IN SEARCH OF TRUTH
People’s stories are unique and of great value, since each of them is different, but the same important.
The world keeps flooding us with a load of news which aren’t worth more than a fluttering litter on a gloomy fall day. We tend to forget about them as quickly as our sight focuses on something else, on something that happens to occur along the way.
What do we desire then? We thirst for the truth. We constantly strive to get to know the truth, as thanks to it we can learn more not only about the surrounding us world, but also about people living around us. We are frequently indifferent to people’s dramas, we seem not to see what happens right under our nose.
Only when someone tells us the story, which brings us closer to its main character, only then we start to understand that each individual’s life and problems are the same important and the same inspiring as our own.
Which medium allows us to get familiar with the previously unknown stories in a way that won’t cloud our judgment, our perception of reality? There is one, we call it the radio.
This is what she was doing while working for the radio – Hanna Bogoryja-Zakrzewska was searching for truth, the truth that couldn’t be questioned, the one that wasn’t always supposed to come to light, because it wasn’t always convenient. The objective truth. The truth that connects us with particular characters known from reportages prepared by my today’s interviewee.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Hanna: For 31 years I was working for the Polish Radio, where I used to prepare radio reportages. This year, 3 years before getting retired, I decided to quit my day job and start my own business, to take up podcasting. I’ve got adult children, who didn’t follow in their parents’ footsteps, each one chose their own way. My son became an IT specialist and my daughter designs websites and owns two restaurants. Thanks to my children I managed to set up my blog, which is called Torba reportera i podcastera (The reporter’s and podcaster’s bag). I run this website together with my colleague – Katarzyna Błaszczyk and to tell the truth if it weren’t for my children I wouldn’t manage to survive in the on-line world.
Passion Piece: You used to work for the Polish Radio Documentary and Reportage Studio. When did you find out your journalist flair?
Hanna: That studio was a place in which I could learn how to work from my Mentors who were outstanding at the art of radio reportage: Janina Jankowska, Krystyna Melion, Irena Piłatowska. Thanks to them I started attending international festivals and contests. I was able to keep up with what was going on in the world radio broadcasting. You’ll probably ask me why I chose reportage and not live broadcasting, or being a celebrity on TV? Why did I decide on such a niche kind of journalism? One day, when I was still studying Polish Philology at the University of Szczecin, I was sitting on the floor in my room and I was looking through something while listening to the radio. I was a keen listener of the Third Program. Suddenly, I heard late Grzegorz Miecugow, who was announcing 06:15 pm and the time for a reportage. I remember this teaser: ‘Today, you will listen to the archival reportage, which was created in 1964 and was awarded at Premios Ondas, and its title is A deep submersion.’ It was a 15 minutes’ long story about a swimmer who had become disabled. Despite that fact he overcame his weakness and became the Olympic champion. And now there’s a question: What’s a reportage? Simply speaking it’s a story about people’s odds based on a true story. I usually record from 6 to 8 hours of conversations to each story. Later on I put these recordings together to make a coherent whole, the one which keeps people in suspense. To make the listeners interested in what happens next. Word has it that a good radio reportage is just like a movie without a picture. It means that we try to introduce our listeners to the world of our characters by means of sounds and music. My boss, Irena Piłatowska would say: ‘We stop the course of events for a moment, to present the story most accurately we can from many different angles and from many different points of view. We do it to show what’s important, something that can be easily missed, but something that isn’t worth to be missed.’ Additionally, if that reportage touches people’s emotions, it makes the information easier to be remembered, the stories will remain in the hearts and minds of our listeners. While sitting on that floor in Szczecin I was there at that swimming pool. I accompanied the main character of the reportage in his struggles and difficulties. When the reportage came to its end I already knew that I wouldn’t like to become a librarian in Szczecin. I knew that I’d like to go to Warsaw to make such reportages on my own. I hoped to meet Krystyna Melion one day working in one editorial office. It was my purpose in life. I applied for a job in the Academic Radio Pomorze in Szczecin, where I learned how to cut the reportage and prepare short coverages. Then I went to the university to do the post graduate journalist studies in Warsaw and one month later I went to the Myśliwiecka Street to the Third Program’s residence, not knowing anyone there. I stopped at the gatehouse and requested to see Grzegorz Miecugow, who was just running the morning show ‘Zapraszamy do Trójki’ (‘We invite you to the Third Program’). He was called to see me and he asked me just one question: ‘Girl, what are you looking for here?’. After telling him that I was working for the Academic Radio Pomorze, he commented shortly: ‘Oh, I’m certain you know a lot. We’re waiting for you here at 9.00 am on Monday’. And that’s how I started my adventure with a real radio. It turned out quite quickly that I couldn’t find myself out in the team of ‘Zapraszamy do Trójki’, because I was supposed to prepare there just 3 minutes’ long coverages, and I was always looking for the answer to one basic question: ‘But why?’ I always wanted to share stories which would last longer than just 3 minutes. A year later I happened to work in the editorial office on the upper floor and it was a place where my beloved Krystyna Melion worked.
