just refuses to talk. Just a couple weeks ago there was a story about a kid who stole a Lamborghini that we could not get the kid or anyone who knew him.

There was a guy who keeps a blog about amusement park accidents who had an amazing story and we couldn’t get him to talk to us. That was disappointing.

Lots of people have the good sense not to talk on the radio.

Listening with mom to the show on the parties at Penn State; grossest thing on the show?

Did she enjoy the line when the man who lived next door to the frats said that he’s learned that if you find a used tampon in your yard, you’ll usually find a condom as well?

Grossest thing ever on the show. Till we had that lady talk about swallowing sharp objects this weekend.


Is there any awkwardness or standoff when you come across Ira Flatow in the hallway?

Holy christ yes. I’m glad you mentioned it. He and I each believe – fiercely, heatedly and to our dying breaths – that there is only room in public radio for one Ira.

On the biz

Is there a question you wish someone had asked that no one has? If so, what?

Heh. When David Sedaris was asked that, his answer was “How much money did you make last year?” He was proud.

I wish someone were interested in the business side of the radio show. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we got up and running and it’s a thriving business that reaches lots of people, and I personally always want to tell people the million details that go into that because it’s been such an interesting kind of thing to figure out. But nobody gives a fuck. Nobody should.


Given your experience on Sleepwalk With Me, would you ever produce a movie again? If so, what things would you do different?

We have a few movies in the works, with some great directors: Tim Robbins, Errol Morris, Mark Forster. But with those, I’m just reading scripts and giving notes about the story – something I’m actually qualified for. No more going to the set or sitting for weeks in the edit room or weeks of promotion. That was fun – but I enjoy making the radio show way way more. And the radio show reaches so many more people. And it’s always more pleasant doing something you’re actually good at, than something you’re struggling to learn to do.

That said …. I’m so proud of our film. Mike’s so great in it. Someone here asked about my favorite memory of making the film. It was on the first day of shooting. The scene where Mike’s parents in the film come to the apartment for dinner. So it’s Mike and these super-experienced actors, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, Jim Rebhorn (who’s been in a million movies). And he’s completely calm, doing his part, acting really well. I remember looking in the monitor and realizing that we’d been working on the film for two years and at no point did I stop to wonder if he’d be a good actor. Literally to that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that I didn’t know if he’d be any good. And he was SO good. Whew for that.

I hope you guys see the film. It really is as good as any of the best episodes of the radio show. It’s more fun to see it in a theater of course, because it’s more fun to see any comedy with a crowd of people laughing with you. But you can watch it tonight on Video on Demand, almost anywhere. Okay, there’s my second and only other plug. Yes, it’s crass. But also 100% heartfelt. Our film is good.


You have a great voice but did you ever try to fake a “Radio Voice” when you were younger? i did that when i was in j-school and i cringe at the sound of it today.

Yes! Absolutely! There are samples of it online. I was horrible for a long time.

I think that’s not unusual. Once I got to interview the poet Billy Collins, who has this incredibly funny, conversational voice in all his writing. He told me that when he started, he wrote like other people, imitating what he thought real poets should sound like. I think he said he wrote like a beat poet.

My favorite poem by him. I think about this one all the time since I don’t believe in god or afterlife and this poem makes me worry that my belief will make it so.

His chatty style, most famously on display in this great poem:

You are the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine. You are the dew on the morning grass and the burning wheel of the sun. You are the white apron of the baker, and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard, the plums on the counter, or the house of cards. And you are certainly not the pine-scented air. There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge, maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head, but you are not even close to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show that you are neither the boots in the corner nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

On life

Either teacher or doctor. When I was a reporter in the public schools, I thought a lot about switching. Worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the discipline issues. But that seems like a great, interesting, hard hard hard job, which is what I like.


Grape Nuts. Walnuts and milk. I never ever eat this anymore.


How is your dog doing, and what exotic meat are you feeding him now?

Thanks so much for asking! We are transitioning from venison to ostrich.
Every six or nine months his body develops an allergy to each new food and he can’t eat it. We made a choice to try to keep him alive, even if it’s ridiculous and expensive. Feel free to criticize.
We’ve already gone through tuna, chick peas, pork, kangaroo, rabbit and some others I can’t remember right now.
It’s only a matter of time before – like some characters in a Twilight Zone episode – the only meat that’s left is human flesh, and my wife and I feed ourselves to the dog.

Stamps. I like that because it’s like a name a kid would give a pet. If we ever get another dog, that’s what I’m lobbying for.