CBCradio

About the Show

What's that music you play at the beginning of the show?

The Dispatches theme is Mark Knopfler's What It Is, from his Sailing To Philadelphia CD

 Dispatches was launched as a pilot in 2001, created by Rick MacInnes-Rae and Michael Finlay. The objective was to see how much of an appetite Canadians have for strong international coverage beyond what CBC Radio News and the CBC Radio One network programs were already providing. The mail and audience ratings showed that there's an enormous appetite.

Since then, Dispatches has become a brand. And listeners have certain expectations. They expect our documentaries to take them to distant places where change is happening. They expect us to put them "in the room" with people living amid the tension and change brought by shifting international events.

They expect our interviews to feature those who have been to those places, those who have been witnesses to the lives of the people in those situations. They expect us to turn the interviewee into a storyteller who leavens the larger picture with rich personal anecdotes.

They expect us to display a sense of history. And they expect us to turn a phrase. This is a program for writers with something to say, and powerful ways of saying it.

Dispatches is broad in tone, ranging from the serious to the whimsical. And it also incorporates stories of arts which can offer insight into cultural change.

What does Dispatches want?

Our standard elements are documentaries, essays, interviews, listener letters, music and clips.

Dispatches is a hybrid program. It's got a foot in the daily news agenda, but doesn't follow it. It's got a foot in the considered world of current affairs, the arts and features. That gives reporters great scope in pitching. We listen to topical pitches with a news peg, or something out of the blue, that may not be on anyone's agenda yet.

That means it can be a personal journey of discovery, or an issue-driven piece. But it has to have the elements of change and tension, and it has to affect somebody. Something has to be at stake. Something must be happening. There are idea-driven documentaries on Dispatches, but they are animated with people and the events of their lives.

How we decide what airs

Truth to tell, Dispatches is just one great big long story meeting every day. We're that excited about what we do.

But once a week we hold the formal story meeting. We critique the current program, consider content for next week's and table our ideas for stories and program themes. Most of our time is spent discussing pitches from staff and freelancers and the treatment of the ones we accept.

Dispatches has two producers and a senior producer.

Rick MacInnes-Rae is the program host. He's a former foreign correspondent who makes his own docs as his schedule allows. He writes his own scripts. That, along with his delivery, sets the tone of the program.

The tone is intimate, skeptical, wry, and experienced. He speaks directly to the listener, weaving history and anecdote while inviting people into a club of correspondents.

How to pitch

We'd be nowhere without a constant stream of story ideas from regulars and strangers.

Use the same email address we give to the listeners: dispatches@cbc.ca

Don't pitch us nouns, and don't send us a term paper. Just a page giving us the focus of the doc, and how you propose to tell it. Tell us what kind of people are in it, and what kind of scenes you envision capturing in the field.

If it's your first pitch, we'll want to know what kind of field experience you have with radio documentaries, and where we might hear one of yours on the internet. Also what kind of mics and recorder you're using, and whether you're familiar with things like laptop editing and FTP transmission.

And give us a little time to think. Pitch before you go on the trip.

What's A Dispatch?

We have a journalistic field guide, What Is A Dispatch, and a brief technical tip sheet we'll email to serious story-pitchers.

The Nieman Foundation For Narrative Journalism, at Harvard, published a nicely edited version of it in three parts, on its website. .

Dispatches at Nieman Foundation For Narrative Journalism, at Harvard

Part One: Sounding Out Your Story 

Part Two: Composing With Sound

Part Three: Writing For Radio

On that site, there are mentions of some Dispatches pieces that highlight the discussion. Right click here and select "save target as" to download them all as one 90-minute podcast