Wednesday, December 4, 2013
SKOWHEGAN — About six months ago, Morning Sentinel reporter Doug Harlow got a phone call from a documentary journalism student who was inspired by an article he wrote.
Morning Sentinel reporter Doug Harlow speaks with a subject on the phone while using an electro larynx battery-powered voicebox device.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Emily Kwong, 23, a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland.
Emily Kwong’s work can be seen at www.emily-kwong.com.
For more information on the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, go to www.salt.edu.
Information on the Third Coast Audio Festival, including the nine winners of this year’s festival, and to listen to the winning pieces, visit thirdcoastfestival.org.
Emily Kwong, 23, a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, read a news story about a Maine filmmaker who lost his work in a barn fire, and called Harlow to see if he could help her get in touch with the filmmaker.
Their conversation led her to another story, “Parts of Speech,” which is about Harlow’s life, including the loss of the reporter’s voice to throat cancer and how he learned to use an electronic device to help him speak.
The seven-minute radio documentary was selected as one of nine winners at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and will be recognized this weekend in Chicago before being broadcast nationally along with the other winners of the festival, which this year received 269 entries from 14 countries.
“Doug was such an interesting character and he was shown really sympathetically through the use of his electronic voice. We really got to know him through the story, which created great respect for the character,” said Julie Shapiro, Third Coast artistic director. “Our judges just fell in love with him.”
Kwong, who is an intern for two radio programs in New York City, produced the piece while a student at the Salt Institute in Portland last spring. Founded in 1973, the institute provides semester-long programs in documentary writing, radio, photography and multimedia to graduate and undergraduate students.
Kwong’s documentary opens with a recording of Harlow’s voice after he was diagnosed with throat cancer but before doctors removed his vocal cords in July 2005.
In the recording, he tells his wife and children that he loves them. Then the story jumps eight years — Harlow’s cancer is gone but surgeons had to remove his larynx and gave him an electrolarnyx, a battery-powered device he wears on a cord around his neck and holds against his throat to speak. He says he refused to give up on life, learned how to use the device and went back to work.
The piece tells of the first time Harlow went out in public with the voice and his return to work five weeks after the surgery. Colin Hickey, a reporter who worked with Harlow at the time of the surgery, said it was difficult for Harlow to return to work as a reporter, because people would hang up the phone when they heard the electronic voice.
Harlow’s wife, Mary Lou, who is also interviewed, said his cancer and the loss of his voice changed the way he related to people, including her.
“I’m still talking the way I spoke when he had a voice. It’s something I try to keep in mind — giving him the opportunity to be heard. Like in an argument, I have to give him the chance to argue back because I can get louder than what he can,” she tells Kwong.
It has been eight years since the surgery, but using the voice is still frustrating at times, said Harlow.
Kwong said when she first pitched her idea to him, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be the subject of a radio documentary.
“I said, ‘Well Doug, I think that you being a journalist all this time it might be interesting for you to see what it’s like on the other side,’” said Kwong. She said she also believed that Harlow, who has worked a reporter at the Sentinel for 25 years, had an interesting life and that this would be a good opportunity for him to tell his story.
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An electro larnyx battery-powered voicebox device.
Staff photo by David Leaming