Passion Piece: Why are people’s stories of such a great value? What criteria did you use while choosing the right material for your reportages?
Hanna: Creating and listening to reportages is like getting to know the world and getting to know ourselves – as Janina Jankowska used to say. I’ve carried out 1500 reportages and each of them means a conversation with a few people. It often meant establishing deep relationships, immersing into someone’s lot. My interlocutors taught me how a big influence we have on our own lives. Joanna Sałyga, a character of a reportage which was particularly important to me, when asked why she decided on the following operations which deprived her of strength, and it was certain she couldn’t count on recovering, she told me : ‘I’m doing it for my son, so that he could spend as much time with me as possible. I learned from my mum, that we need to be fighters in our lives. And it doesn’t only apply to the ill ones, but most importantly to the healthy ones’. When I suffered from a serious illness myself years after that conversation, I remembered that I had to fight.
And what criteria did I use while choosing the right material for my reportages? Most importantly the radio friendly ones. We should remember that on the radio we can deal only with someone’s voice, that’s why I always cared to find an interesting and attention-catching voice of a person who experienced something important, a story that can be described with the sound. Of course, I also prepared reportages with photographers. And it was truly difficult for me, because no one could see these photographs, and describing them to my listeners was rather boring. However, I took up even such challenges, but of course it’s easier to talk about musicians, as then we deal with sounds at once. On the other hand, besides this radio friendliness aspect I wanted my stories to be universal, so that a given listener could derive from it something for oneself. I remember that one day I and my husband were drinking coffee and watching TV and the news appeared that a man was released from the custody. This man had spent there 12 years for a murder. And after that long time it occurred that he was innocent. I imagined the whole situation at once, that this man had a mother, so I was curious how she managed to go through something like that, the fact that her son was accused of murdering someone. He had a fiancée and a son, so the question appeared how they accepted the fact that he was a murderer. Did they believe in his innocence? I had many more such questions, that’s why together with my husband we recorded a reportage ‘Nothing has happened’. While creating this radio story I was trying to present that everyone’s life may change in one second. One needs to carry on even in such an extremely difficult situation. Our hero had spent 12 years in prison, out of which 5 in a single cage. How to find the strength to survive it all?
Passion Piece: What are the features of a good reportage? What should we pay our attention to?
Hanna: The main features of a good reportage are radio friendliness and universality. Another thing I’d pay attention to is the right dramaturgy, which means telling a story in a way that if you start listening to a reportage in your car, you won’t get out of it until it ends.
Passion Piece: You’ve made over 1000 reportages during the past 30 years, it’s really impressive. Moreover, you’ve been awarded multiple times for your work. What made you decide to quit your full time job? Was it a difficult decision for you?
Hanna: My works have been presented abroad during numerous contests and festivals. I received the Bronze Cross of Merit and medals, which I won’t enumerate now. I’m not saying that to boast, I’m saying that to show how a difficult decision it was for me to leave my beloved radio. I’ve tried to develop as a reporter for my whole life, so that I could measure up to my Masters. When I managed to achieve this goal, the radio as an institution became a place which I couldn’t find out myself in. It’s all about the politics, which has become more visible than usual. About the censorship. About the fact that the management positions have been taken by people who don’t know anything about the radio. I’ve never had a stupid boss. These were always smart and experienced radio journalists. That’s why, I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that now I’d be supposed to obey people for whom journalism equals with recording texts on particular subjects, the ones which are convenient for the authorities. For example, we weren’t allowed to record what happened in the streets after taking decisions about abortion in Poland. We couldn’t talk about the hospitals during the pandemic and about the chaos related to COVID-19. And good reporters have it in their blood, they are with their microphones in the places where historic moments can be witnessed. They record the atmosphere of the events impartially and they ask questions: ‘Why? What can we learn about this?’
