It's “Nerve-racking”! Getting our Storytellers Offline (and Back On Again)

Transom is an online resource for storytellers, mostly audio-based but delving into the world of visual digital media as well. They recent put on a six-week online workshop – based entirely on Facebook – with several Rising Voices writers participating.

Silvia Viñas, the Latin America regional editor for Global Voices, said of the first days:

It's great to be with other GVers! it's sort of like walking into a new classroom where you already know some of the people ;)

The assignments asked participants to go into the street and interview people they met, progressing from audio and photography, to video. It wasn't always the easiest. Writer Luis Henrique from Brazil:

I am finding it hard to do because I have all those reservations with statements and pictures, especially because they will end up in an open Facebook page. And I'm shy. But I did post my assignment today.

Marianna Bretyman, an RV writer and translator living in New York (a city notoriously full of very busy people) mentioned that location matters a lot:

Ultimately, I liked the idea of the workshop, but I think it also depends a lot on the type of people participating and the cities they live in… in NYC, I found it difficult to get people to talk to me, let alone be recorded. Most people keep to themselves, so that was a bit discouraging… personally I think I have a long way to go before I can approach strangers on the street. It's really nerve racking!

Marianna's final assignment:

Others found talking to people a bit easier. Luis:

The person I talked to was a bit suspicious at first but, in the end, she talked about some very powerful topics of hers… She is a street sweeper, a job usually invisible in the streets as people pass by without noticing them, but, in the end, she has a story to tell, she has dreams, she studies at an university, every move is decisive in her life as she assumes at her age the clock is ticking and not in her favor. All those emotions lying there, latent. And then we go there, ask some questions and unleash those forces. A huge responsibility, the way I see it.

"I am afraid of failing. When I do fail, I feel miserable, close to depression. I am a street sweeper."

“I am afraid of failing. When I do fail, I feel miserable, close to depression. I am a street sweeper.”

Workshop structure

rachael peterson transom

Rachael Petersen, an RV and GV writer, took a portrait and made an interview for the first assignment, entitled “what do you fear?” Her summary of her interviewee's responses, as posted on the workshop's facebook page, were as follows:

“Man, my fears are like Alice in Wonderland – how deep do you want to go? If we don't go too deep, snakes. One time as a kid, I picked up a stick and then it moved. Now I fear mounds – massive pools! – of mating snakes all over each other, you know? Can't even watch the Discovery Channel any more.”

Afterwards, the workshop instructor Scott Carrier made comments through the same Facebook post:
facebook conversation rachael peterson scott carrier

However, one recurring concern has been that the final projects get posted to a public Facebook page. Sometimes for privacy rights (Luis)…

It is curious how some people really want to share their stories… [but] I wish my subjects would be more aware of all the privacy issues and other issues surrounding image rights and social networks. The many who said no to me usually would mention not wanting to be featured in a picture. I'd easily use that card too.

And sometimes for more personal reasons (Silvia):

Overall, I liked using Facebook, but at times I felt a little “shy” about sharing my drafts, because I knew that anyone would see them –including the person I interviewed for my final piece.

Silvia also said that, from an organisational point of view, group size is key when you're online:

I think the workshop would work better with a smaller group. That would give participants a greater chance to interact more with the instructor… He gave me great one-on-one feedback on my final assignment, showing me exactly where in the script he would make cuts to make the story shorter and more to the point. I'm very happy with the result.

Silvia's final audio contribution:

Ultimately, the Rising Voices participants seemed to enjoy the challenge of getting offline. Luis:

…from a personal perspective, it is a great challenge to defy my shyness and talk to people without any gadget mediation. Look into their eyes and be looked at too.

Luis’ final contribution

Thalia Rahme, a Global Voices author joining in from Beirut was also pleased with her contribution…

But I'm also a bit proud of myself… I thought that as usual I was gonna quit or unenroll just like I did in many MOOC or many other projects but I dont know somehow I did it even though it was the last day and as usual I was late but I did it :)

and Silvia:

In the workshop I learned that we can find great stories in unexpected places, we just have to be brave (and bold) and reach out to friends and strangers.

You can see the rest of the work posted online to the Facebook group and on the Transom website. The Transom Online Workshops were funded by the Knight Prototype Fund, which “helps journalists, developers and tinkerers take media innovations from idea to demonstration.”

Transom logo taken from their twitter page @Transom_org.

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