Multimedia Profiles — Audio and Visual Biography

There is no person whose story is not worth telling. From saints to criminals to the vast number of us in between, we're the stuff of dullness and drama. The trick for biographers is to find the drama and to show it well. Great biographers present a focus, an angle. This angle differentiates their subject from other people. At the same time, the biographer usually shows a universal quality in their subject—or at least a quality to which we might aspire. Consider the profiles below and read the accompanying commentaries. By mimicking these multimedia pieces, you can create a powerful presentation of your own.

The Mike Quashie piece is organized around a simple chronological frame, and the main turn occurs toward the end as Corey Kilgannon moves from Quashie's past fame to his current old age, debility, obscurity, and virtual destitution. The beauty of the piece comes not from Quashie's experience with celebrities, but from the sweetly contradictory mix of humility (before God) and self-celebration (as the "International King of the Limbo") that comes to us through Quashie's own voice. Kilgannon knows that this voice is what MAKES the piece, so he naturally begins and ends with it. There is nothing quite like starting with your subject's own voice, and Kilgannon pays homage to the man by largely getting out of the way.

Focus/Angle/Unique Quality: King of the Limbo
Universal Quality: Man surveying a lifetime
        and facing God with no earthly stores
Organization: Chronological; Past/Present

This piece is not so much a profile of a person as it is a profile of an individual's work. Still, the two entities are hardly divorced from each other, so by looking at an individual's life passion, we get a glimpse into his or her mind and character. Deborah Solomon's organizational scheme (analysis) makes sense considering her subject. She breaks Currin's work into separate categories so as to give us a sense of the whole, starting with the mix of past and present sources in Currin's painting and moving on to his fascination with contemporary women. Solomon returns to matters of form—Currin's realistic technique—to complete her analysis.

Focus/Angle: Controversial Artist's Work
Unique Quality: Focus on Realism, Technique
Universal Quality: Artist commenting on or
        characterizing a contemporary social         type: the stale socialite, the bimbo
Organization: Analytical

For those of you working in pairs, check out how two journalists do dual duty, with Susan Stamberg carrying the bulk of the load and Bob Edwards providing the bookends. First, Stamberg offers a summary of Cronkhite's work and then jumps in with questions (including follow-ups) common to good interviews—queries about EXTREME situations (oddest food requests; greatest menu challenges). Notice that Stamberg has done enough research to "talk shop" with Cronkhite. Wisely, she ends the interview with the chef's grand statement about the connection between food and culture. Then, appropriately, she leaves us with a specific morsel—a recipe—shifting from the abstract to the concrete.

Focus/Angle/Unique Quality: Chef for Heads of State
Universal Quality: Fear of not living up to clients' expectations
Organization: Summary followed by Interview (see above)

And now, in the "aspire to be like her" category, listen and enjoy a brief biography of a 97 year-old gardener, nurturer, social activist and wise, gentle soul. The organizational frame has a lovely metaphor woven into it. Essentially, Dorothy Copeland's advice about gardening applies to life as a whole: save and nurture what appears to be worthless and the disposable thing will bear—surprise!—fruit.

Focus/Angle/Unique Quality: Last Anglo Woman in South LA
Universal Quality: Sense of brotherhood and solidarity among
        all people; respect for the earth and for all life; finding         beauty where others might not see it
Organization: Chronology (contemporary event followed by
        philosophical reflection followed by past event followed
        by implicit metaphor followed by a return to the present)

The trip as family restorative—that's what we have in this interesting audio overview. One of the most compelling aspects of this piece is the presentation of human incongruities—the American girl on the banks of the Ganges watching families cremate the dead and, later, the same girl standing in front of the glassed-in remains of genocide. The tone, appropriately, jumps between pathos and humor. This is a family.

Focus/Angle/Unique Quality: Kids Pulled out of Pop Culture
        to Reconnect with Mom, Dad, and Each Other
Universal Quality: Renewed closeness of family
Organization: Loose chronology punctuated by social
        observation and interview sequences

What's a story on a state doing on a page about writing biographies? Well, places take on characteristics of their own, so much so that poets and songwriters, novelists and documentarians, sometimes present cities and locales as people. That doesn't exactly happen here, but by interviewing a number of residents of New Hampshire, the Granite State, Melissa Block captures the ethos of a land. The Donald Hall poem that ends the piece perfectly crystallizes Block's message.

Focus/Angle/Unique Quality: A Specific Place
Universal Quality: Identification with place—things change
        and things stay the same
Organization: Summary followed by interview sequences;
        a paradoxical main idea about the intertwining of         permanence and change informs the entire piece