Life on the Road: Adventures with StoryCorps’ Mobile Tour Staff (July 17 – July 20, 2022)
Quincy, WA-July 17, 2022
Hello from Quincy Valley! We are in this lovely city for some field recordings. A field recording is when we pack up our equipment and set up at a nearby organization to record with their community members. In the past, we’ve gone to homeless shelters, women’s homes, and small community libraries. We will spend three days at the Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum (QVHS&M) in partnership with the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS). QVHS&M is the heritage and cultural hub of the Quincy Valley community and IRIS works to foster sustainable, rural communities by gathering and sharing success stories that enhance a sense of belonging, inspire action, and build community. We are excited to see these two organizations in collaboration with each other through these recordings.
Besides being in a new location, these recordings are really special because they have been coordinated by our partner organizations. So far, we have gotten lots of powerful stories about agriculture and immigration here at the museum. For me, field recordings are such a personally moving way to learn more about the communities we are spending time in.
Here are a few pictures of our sweet set-up:
We are thrilled to be here! Each field recording day brings new themes to the space and is rewarding in its own way. Maybe we’ll come visit you someday!
Quincy, WA-July 18, 2022
Today I wanted to introduce you to Harriet and Nancy, who are making these field recording days possible!
Left: Harriet Weber (director of operations Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum); Right: Nancy Warner (IRIS Archive Program Manager.)
In addition to recruiting so many community members to come out and record, they’ve also been acting as fabulous interviewers for some of our participants. They were kind enough to let me interview them on the process in the midst of our recording days together.
S: So, IRIS is based in Wenatchee, WA and serves many communities. Why did you want StoryCorps to record voices from the Quincy community?
N: Well, a lot of people drive through towns like Quincy and it doesn’t look like that much until you know some of the stories. And then when you know some of the stories and you have some relationships with the people it looks completely different! You just see it with new eyes! I think we all need to be a little bit more cognizant of where we live and our connections with people.
S: I’ve definitely been feeling that as we hear the stories from this community! Before we finish up, I wanted to switch gears and ask you one of the StoryCorps Great Questions: What are you most proud of?
N: Well, I guess I would say that I’m proud of having had this idea in the 1980s…I’m proud that I actually helped turn the idea into reality and created an online archive. It’s been a lot of hard work!
Before we head into Harriet’s interview, here are a couple of visuals of the beautiful Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum that she directs. Have I mentioned that we love recording here?
S: What made you want to form a community partnership between StoryCorps and the Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum?
H: Well I think it’s been a multi-year mission of ours to collect oral histories, and I’ve been doing that on my own for probably 15 years…and a quote I’ve always loved is “in the end we’ll all be stories”.
S: I love that! I’ll have to look up who said it! (Update: it’s Margaret Atwood). So, what does having StoryCorps here in Quincy bring to you and your community?
H: It brings a level of professional recording here and nationwide archive of people’s stories, and people who are familiar with StoryCorps, that’s really special to them too because they’ve heard snippets on the radio and they understand the importance of it. This work is really close to my heart and so this has been wonderful because it’s allowed us to have some support and help in making this happen.
S: Before we head out, in the spirit of StoryCorps recordings, I’d love to ask you one question from the StoryCorps Great Questions List: What are you most proud of?
H: I’m most proud of the fine human beings my children turned out to be.
Quincy, WA-July 21, 2022
While Teriyana and I spend time on the ground with participants and the partner organizations we work with, our outreach manager, Lea Zikmund, coordinates with them from our Brooklyn office. Well, usually she does…she’s actually on the ground with us in Moses Lake right now for a surprise visit! I spoke to her about the value of partnering with organizations like Nancy and Harriet’s.
S: What is the purpose of outreach on the Mobile Team?
L: In order to ensure that we are connecting fully with each community we visit, we conduct community outreach. Prior to arriving in a location, we research local organizations that are doing good work in that area and ask them to be involved. Through this model, we bring in unique voices and stories that add to the fantastic mixture of voices in our archive. Our goal is to uplift all of the voices everywhere we go as much as we can.
