Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


How I Transcribe...

Transcribing Workflow:
1) Import entire interview into ProTools session.
2) If the interview is in multiple WAV files: insert all onto one track, leaving about a 3-5 second gap between files. Exception: Ambient and active sound, don’t add into track.
3) If you have multiple files on the track, select all and normalize. This will even out all the sound variation and reduce the interview to a single WAV file.
4) Import single (normalized) WAV file into Transcriva.
5) Select (on Toolbar) “Speakers” / “Add Speaker” > type name of interviewer, interviewee, and anyone else heard in the recording. TIP: you can color coordinate the speakers.
6) As you listen to the file, select “New Entry” every time a new person speaks. Where it says “Unknown / None”, select the arrow to insert the speaker. If you hear a line that is possibly worthwhile, type a quick line or memo for later.
7) Summarize all the questions and responses.
8) Find your most intriguing sound bites (statements that catch your attention) and transcribe those. Isolate those sound bites in ProTools for later.
9) Transcribe everything else that is relevant to your story.

Hope this helps someone.
- Shane... Radio

Orrs Island

Photograph by Keith Lane


Made in Maine

At the scenic turnout on Route 17 in Oquossoc, Maine known as the 'Height of the Land' we got more than just a great view. Apparently, even taxidermists are feeling the economic crunch, displaying their greatest works (see Mr. Fox) anywhere they can. Mr. Fox is turning to the bottle during these tough times. The sun exposure got to him despite his sweet shades. On our return trip to Portland, he was gone.

Katie Fuller

Jess Sheldon

Lobster Fog

Photograph by Keith Lane


Maine Maple Sunday

Sunday, March 22nd. The second day of spring. Every year the Maple farms around the state open up their farms for the public. A few of us headed out to Merrifeild Farm, in Gorham, to check out this widely attended event.

Later that day we had a brief snow storm. Yeah... you gotta love Maine in March.

And yes indeed, ice cream covered in real maple syrup = euphoria.

-posted by Keith, photography student


Looking back on day 1

MONDAY: Meet & Greet

10-11: Intro and chat with the Staff in the Red Room and Tour of the place.

I arrived early enough to get a metered parking space next to the school and shuffled on in. A few people were already there. I draped my jacket onto the back of a chair in a room that leaves no guess work as to its designation; The Red Room. Cherry red walls, ceiling, and carpet with black modern-styled furniture... this is the meeting room. I venture down the hall to a kitchenette with coffee brewing and an array of donuts and ceramic mugs waiting to be claimed. Other people started making their way inside and towards the kitchen. Some are recognized by their profile pics on Facebook, most engage in a handshake, name, and program track at Salt; then hoping to remember the other persons name after the exchange. The enthusiasm is thick in the air and the kitchen fills with gab. People waiting and the coffee is not done just yet, but that doesn't stop some from pouring a weaker cup from the large chrome urn. As the kitchenette fills people pour out into the hallway. Somehow the other males attending gravitate towards each other. There are 5 out of 30 and the odds don't really come to mind as much as we joke about why is it males tend to herd together in larger clusters. Soon we are all herded into the red room and introduced to the staff. Donna Galluzzo is the Executive Director. She conducts the majority of this mornings briefing with a thoroughness and succinctness evident of prior performances. Mandy Morrish handles the academic and community affairs. Christine Heinz handles IT, marketing, and financial affairs. After general introductions of the staff, we went around the room introducing ourselves. Then the fun rigmarole of going over policy stuff and getting various logistical paperwork out of the way. Not long after mentioning, "in case of a fire...", the fire alarm goes off and everyone vacates out and across the street. Glad I took my coat with me, there was a bit of a windy bite in the air for a sunny day. Someone else didn't, so I offered my scarf. Who knows how long we will be out there. Standing around wondering what is going on, five firetrucks arrived and one extended its ladder to the roof. After an uneventful wait we were let back inside unaware of what set off the alarm in the first place. We took a tour and got a feel for the layout. Afterward, a group of students got together for lunch and we walked down to O'Natural to continue our conversations and inquiries about each other.

till next time,
Shane... Radio


Scrapping and rushing.

I am one of those people that put all of my eggs in one basket. The latest instantiation of this regrettable personality trait of mine was my fervent hope that a social service agency treating substance abuse for women here in Portland would let me have access to their clients for one of my stories. I met with their media flak two weeks ago, wrote her a long email explaining what I wanted to do, and we kept following up with each other. I was being compromising (not a word anyone knowing me would use to describe me) about how much time I would likely spend with my subjects, which was their biggest concern. It looked like things were going to work out. I was going to make things work out (a trait my friends would use to describe me).

For things to work out, I was told, I would have had to meet with the executive director and the director of inpatient services. Except, the executive director is in Africa for the next two weeks, and the director of inpatient services on vacation as well. The end of their vacations ran well past my March 29 deadline.

