The Storyteller

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An education grounded in the liberal arts triggered a series of events that led Jonathan Hirsch ’00 from Dominican onto a successful career producing documentaries for National Public Radio (NPR) and other media outlets nationwide.

Jonathan’s passion is to tell stories through radio as though they were cinematic movies. Over the years he has developed and honed a detail-oriented eye and ear for storytelling. Being an English major was the ideal foundation.

“It was so perfect when I think back on what I ended up doing because my whole life is about language with a focus on writing,” Jonathan says. “It transcends the written word into the spoken word often.”

Jonathan, who transferred into Dominican as an English major with a writing emphasis, is an independent producer, reporter, editor, and sound designer who has found his niche with podcasts. He recently presented a lecture on podcasts at the Columbia School of Journalism.

“I backed into this profession largely because of podcasting,” Jonathan says. “There was this divergent need by some broadcast organizations for programming outside the traditional broadcast model and they had to bring in new people … I was able to punch through with the skill sets I had been developing.”

He credits two English professors in the School of Liberal Arts and Education – the late Penny Jackson and Dr. Carlos Rodriguez – for inspiration. A Latino literature class with Dr. Rodriguez led Jonathan to first consider a career as a storyteller himself, while a semester studying Virginia Woolf was truly transformative.

“Penny Jackson’s course on Virginia Woolf was probably the course that most affected me as a thinker and as a writer,” recalls Jonathan, a winner of both an Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade award. “I found myself from that point on having the ability to look at the structures of a narrative in a really deep way.”

Now living in Los Angeles, Jonathan produces KUOW's Terrestrial podcast, while also serving as a producer of pilot programming for NPR. In 2016, he edited and produced Alexis Madrigal's eight-part series Containers, and NPR's Embedded podcast mini-series on police dash-cam video. Jonathan reports on immigration issues and the borderlands for The Texas Standard, and has reported long-form feature work for NPR's Latino USA and Life of the Law.  He won an Edward R. Murrow Award for his documentary production of “The Stop” in a Life of the Law podcast.

As the Executive Producer of ARRVLS, a non-narrated audio documentary focused on stories of migration, transformation, and change, Jonathan draws heavily on his background in the humanities.

“It was like a lightbulb turned on when I was in front of that tape. All of the skills I had worked privately that I had been building when I was in college became thoroughly applicable to this medium,” Jonathan says. “I was writing the music for the stories. I was editing interviews for narratives value. I was writing intros. I was using all of the faculties that inspired me, that made me feel alive and that made me want to keep going with the work I was doing. I dedicated myself to radio from that point.”

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