S: What is the purpose of field recordings?
L: Sometimes when we form partnerships, it’s easier for a community partner to have us come to them. Rather than record at our regular location for the entirety of a stop, our team will take a day trip to another organization and set up there to record.
That’s all for this week, friends! I’ll catch you next week for more updates on our adventure!
Click here to read the first installment of the Mobile Tour series.
Click here to read the second installment of the Mobile Tour series.
Life on the Road: Adventures with StoryCorps’ Mobile Tour Staff (July 13, 2022)
Moses Lake, WA – July 13, 2022
Hi again from Moses Lake! Sarah here. Today, I’m going to show you what a recording day looks like!
Our schedule runs 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM in whichever time zone we find ourselves. Two of us facilitate per day, and we usually have a total of six recordings (three each). However, today we only have 5, which will give me a bit of wiggle room to write to you all!
10:00 AM – When we arrive at the recording space, we set up our equipment, review our schedule notes about each recording, and wait for our first participants.
10:00 AM – While Teriyana is facilitating the first recording, I catch up on databasing previous conversations. For every public recording, we input locations, descriptions, log notes, and keywords, amongst other information, so that archive visitors can use it as a resource. It looks like this:
For me, databasing is a great way to process what happened in a recording. After hearing so many meaningful conversations, it’s easy to feel oversaturated with emotion every now and again. Putting conversation topics into words really helps. Sometimes I also fear that I’ll forget some of the impactful moments to which I’ve had the privilege of bearing witness. However, writing down summaries etches stories a bit more deeply into my memory, and participants’ wisdom always pops back into my mind at the randomest of times–for example, this morning I was working out when I remembered the advice of 10-year-old Sebastian: “You should be helpful to yourself and say, ‘You can do this! Can’t give up!’”
11:00 AM – Time to prepare for my first recording of the day! Teriyana and I hang out here while we wait for participants.
When participants arrive, we walk them through the required paperwork so that we can get to the fun part–recording! After letting participants know how the process is going to look, I adjust their microphones.
Here’s me adjusting the mic for an extra sweet participant in Pensacola:
Next, we do a sound check. I usually ask, “What’s your favorite thing to do in [insert current city]?” and get some ideas of what I should do around town as I adjust their sound levels.
Then, we hit record!
Recordings are 40 minutes long. While participants talk, I take notes for our archive, keep time, check sound levels, and, of course, listen. While I also jump in with a question or two every so often, I try to keep the majority of the conversation between participants, as they know one another’s narratives better than I do, and it’s often their relationship dynamic that makes a story special.
After recording, participants can choose whether they want to keep their conversation private or share it publicly. There are so many places where StoryCorps conversations can be shared, depending on participants’ preferences and life experiences, but I won’t dive into the details for now (unless, of course, you write on our survey that you’re particularly interested in this)!
Finally, it’s time for photos! It might seem counterintuitive to take photos of people after an experience that often evokes both laughter and tears–people might not look like their most polished selves. However, there is something special about documenting what people look like after sharing a deeply meaningful conversation. Unlike the nerves that so often precede recordings, there seems to be a kind of post-recording euphoria. I didn’t realize the full extent of this feeling until I participated in a StoryCorps signature recording myself. If you take a peek at our online archive, you might notice the glow people seem to carry with them after recording.
This is what our photo backdrop looks like. This picture is from when the new backdrop first arrived in the mail and, if you can’t tell, we were excited!!
And here is what our backdrop looks like in photos:
Of course, before leaving participants can feel free to make a donation or grab a StoryCorps pin!
12:30 PM – What a joyful recording! Margaret, the interviewee, both has a fascinating family history and has done so much volunteer work in the Moses Lake area. I always find it so inspiring to hear about how others engage with their communities! Now, it’s time to database while Teriyana facilitates the next recording.