So I had to scrap the story. I am now scrambling to call every single social service agency treating opiate addiction in the state of Maine to get a story idea hammered out. And I keep running into the same roadblock--hesitation on their part about the amount of access I would need for my story.

This getting access crap is like trying to move Heaven and Earth.

By: Amanda Waldroupe, writing.


Stood Up

I had arranged an interview today with a recovering OxyContin addict. This person told me they had been clean for one year, one week. They were involved in Narcotics Anonymous and volunteering to help people recovering from opiate addiction. I was very excited about this interview. I thought I would meet a potential subject through this person, which would be a huge step forward for my second story. After meeting with this person and hearing their story, they would ascertain that I was a totally reliable and cool person whose contact information they could give to everyone they knew, and I would be gold and everything would be grand.

So there I am sitting at Arabica Coffee waiting for my 11 o'clock appointment with this person. 11:30 rolls by. Noon. I don't know anymore answers for the Boston Globe's Sunday crossword puzzle. It turns 12:30, and I leave. Stood up.

Before I came to Salt, I was a freelance news reporter for one year. I racked my brain before writing this post, trying to remember if someone just never showed up for their interview with me. I can't remember a similar instance. Stood up. A first.

By: Amanda, writing.


No Turning Back

I spent this week wracking my mind deciding what I was going to write my long, 3000-word story on. The deadline to get a pitch to our writing teacher was today. A parenthetical warning on the syllabus for today's class--"No turning back!"--haunted my mind as I tried to calmly and objectively think about the four stories that were all contenders, tugging at my writer's heart, vying to be the next three months of my life, winner of the Most Time Consuming and My New Love-Hate Relationship prizes. I kept thinking to myself "this one's important, Waldroupe. You wanna publish this, and this is going to be the last time you ever have three months to work on one feature-length story. You can't screw this one up."

As the week went on, I learn that getting access to Oxycontin addicts or English-speaking Iraqi women or women in prison getting ready to re-enter society is going to be a bit trickier than I thought (what are bureaucrats for, after all?). No subjects emerge, key sources don't call or email me back. In the end, I go with the story I have the most access to, and the one I have two interview transcripts for (another thing due in class today). It's also the story my friends tell me sound the most interesting, so that's something. I feel like I have been very dramatic about all this story picking stuff, and I'm not much for drama. The thing about drama is that it seems to always get smacked upside the head by cold, hard logic. Or, in this case, the existence of two interview transcripts.

By: Amanda, writing.

Notes on Observations and Judgments

Here is a question to ponder...
At what point does an observation become a judgment?
What we choose to observe is a judgment as well as the choice in language we use to describe it. In radio we want to "paint" a visual for our listener. What happens when our description works so well because it may rely on certain stereotypes? I believe one of the biggest fears of a documentarian is confirming a stereotype.
Any thoughts?

Shane ...Radio

Tales from the Radio Lab

Almost every class we start by listening to radio pieces by prior Salt students and other unique pieces selected by Rob. This makes me curious to the discussions future students may have about my work. How will people hear me?
Thankfully Rob provides some context.

Today we analyzed beginnings.
Thoughts from the day...
Your first 30-seconds, you're selling the story, not establishing a mystery.
Often times the beginning starts with a thread and you follow that thread. You show "here is how things are and here is how things are different". A mystery leaves a person guessing and thinking ahead rather than letting them listen to what you are presenting. It's hard to start a story with a mystery. You risk losing your listener.

till next time,
Shane... Radio

Winter Portland

It's March which means the coming of spring birds and leaving of snow. But it's Maine so there's still snow on the ground, the ocean is still quite cold, and my ears strain for the sound of far away loons. Yet despite this winter weather I find myself caught in world of color.

Winter semester at Salt is full of hours spent in the computer lab, discussing story ideas, and most importantly shooting images with my camera. It is within this last act I find myself come alive in a world of grey, winter storms, freezing cold air, and crisp blue morning horizons. As winter changes to spring I slowly transition from photography student to one dedicated to using photography as a means towards creating positive social change. While there is much more work to go the change is truly felt- on all levels.

By: Keith, photography student


Spring 2009, belated

Just to kick off this semester's blog, here's a taste of the quotes and concepts up on our wall here in the Radio A room:

"I'm not a stalker, I'm a documentarian."

"It's hard to tell because it's jazz."


Prodigious Umms


"Is he the one with the fannypack?"

"Mouth noise is not your friend."



Audio Diorama / The Salt Diorama track

"Wow, I'm really excited by that nudging... you guys should be too. Nudging is really intuitive."

"I heard your smile today."

"Bisect the mesa."

"Alright lady, let's folk it up!"

"Smell is like touch... at a distance."

"Just a quick thoughtlet..."

"High five no scenes no focus!!!"

"I misread your blinks."

As you can see, we're trying not to be creepy in our earnest endeavors to document the world around us... but failing miserably. We'll get less creepy soon... we promise.