Jessica Abel: The perfect fit

By Emerald O'Brien

You may have heard that Jessica Abel is coming to Mizzou on Wednesday, March 23. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try checking out our TL;DR video about who she is and why she is coming here.

For those of you who have a little more time, I wanted to give you some insight into why the rest of the executive board of ONA Mizzou and I wanted to bring Jessica Abel here.
Last year, I had the opportunity to see Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich speak at Washington University in St. Louis. After the event, one of my first reactions (other than “OMG OMG OMG”) was, “why haven’t we had any podcasts or radio shows at Mizzou?”

Then, in early August, I was part of the Transom Traveling Workshop when it came to Mizzou (shameless plug: it’s happening again this summer and you should absolutely, no doubt sign up). It was an intensive week of finding and creating a short piece of narrative radio. Even for someone who had already been creating radio for months (me, for those of you with short memories), it was transformative.

We broke down our stories in ways I had never thought to before. It was like I had been writing stories in the dark, just throwing ingredients together into a formula that was so ingrained in me that I didn’t ever stop to think about it. This, alas, has been a downfall of formal journalism training for me. But going to the workshop was like turning on a very bright and very beautiful light.

When the new semester started a few weeks later, ONA Mizzou got to work looking for a podcaster to bring to campus. At about the same time, Jessica Abel released her book, Out on the Wire.

I’ll be the first to admit that I live in a more radio-centric world than most, but this book was everywhere I went. In my office. In my classrooms. In my conversations with friends. I put off reading it for awhile (I’m not really one of those people who “reads”), but this pesky, bright-orange book was haunting me. 

Out on the Wire is a guide to storytelling written in graphic novel format using knowledge and advice from the biggest and best names in radio – the people who make the stories that keep you sitting in your car long after you pulled into the driveway, because you “just have to hear how it ends.” 

While we brainstormed podcasters we could bring in, ONA Mizzou’s adviser, Mark Hinojosa, physically threw Jessica’s book on the table. “What about her?” 

Another light went on. The best way to bring radio to Mizzou wasn’t necessarily the biggest name (although @IraGlass, you are welcome literally any time; I’ve got a futon in my living room and plenty of snacks); it was giving people a skill that they can use in their own careers and lives. That’s what ONA Mizzou is all about. 

And that’s what Jessica Abel is about, too. Beyond interviewing some of the top podcasters and radio producers in the biz, beyond creating her own podcast from scratch, she has spent her career learning how to tell complex and compelling stories so that she could turn around and teach the rest of us. 

That’s why we knew Jessica Abel was the perfect fit.

So Mizzou, this is for you. Every one of you has a story. Come learn how to tell it.

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