1:00 PM – Lunch time! There’s a sweet park outside of the Civic Center where I like to catch some sun while I eat.
2:00 PM – Time to prepare for my next recording!
3:30 PM – My participants are heading out to take pictures of the StoryCorps airstream. I really adore conversations that remember loved ones. In this one, Chelan and Michael talked about Paul Lauzier, who created the foundation for which they both work. There was a lot of laughter and a few tears too.
…Aaand back to databasing!
4:15 PM – I’m all done archiving both conversations, and this is around the time I’d be ready for my third recording of the day. However, there were only five recordings today, so, instead, I’ll leave you with a few sneak peeks of today’s conversations:
Margaret Schiffner (84) and Ann Schempp (45)
Michael Rex Tabler (76) and Chelan Kleyn (48)
Click here to read our previous installment of the Mobile Tour series.
Click here to read our next installment of the Mobile Tour series.
Sharing Stories with Compassion
“I can exist without the audience; I can’t exist without the people telling their story.”
The following is excerpted from a post first published on the TED Blog.
Between them, Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, and Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York, have collected more than 100,000 stories from regular people around the world. Isay collects his stories as audio files, while Stanton takes a photo and then interviews his subject—but they’ve both developed fascinating techniques for helping people to open up. They sat down together to talk about their work and their thoughts on what makes for an honest, open interview environment.
“We think of the internet as such a coarse place, yet people treat our app with such respect. I am constantly amazed by this,” Isay says about the listener contributions to the StoryCorps app. The secret: Create an intimate culture where trust is paramount. Stanton agrees. “We don’t judge or criticize,” he says. “I am interviewing people with a spirit of genuine interest and compassion, and therefore the general tone of the site is one of genuine interest and compassion.”
Maintaining that spirit is the only reason he thinks Humans of New York survives. “The moment that culture changes, Humans of New York is no longer viable,” he says bluntly. “If I approach someone and ask for a photograph, and they know they’re going to be subjected to a judgefest, suddenly it’s not a great proposition anymore, it’s something to be feared. I can exist without the audience; I can’t exist without the people telling their story.”
People aren’t very good at knowing how to tell their own stories, says Stanton, and that means that they’re often vague and imprecise. Cutting through that is part of the interviewer’s job. “Interviewing someone is a very proactive process and requires taking a lot of agency into your own hands to get past people’s general normal self-preservation mode,” he says. “My interviews are very pointed. I’m an active participant; I will kindly interrupt people. But I’ve learned there is nothing people won’t tell you if you ask in a compassionate and legitimately interested way.” Isay agrees: “When I started making radio documentaries, I wanted to be the vehicle through which people could tell their stories.” But that doesn’t mean letting them ramble.
“StoryCorps has made me less fearful of other people,” says Isay. “I’ve learned really bad people are few and far between, even though that’s not represented in newspapers in the culture of fear we live in.” By giving people tools with which they can share their own stories, he’s become hopeful that people are basically good. “People want to have these conversations, but it can be hard and scary. I think about it like jumping in a freezing cold pool. You just have to do it and take that step and do that interview.”
“The only things I make money on are speeches and books,” says Stanton; HONY might have 15 million followers, but he doesn’t sell advertising. “I want HONY to be about telling the stories of people, and there’s part of me that does not like the idea of making money or selling advertisements based on the value of other people’s stories.” StoryCorps, meanwhile, has always been a nonprofit. As president, Isay spends most of his time fundraising — a task he is happy to do, he says, because it allows StoryCorps to be StoryCorps.
“The first interview I ever did, I knew that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” says Isay. Not, he says, that it was always easy: “It takes some courage to find your calling and just do it no matter what anybody says.” For his part, Stanton had been working in finance when he lost his job. “All I knew was that I loved photography, so for the next few months I did nothing but photograph all day long,” he says. That was the beginning of HONY. “If I had waited until I was ‘ready’ to do HONY, it would have never gotten done.” As Isay confirms, “you just gotta jump.”
Listen to their full interview.