To Listen Is to Understand
Imagine how different a place the world might be if we took the time to listen with empathy and authenticity. Stories build understanding and reveal commonalities in an age of division. Since 2003, the independently funded organization StoryCorps has collected and archived 75,000 facilitated interviews with over 150,000 participants across the country (not including 150,000 additional interviews recorded and shared via the StoryCorps App). Archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, they compose the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered. StoryCorps aims to eventually impact every American life.
The StoryCorps Mobile Tour has been criss-crossing the nation on an epic roadtrip since 2005, partnering with local public radio stations, cultural institutions, and community-based organizations to get the word out and invite people to come to their airstream-recording-studio for an interview. Select interview clips may be broadcast locally or nationally with participant permission. When WJCT’s Lindsey Kilbride learned the MobileBooth would be parked in Jacksonville’s Memorial Park in November 2018, a unique idea was born. Rather than broadcast edited snippets, what if she used them to create something entirely new and even more impactful? What if she interviewed the participants and incorporated portions of both the StoryCorps interview as well as her follow-up conversations, bringing local stories to a broader audience?
Kilbride sorted through about 100 hours of recordings. “I really focused on grabbing a diverse sampling of people from all different experiences, who grew up in all different ways, and work from there,” Kilbride says, “Then we talked to the people to make sure they were okay with participating, and they were willing to do follow-up interviews. Everyone was actually really happy to participate. Everyone who was used in these stories was just completely excited to do it, and they wanted to get their story out.”
Storytelling podcast “What It’s Like” in Jacksonville was born. The entire eight-episode season was released January 31st. Each podcast is based on a StoryCorps conversation between two individuals, with additional interviewing and discussion by Kilbride. The interviews are raw, powerful, and intimate.
Mother and son Patricia and Rod discuss her battles with addiction, her sobriety, how her struggle impacted his childhood, and the coping mechanism Rod developed along the journey.
Mother and daughter Jessica and Winter delve into body image, parenting teens, pressure from the opposite sex, and the desire to foster positive relationships. Theirs is a story any parent can relate to.
Brother and sister Kompheak and Louna escaped the Cambodian Khmer Rouge as children. