Monday, September 22, 2014

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Minnesota Public Radio Brings National Story-Telling Project to Minneapolis June 23–July 11

StoryCorps arrives at Peavey Plaza on June 23, and it would be easy to mistake it for a family heading up north. The mobile recording studio is housed in a silver Airstream trailer, which was dedicated a few weeks ago at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

StoryCorps is about giving regular people an opportunity and a place to interview each other and share their experience, their stories and their knowledge. Two people sign up for an hour session, get advice from a trained facilitator and then spend 40 minutes talking in the booth. They leave with a better understanding of one another and a CD of the interview, as well as the chance to archive their talk with others at the Library of Congress and perhaps hear an excerpt on Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota Public Radio has spent the last two years building a new approach to news coverage that it calls Public Insight Journalism (PIJ). It's a simple idea, says Managing Director of News Michael Skoler. "Everyone has experience and knowledge that is valuable. Minnesota Public Radio is creating ways to tap that knowledge and use it to deepen and enliven our news coverage."

"We invited StoryCorps here because it fits tightly with our Public Insight Journalism approach and gives us one more way to gather insights from the public." Skoler also hopes it will encourage more people to sign up to become public sources for Minnesota Public Radio. More than ten thousand people are already providing ideas and information both online and by phone to help the radio network cover the news.

Like journalism, StoryCorps is about finding and sharing what is true in society. At a time when "reality TV" puts people in very unreal situations and shows like VH1's "The Fabulous Life" magnify the daily lives of the "very rich and famous," StoryCorps shows the power in ordinary life. "What we're trying to do is create a movement in this country to get people to really listen to each other," says David Isay, the radio producer and MacArthur "genius" grantee who created StoryCorps. "The stories of us, of everyday people, are just as interesting, if not more interesting, than the stories of celebrities and statesmen and all the people we're inundated with every day in the magazines and newspapers."

StoryCorps began with an immobile studio: a glowing, 8-by-10-foot box in the middle of Manhattan's bustling Grand Central Terminal. Of those who enter - a woman and her grandmother, long-time colleagues, a teacher and his student, brother and sister — one person usually wants to learn more about the other's experiences, feelings or thoughts. Sometimes both have questions to ask and stories to share. Often the stories have never been told before.

"The microphone," says David Isay, "emboldens people to ask and reflect and share as they sit in the intimate space of the studio." A StoryCorps engineer uses broadcast-quality equipment to record the interview and produce CD copies. Excerpts from StoryCorps interviews air on Morning Edition every Friday, with permission from the participants. Isay stresses that StoryCorps' primary purpose is to give participants an enjoyable and meaningful experience; any radio stories are simply a bonus.

During years of work as a public radio producer, Isay saw how people felt valued when he asked them questions and captured their stories on tape, how interviews released feelings and strengthened relationships. So he decided to hand the microphone to others. "The idea was basically to turn documentary on its head," Isay explains. "Instead of giving a very few people a chance to be heard by many, many, many, many people, this is a chance to let everybody participate and record their stories."

The response has been overwhelming. Since fall of 2003, people have recorded more than 2,000 interviews at Grand Central Terminal. With a goal of recording at least 250,000 interviews by 2014, Isay hopes cities across the country will get inspired by visits of the StoryCorps "MobileBooth" and create their own StoryCorps booths. He also envisions a fleet of silver Airstream studios driving from community to community in continuous circuits around the nation, gathering stories. Isay is thrilled that the Twin Cities will be among the first. "Minnesota has the strongest and best public radio listenership of any area in the country. How could we not go to Minnesota? You guys are the Paris, France, of public radio."

Anyone can stop by the booth during operating hours to listen to stories and pick up information about StoryCorps and Public Insight Journalism.

StoryCorps Online
Look for highlights and details of StoryCorps' visit to the Twin Cities online. Find hours and directions for the MobileBooth. Listen to stories. Use the StoryCorps Questions Generator to prepare for an interview, and learn how to make your own recordings at home.