This TED talk by Dave Isay is about his project Story Corps. In booths around America, the Story Corps has captured interviews and stories of everyday people since 2003 with the goal and aim to become a
digital archive of the collective wisdom of humanity.
In March 2015, he won the coveted TED Prize declaring his goal is to take the project globally.
In an earlier post, Journalism as Narrative, [Jan 11, 2015], I examined the fact that everyone is telling stories, even journalists. The way news items are chosen and framed presents a picture of the world.
I highlighted one of my favourite bloggers, Brandon Stanton, and his page, Humans of New York. The blog subverts the trend of selling drama, to tell the stories of every day people. He, almost daily posts images of people he encounters in the streets of New York, and a few lines of dialogue that captures something unique about them.
In this exerpt he explains to University students in Dublin, how he engages people in the street:
With over 11 million Facebook followers, Stanton resonates with his audience by highlighting the beauty, complexity, humour and vulnerability of human beings. Nothing quite captures the power of his story telling as what has happened over the last 7 days. On January 20th Stanton took this picture of 13 year old Vidal Chastanet, in his neighbourhood, Brownsville, New York.
“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”
“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”
“How has she influenced you?”
“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”
On January 23rd, Stanton found and interviewed Mrs Lopez, the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy.
“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”
Inspired by the community and the response to Vidal’s story, which had received over a million likes, Stanton spent time brainstorming with the teaching staff how he and the HONY [Humans of New York] community could help. Stanton and Ms Lopez discussed a school trip to see Harvard University.
Our discussion covered many needs, but we kept returning to one in particular– the limited horizons of disadvantaged youth. Ms. Lopez’s school is situated in a neighborhood with the highest crime rate in New York, and many of her scholars have very limited mobility. Some of them are very much ‘stuck’ in their neighborhood. And many have never left the city. “It can be very difficult for them to dream beyond what they know,” Ms. Lopez explained.
Stanton promptly launched an crowdfunding campaign on Indigogo with the goal of $100, 000 to send Vidal’s class to Harvard. Subsequent posts told the stories of other citizens of the neighbourhood, other teachers of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, the teaching staff, the school community. Stanton spent almost the whole week in Vidal’s world recording the remarkable human beings and the lives they live. With each post he promoted the fundraising campaign which quiclly grew beyond a simple trip to Harvard.
Just amazing. And in less than five days. Thanks to the 34,893 of you who have donated so far. (That’s getting close to an Indiegogo record, by the way!) Thanks also to those of you who have been following along, and lending comments of support. I’m so proud of how everyone has rallied around this story, in ways that go so far beyond just raising money.
With over $1 million dollars raised in just under a week, the campaign was nothing less than record breaking. Funds were raised for 10 years of trips to see Harvard University, summer programs for the local school children, and a scholarship fund for students to attend university. This not only illustrates the power of digital media and the creation of a “community” of people as far flung as South Africa, New Zealand, India, Iran and Brownsville, New York, but also the power of simply telling people’s stories.
By connecting with people’s stories, the world seems a little smaller, strangers seem a little stranger and our hearts connect with the plight of others making their problems our problems.
One cannot spend long listening to mainstream media without realising that a “narrative” is being laid out. By narrative, I mean a conversation, a view point, a focus upon a certain perspective [character] with a certain struggle [crisis] and seeking a certain resolutions [catharsis].
This is well acknowledged by commentators. Factoids are thrown about such as “more people are killed by obesity than by shark attacks” or “more people die walking down the street than in plane crashes” or most significantly, “more people die daily from prevantable diseases and hunger than in terrorist attacks.” Yet the media has a narrative to tell and mostly this narrative is driven by what the audience, the readers, are interested in reading or viewing. Unashamedly appealing to the feelings and fears of the viewers, media will focus on the shark attacks, the plane crashes and the terrorist attacks. The viewer must supplement their world knowledge through self study.
This is a curiousity to note, especially because many of us state, “I’d rather read the news than fiction, I think the real world is interesting enough” or ” I want fact not fiction”. Journalists are bound to various codes of conduct not to perjure or malign people or companies unduly or not to insert opinion into their pieces, retaining an impartial reporterly perspective. However, the bias evident in what is reported and how it is reported is remarkable and one that the user generates.
Brandon Stanton, photographer of the wildly successful blog “Humans of New York” gave this brilliant TEDx talk in 2013. He highlights how the media selects their content and how this content does not reflect the greater reality of life. His blog seeks to counter that and tell a different narrative.
Fiction is simply another form of narrative. Let us read with discernment.