I was at a loss and didn’t know what to do for a few months. There was a fear: And what will happen if my illness comes back? What if I don’t earn as much as in the radio? Looking at it objectively, it’s easier to stay doing my safe full time job until I reach the retirement age in 3 years’ time. I think I would have never made this decision about leaving if it wasn’t for Kasia with whom I started running my blog in 2017, firstly Torba reportera (The reporter’s bag) which transformed into Torba reportera i podcastera (The reporter’s and podcaster’s bag). We were recording our podcasts, we performed at on-line conferences, we trained people how to record podcasts, how to give public speeches. We also wrote a book with reportages and later on an e-book. That’s why, when this thought appeared, that I should probably leave the radio, it was a kind of a plan B. An idea what to do later on, on a larger scale and for money. However, there was a great fear. Of course, we can’t be sure that we will succeed, but since 2021 is supposed to be the audio year, we believe that people will be eager to record their podcasts with us to make them more outstanding on the market.
Passion Piece: How did your family react to your decision?
Hanna: My children didn’t hesitate to say that I would do well and there’s not much to think about. In my husband’s eyes, as well as in my friends’ eyes I could initially see some fear. However, I asked myself what would happen if I stayed in the radio. I came to a conclusion that it would be harmful to my health, as it would bring me lots of stress. And stress is something I should definitely avoid. At that point I could make just one decision.
Passion Piece: Since 2017 you’ve been running a unique project Torba reportera with Katarzyna Błaszczyk. Could you tell us a little about this enterprise?
Hanna: We came up with Torba reportera, when we had a forced break at work. Mine was related to my illness, while Kasia’s to her second pregnancy. We were strolling in the woods and wondering how to use this time out of the radio in as a creative way as possible. We started thinking about setting up a blog, which was initially supposed to be only about reportages as such. Kasia is younger than me, but as a reporter she measures up to me with her achievements. Among others, she studied at the prestigious international EBU MASTER SCHOOL. For many years she organized the biggest international conference for reporters International Feature Conference. She had been working in the radio for 15 years. It was also a very difficult decision for her, since she’s a mother of two. I everlastingly admire her creative thinking in such a home environment. Our book, which was published by Znak, titled ‘Zdarzyło się naprawdę. Opowieści reporterskie’ (‘It has really happened. The Reporter’s tales’) she wrote on her phone while breastfeeding little Natalie. Last May we were simultaneously writing an e-book ‘Sztuka rozmowy w podcastach i nie tylko’ (‘The art of conversation in podcasts and not only’), training people, performing at different conferences and working in the radio. Besides that she was also taking care of her children and her home. It was her from whom I learned that we don’t work at the weekends. Unless it’s gardening that we both love so much. The main aim of Torba reportera is to present how to prepare professional podscasts and reportages. On the one hand we share our knowledge on the blog or on our facebook group ‘Podcast dla firm i freelancerów’ (‘Podcasts for firms and freelancers’) for free, on the other hand we have our commercial activity. We produce podcasts and we train others.
Passion Piece: Podcasts and storytelling are becoming more and more popular form of expression not only in the world, but also here in Poland. Where does their power lie?
Hanna: The main reason why I do believe in podcasts is that, especially now during the pandemic, we all have strained eyes, which keep aching us because of overusing our computers. Podcasts can educate, inspire, entertain and if one wants to listen to them one doesn’t need to switch on the computer. So you can listen to them while relaxing on the sofa, cleaning, queuing, driving your car. Whereas, the power of storytelling is in its authenticity and emotions. We tend to remember the things we experienced on our own most. That’s why, storytelling is so widely used in businesses nowadays. And in podscasts.
Passion Piece: How can podcasts help promote a brand? Is it worth recording podcasts besides writing texts on the blog or besides other kinds of social media activities?
Hanna: When we can listen to someone’s voice, we can instantly sense to what extent they are authentic. Whether they appeal to us or not. The research shows that if a product is advertised in a podcast, it makes its listeners reach for this product more often than if the same ad appeared in a movie. Because we tend to trust it more. It’s just like in the case of the radio which enjoys greater confidence than television. Podcasts can be various. Now we are producing a podcast, which is recorded by a psychologist in a form of meditation. These recordings will be sent in a newsletter. Another podcast is a guide. These are talks with a trainer of empathy ‘Jak przygotować dziecko do matury i nie zwariować?’ (‘How to prepare your kid to the A-levels and not to get crazy?’). A very interesting law podcast about negotiations will have its premiere soon. It’s important to know what kind of needs of your receivers you want to meet. Depending on these needs you choose the right kind of a podcast. Whether it’s a monologue or a dialog. Whether you want to run it on your own or you will ask a journalist to do it. Or maybe it should be a multi-element broadcast, a kind of a radio magazine. I believe that everyone who is active on the Internet and creates content should try to produce a podcast. It’s much cheaper than a video and it doesn’t require standing in front of the camera. Everyone can record a podcast having only a mobile phone at the beginning. If we involve more in the podcast production, we can slowly become more professional. Apparently, it’s estimated that soon 70% of the Internet content will be the audio one.
Passion Piece: You wrote an e-book titled ‘Sztuka rozmowy w podcastach i nie tylko’ with your friend. What are the main 3 steps to lead a good conversation? What is a so called art of conversation?
Hanna: Everyone wants to be heard, wants to feel that what they say is important for another person. However, it often happens that you say something to your friend , and her sight is focused on something else and finally she interrupts you saying: ‘Oh, what a lovely blouse you have! Where did you buy it?’, or ‘Andrew has just sent a text message to me, but don’t let that stop you, keep talking, I’ll just have a look at this message’. Do you feel heard then? Do you feel well then? Rather not, you feel ignored and unimportant, moreover the message you wanted to convey didn’t reach that person at all. People who know how to talk attract others, as they seem to be more attractive. We carried out a lot of trainings titled ‘Jak mówić, żeby być słuchanym, jak słuchać, żeby inni do nas mówili’ (‘How to speak, so that others listen to you and how to listen so that people want to talk to you’). The art of conversation is all about being interested in another person. When I talk with someone, I am here and now, I don’t keep thinking about what has happened during the day, or what I still have to do before it ends. I focus on my interlocutor and not on interrupting that person just to share my own story. The second important thing is active listening. Asking additional question to understand something better. Sometimes it’s also necessary to remain silent together with that person. It’s better than trying to calm someone down using banal expressions, or giving good advice. Third thing, very difficult, the ability to ask questions, the ones which open and not close our conversation. We have described this matter in our e-book in detail. We have applied here our own experiences. To sum up, a good conversation is a conversation that reveals something in ourselves, sometimes frees us, leaves something good and important. One can learn that skill.
Passion Piece: What do you find to be your greatest success? Which projects would you like to work on in the nearest future?
Hanna: The first success was gaining the level in the radio which I had dreamed about when I was young. The second one I have done well in the on-line world. I record and cut short videos, I broadcast live and I do what I love, which means I share my knowledge and experience with others. Every Thursday during broadcasting live ‘ABC PODCASTU’ (‘The ABC of podcast’) I talk for fifteen minutes about things that may be useful for the aspiring podcasters. And then I read the comments ‘You know Hania, until seeing your video I did everything the other way round, completely differently from what you have said during your live broadcasting, I need to change it. Thank you very much. It’s been the first time I got to know about it.’ It’s just amazing. However, at the same time I slowly start longing for meeting extraordinary people and their stories. I miss recording trembling voices, whispers, rain, a child crying, creaky floorboards. I know that just after recording all the material, I’ll sit down to cut it and start complaining that it’s so difficult to put everything together in a meaningful whole. I’ll pour out my heart to my husband that I’d rather prefer to be a secretary, filing my nails and serving coffee, and doing my work I need to go through such creative tortures. And yet I miss this kind of emotions. Hopefully, it seems that we will start a very difficult artistic project with Kasia pretty soon.
Passion Piece: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What allows you to find your peace of mind?
Hanna: I recorded reportages both bright and painful ones. I talked about violence, diseases, and death. I visited prisons and I faced poverty. Sometimes people turned me out, insulted me. Many times I felt helpless. At that time I found my safe haven in my little garden, which I have around my house. I drove to the market and I came back with my car full of flowers. I cleared my mind while I was planting and digging in the soil. I had to focus on plants to create something beautiful. I also love traveling, going away even only for 2-3 days, somewhere not too far away. It’s something I enjoy a lot. And books, as you remember I wanted to be a librarian once.
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Hanna: Just as my boss – Irena Piłatowska used to say, I repeat her words that the most exciting is what hides just around the corner. The things that we don’t know yet. I wish everyone to be so curious about the world, because this curiosity may bring wonderful things. Besides this I learned to live here and now. There’s no point in worrying about something I haven’t managed to do, or in worrying about the future. You need to be here and now.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I wish you continued success during your future projects.
Hanna: Thank you, too.
See you around!
Photos by: Hanna Bogoryja-Zakrzewska