|Founded||April 13, 2002|
StoryCorps is an American non-profit organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. StoryCorps grew out of Sound Portraits Productions as a project founded in 2003 by radio producer David Isay. Its headquarters are located in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
StoryCorps is modeled—in spirit and in scope—after the efforts of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s, through which oral history interviews across the United States were recorded. Another inspiration for the organization was oral historian Studs Terkel, who cut the ribbon at the opening of StoryCorps’ first recording booth in Grand Central Terminal. To date, StoryCorps has recorded more than 60,000 interviews among more than 100,000 participants in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and several American territories.
StoryCorps interviews usually take place between two people who know and care about each other. They can be friends, family, or mere acquaintances. A trained StoryCorps facilitator guides participants through the interview process. At the end of each 40-minute recording session, participants receive a complimentary CD of their interview and are requested to make a $50 donation to offset the recording costs. With participant permission, a second copy of each interview is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress for future generations to hear. Segments of select interviews may air nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition. These interviews can also be heard on the StoryCorps website.
There are several ways by which participants can record their stories.
Participants can visit StoryBooths, which are small, publicly accessible recording studios located in public places. The first StoryBooth opened in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal on October 23, 2003, and was moved to Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square in July 2005. The second StoryBooth opened at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in October 2008. The third StoryBooth opened at Atlanta’s public radio station WABE in October 2009.
In May 2005, two StoryCorps MobileBooths built from converted Airstream trailers began traveling the country, recording stories in various cities year-round.
StoryCorps offers three additional recordings services for those who are unable to visit a StoryCorps booth. The Door-to-Door service sends teams of StoryCorps facilitators to temporary recording locations throughout the United States for several days at a time. The StoryKit service ships a professional quality, portable recording device to participants around the country. The “Do-It-Yourself” service allows individuals to download free step-by-step interview instructions, equipment recommendations, and a “Great Question” list to conduct interviews using their own recording equipment.
With the support of the 2015 TED Prize and the 2014 Knight Prototype Fund, StoryCorps has developed a free app that allows users to record interviews on a smartphone. The app helps users prepare questions and provides tips for setting up the right recording environment. Users can upload their interviews to the StoryCorps.me website, and all interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps App and StoryCorps.me are currently in public beta.
StoryCorps collaborates with groups, organizations, and institutions all over the country. Specifically, StoryCorps currently supports seven major initiatives that seek to reach out to the widest range of participants.
StoryCorps currently has four community programs.
StoryCorps has been criticized on multiple fronts. While it has been called "an oral history of America," oral historians have critiqued the project's methodology, specifically the "highly sculpted techniques of the interviews," such as the pre-scripted questions, the 40-minute time limit, and the presence of a StoryCorps staff member in the recording booth. The result of the technique is that interviews often elicit "an often-rehearsed moment, story, or memory."
Historians are also critical of the post-interview editing process, which they argue favor highly emotional and predictable narrative arcs. StoryCorps stories typically feature tales of survival, which, as one historian has argued, perpetuates an "interpretive straightjacket of the neoliberal belief that people have their fates in their own hands."
StoryCorps has also been criticized for how its stories are framed on Morning Edition. For example, in a 2016 story, an elderly man confessed to having stolen $2 from his home that had been left for Pearl, his family's domestic servant. When Pearl insisted that she had not been paid that week, she was fired. The title NPR gave the story - "A Lifelong Secret: Can You Help This Ailing 94-Year-Old Man Make Amends?" - as well as Steve Inskeep's closing request for listeners to help find Pearl, drew ire from listeners who found the sympathetic portrayal of the man to be misguided and offensive. One user wrote "waiting nearly a century to try to seek amends is horrific." Another user suggested changing StoryCorps' hashtag from #FindPearl to "FindJUSTICEforPearl." In response to criticism, NPR acknowledged that "the segment comes across, even if this was not the attempt, as trying to manufacture a 'feel good' feature."
StoryCorps has also published five books:
In 2015, Dave Isay won the 2015 TED prize to fulfill his wish for people to have meaningful conversations worldwide using the StoryCorps app.
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