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Radio Documentary as a Discourse

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Anjali Sekaram

on 18 May 2015

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Transcript of Radio Documentary as a Discourse

Radio Documentary as a Discourse
Discourse ‘is a mode of organization of knowledge in relation to material institutions and is thus not primarily a linguistic concept’ (Frow, 2005, p. 93)
The radio programme called “The search for Edna Lavilla” was a documentary radio programme (Aroney and Davis, 2007). It talked about a woman called Edna who died in her early age because of a backyard abortion.

According to the review of this radio programme made by Michelle Arrow, this documentary was effective partly due to the reason that it was told as a detective story, also the producer was able to unfold their search through testimony, court records, interviews and evocative use of sound (pp. 47.1). This documentary was very powerful and the story was amplified by the use of radio as a medium. Most of the traditional approach to media studies can be applied to radio (Starke 2004, pp. 25).
Textual analysis is a method usually used in media studies, it can also be applied in radio studies. It is organised under the headings of genre, codes and conventions, semiotics, representation, ideology and audience response (Starke 2004, pp. 27).

The documentary tells the story of Edna’s grandchildren, Eurydice and Sharon and their search for the truth behind their grandmother’s death.
The documentary is effective because it engages the audience through an evocative range of sound recordings such as testimonies, court records, and interviews. The radio documentary utilises sound effects such as children playing and laughing.

“There has been a Western trend of increased liberalization towards abortion attitudes and laws since the 1960s due to a post material cultural shift away from traditional religious and cultural norms” (Dillon, 1996).
The text projects a feminist genre of women’s rights surrounding the legal discourse.

Radio Documentary as a Genre

The legitimacy of oral sources (vs. written histories)

“‘Oral sources are oral sources. Scholars are willing to admit that the actual document is the recorded tape; but almost all go on to work on the transcripts, and it is only the transcripts that are published" (Portelli in Perks & Thomson 2006: 33). “
Visual vs oral representation for Edna’s life

* Lack of archival footage

* Reliance on human voice

* Audience imagination

Editing of oral history

* Decision to keep ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’

* Adds integrity and honesty

* Interviewee already has a close relationship with the producer

* Ability to get swept up in a long, involved story
COHRD: Crafted Oral History Radio Documentary

(Sub-genre suggested by Dr Siobhan McHugh from University of Wollongong)

* “The COHRD format can be defined as a creatively produced non-fiction radio narrative, based on a core of ground-breaking oral history research”

* Blend of art, journalism and history


* The truth is not what happened but how the past has been recollected

* Selective memory

* Personal ‘subjective’ perspective of Eurydice as the narrator vs. dispassionate ‘objective’ journalism presenters

Documentary vs Fiction – would The Death of Edna Lavilla have had the same effect and poignancy if it was a fictional narrative?
Maddy and Anjali
- Academic Study of Media —> processes of production and perception
- 1933 —> Radio academy was formed
Most of the traditional approaches to media studies can be applied to radio
- Crisell compared radio with blindness —> “experience of listening”
- “It is the experience of listening to radio that is akin to blindness” (McWhinnie, 1959: 21-8)
Recommended: when editing audio, listen to it critically and edit as needed
- Radio's problem —> lies not in its powers of perception but in its ability to articulate
- Textual analysis organised under the six headings —> - genre, codes and conventions, semiotics, representation, ideology, audience response
- Narrative structures = sub genres —> “These may be open, closed, multi-strand, investigative or even alternative”.
- “Conventions are norms of accepted behaviour, and in radio production they relate to established procedures and ways of performing common tasks”.
- “Radio is rich in conventions, and producers' reasons for breaking them in order to innovate or be ground breaking must be clear and compelling, or their efforts are likely to be read as merely ‘unprofessional”.
-Semiotics —> “barking of dog is an aural icon” —> implies presence of dog
- Media plays important role in naturalisation
- Early assumptions of listeners = not active thinkers, consume passively
- Hypodermic needle = “respond in crude manner of stimulus-response” —> instinctive response
- Uses and gratifications model (McQuail 1972) —> audiences are active participants, satisfies need e.g. “traffic report satisfies need for information”
- Now recognises “diversity of active, individual responses”
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