The POV Hackathon team members working on the StoryCorps project are using as their source material an oral history project aimed at recording America’s story. I spoke with two team members, StoryCorps senior producer Michael Garofalo and Innovent CEO Antonio Kaplan.
Garofalo leads the production team at StoryCorps. He has had a hand in nearly all of the show’s content, including producing segments for NPR’s Morning Edition and the StoryCorps podcast, and co-producing animated shorts on POV.
In addition to his role at Innovent, Kaplan is the creator of the Transmedia Toolbox. Leveraging decades of experience in online video and media, he co-founded Innovent to help media creators use technological innovation to realize their creative and commercial goals.
The team also includes Isaac Kestenbaum, the production manager for StoryCorps. He previously worked as a reporter for the Portland Press Herald and logged many hours as an erstwhile farmer and lobsterman. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
POV: What was it that interested you in the Hackathon?
Michael Garofalo: StoryCorps has a relationship with POV already with our animations. StoryCorps’ main media outlet is public radio. What we’ve been doing for the past several years is taking some of our old radio stories and working with these animators, the Rauch Brothers, to create short films that run on POV every summer. The animations are one way that we’ve realized that these stories that we have, and we have hundreds that we’ve run, but once these things go out over the air we put them up on our website. And they’re just there. Nothing’s being done with them. So we have this reservoir of amazing stuff, and we’re just looking to the future. What can we do with this material? What are the new digital products that we may be able to create that will give these stories a second life?
POV: Is there anything specifically that you hope to get out of the experience?
Garofalo: Definitely. We’re looking specifically to figure out a new platform for audio storytelling on the web. You can listen to an audio story in many different ways. You can listen to an audio slideshow. I guess we feel like the audio slideshow works, but doesn’t seem like a perfect fit. If we could come up with something new that was suited to our stories and the way our narratives work — something original — that would be incredibly exciting to us.
POV: How did you find out about the Hackathon, and what inspired you to join up?
Antonio Kaplan: Innovent has participated in a number of similar events. We participated in one with Mozilla, Living Docs, last year in San Francisco. This is something that’s pretty central to what we do as a team. We offered to help out in any way that we could.
Originally, we were going to be a sort of group mentor for everybody, because we’ve been in a lot of hackathons for transmedia. Innovent as a company, we really have a nice little cross-section of being able to work with creatives and having production experience. That nexus is a good place to be a mentor for a bunch of different groups. But was we were speaking more, one of the projects that came up was with StoryCorps, and plans kind of changed then because it seemed like such a good fit for some of the technology we have already, and some of the projects we’ve worked on. So we discussed stepping in in a developer role instead of as a mentor. We just hit it off really well, we’ve had one or two meetings with them already.
Something that was really exciting for us about StoryCorps specifically was that StoryCorps is about linear audio. And for me, that’s a bit different than some of the other projects that are focused mainly on film. That’s a challenging opportunity — having a podcast, or a linear audio piece, was exciting.
POV: What are you hoping to get out of the Hackathon?
Kaplan: At a granular level, to help POV get a successful event out of this so that it happens more frequently. I think that’s both good for them and for the industry. The convergence of technology and the storytelling, filmmaking community is needed. Having more of an open dialogue between those two is going to progress things. I think that’s a core foundation of what Innovent tries to do. On a more specific level with StoryCorps, we’d really like them to walk away at the very least with an understanding of some of the other possibilities to expand narrative to engage other audiences, to give them different paths of entry. They have such amazing content, and it might not get exposed enough. Regardless of all the technology and wonderful things that I hope we will be able to provide them with, we hope to open them up to providing multiple points of entry for their audience so they can extend their knowledge and interest in the topic.
POV: Is this the first time you’re working with content that was initially conceived as audio?
Kaplan: Yes and no. One of the things that attracted us to this is that the concept of transmedia, or whatever term you’d like to use, is focused very much on film. This is not a film-specific discipline. It’s more broad, and is really a communication channel that can be used independent of the format. In the case of audio, adding additional interactive points or layers on top of it will allow them to — not make their current offering more interesting — but open up the different ways for a user to interact with it. Where the transmedia part of it comes in is to expand the story. StoryCorps has a very tight, strong narrative that we don’t want to disrupt, we want to preserve that, it’s a beautiful point of view. What we’re trying to do with some of the other elements is to expand it and show some additional points of view.