Lovers of serial narratives and owners of iPods, heads-up and ears open. "Through Hell and High Water: Two Hospitals, one hurricane and an epic struggle to rescue the abandoned," a Hurricane Katrina drama, by Jane O. Hansen, is a 22-chapter serial now appearing in the pages of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and featured on ajc.com, the paper's web site.
For those who like to listen to good storytelling, the series is also available in audio format as podcast readings available free on iTtunes.com. (You can subscribe via a link on the left rail of the series' online home page.)
The series was edited by Jan Winburn, one of the best narrative editors in the business (At her previous paper, the Baltimore Sun, she edited the ASNE award-winning serial "A Stage in their Lives" by Ken Fuson, and "The Umpire's Son," the Pulitzer-winning feature by Lisa Pollak.) The series' narrator is Tom Opdyke, an editor with a background in radio and theater.
If you believe the journalistic wisdom that three makes a trend, then serial storytelling in podcast form is definitely in vogue.
In late 2005, the St. Petersburg Times recorded two print and online serial narratives as podcasts; like the AJC's new series, they are available free on iTunes.
In November of that year, "The Hard Road: Inside the Jennifer Porter Case," a five-part serial by Tom French, Christopher Goffard and Jamie Thompson, appeared in print, online, and, through the efforts of sptimes.com editor Kevin McGeever and his colleagues, as iTtunes podcasts with narration by Jaye Ann Terry.
The following month, the Times came out with a podcast version of "The Holly Wreath Man," a serial newspaper novel written by Katharine Fair, my wife, and myself. An erstwhile thespian, I did the narration.
One of the most heartening reactions we received about "The Holly Wreath Man" podcasts came from a Florida teacher with a class of pregnant high schoolers, many of whom also had reading difficulties. To help them, she played the daily podcasts while the kids read along with the story in the newspaper.
AJC subscribers also appreciate the cross-platform delivery of the paper's latest serial narrative. "My wife listens to it on the web every day and it is the first thing I read in the morning paper," one reader told the paper.
Podcasting is a powerful new medium. If serial narrative pioneers Charles Dickens and Honoré de Balzac were writing today, we'd be eagerly uploading their novel installments onto our iPods. For the news industry, podcasts offer hope by connecting with audiences who might not read a newspaper story in print or online, but like to listen to a good story through their ear buds.