Intro from Jay Allison: We’ve always been interested by what students at Brown University have done with radio, and have featured their efforts in the past. “Now Here This” is the latest intriguing audio storytelling project out of Providence. Student founders Sophie McKibben and Liza Yeager describe what they’re up to—which includes hyper-local focus and the grand idea to bring together campus storytellers everywhere: A National Student Audio Network.
It’s tough to wrangle college talent because it keeps turning over, but we’re eager to see if McKibben/Yeager’s energy and new tools might make it possible. They write, “There are a lot of people with different stories and ideas and perspectives in school right now. Most of their voices aren’t on the radio or in podcasts. We think they should be.” Check out their philosophy and their work to date. Then join them, if you’re inspired.
Who We Are
Now Here This is an online platform for student-produced audio storytelling. It was started at Brown University in 2014 by us — Liza Yeager and Sophie McKibben. Since its official launch in January of 2015, Now Here This has published over thirty stories made by an incredible crew of students at Brown, hosted live storytelling events, and produced a podcast. Now in the process of expanding to host student stories from across the country and develop an array of educational tools for producers, Now Here This aims to help students get a foot in the radio-door.
Now Here This was born over coffee last October. A few sips in we realized that we’d both been thinking hard about the same idea: not quite a podcast, not quite a magazine, but an online platform where students could publish all kinds of audio stories. That same day, we sent out an email to everyone we’d ever met and, amazingly, got a ton of responses. Most people said things like, “I want to be involved but I’ve never made a story.” So we told people to use anything they had to record (most used their phones) and edit a story of their choosing. Then we waited…it was nerve wracking because we didn’t know what kind of quality to expect. But one by one the stories came in and they were terrific. We were amazed — we’d put out a call asking for stories that most people didn’t know how to make for a project that didn’t exist, and yet it seemed like everyone wanted to be involved. The huge response taught us our first important lesson: a lot of students were thinking about audio storytelling — they just needed a place to start publishing and producing.
A couple of weeks post-coffee we had our team. We also found an incredible web designer — also a student — who went above and beyond to build a beautiful website with virtually no budget. We needed a bit of startup funding — primarily for web hosting and equipment. The administrators we spoke with seemed just as excited about Now Here This as we were. So, if you’re a student who wants to start making audio stories but needs some start-up funding for equipment, and you go to a school that supports anything creative, talk about your idea with the people who might give you money. Good places to start: creative departments, the Dean’s office, the activities office. We also got our musician friends to play a benefit concert and made almost a thousand dollars in a night. With that funding we were able to buy a few recording set-ups (we use this recorder and this mic, and we edit on Hindenburg). And we could start making stories.
What We Do at Brown
- Weekly team content meetings. It’s sacred time — all of our producers are there, usually on time; people don’t really miss these meetings. Everybody squishes together on couches in the radio studio at school. Every story is workshopped by the whole team, from pitch to script to final form; it’s an exercise in learning how to give and receive honest feedback to and from your friends.
- Freelancers. We’re also working with students who don’t have time to be on staff but have really important stories to share. First they pitch us their idea. Then we pair them with a staff producer to guide them through the process of making their story come alive. In this way, we’re trying to make NHT more inclusive. That process is connected to bigger ideas about how audio storytelling in general can and should be a media tool for a much more diverse crowd than it is right now.
- Publication. We publish on Thursdays. You can find our stories on our website and our iTunes Podcast.
- Problem Solving. If there’s anything we can’t figure out about production, we ask someone outside the group. Or look it up on Transom.
These Are a Few of The Stories We Made
Love in Four Hours. Lauren Black tries to fall in love with a stranger by answering the thirty-six questions that can make you fall in love with anyone. Produced by Lauren Black with assistance from Will Tavlin.
Repeat After Me. Maatla Motsosiemang talks about living in a place where almost no one can say her name. Produced by Mitchell Johnson.
Sophie is a Punk Rocker. Our friend Sophie Kasakove on tween fame, Patti Smith, and what it means to have a loud message, or not. Listen to the music Sophie’s making these days here. Produced by Liza Yeager.
Safewalk With Me. Niki Sanders explores a world that only comes alive between 9 pm and 2 am: the secret world of Safewalk. Produced by Niki Sanders.
Where We’re Headed
We think what we have going on at Brown is pretty special, but we don’t want it to be unique. Our dream is to foster the growth of groups like NHT all over the country, and we want to make it as easy as possible for that to happen. Here’s how we’re working to do that:
- We’re revamping the website to host student-produced audio work from schools all over the country. It’s in the works, and it’s gonna be really cool — anyone will be able to make a profile and upload their stories (for free). The website will be searchable by producer, school, theme, etc. From it, we’ll pull 4-5 stories weekly to feature.
- We will host a weekly podcast that features the ‘Best of’ from the material uploaded to the website.
- We’re going to use our website to offer resources and teaching tools about how to produce and publicize student-produced audio work.
- We’ll be using our platform to build community between student producers at different schools.
The Big Idea: A National Student Audio Network
When thinking about why student-produced audio storytelling is especially exciting, we think a lot about accessibility. At school, we get access to so many exciting ideas about media and science and history and how to think critically about the world. A lot of those ideas feel really important — but they also feel exclusive. They’re coded in a very particular academic language and taught primarily in college classrooms. But in audio stories, we talk about things in conversational tone and we wrap more theoretical concepts up in personal stories to help us remember why we care. In other words, students producing audio stories provide translation work. We can take the ideas that have traditionally been accessible only to people who have the time, energy or resources to participate in higher education and share them widely. That feels like a powerful opportunity. More generally, there are a lot of people with different stories and ideas and perspectives in school right now. Most of their voices aren’t on the radio or in podcasts. We think they should be.
Thanks for listening to some of our stories. You can find more at www.nowherethis.org or search “Now Here This” in iTunes Podcast — our Brown crew will be publishing weekly once school starts up again. In the meantime stay in touch with us as we try to build a national student audio network. To start, we’re looking for content from other schools, so if you’re a student producer, we would love to hear from you. The best ways to stay updated are by joining our listserv, following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, or shooting us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.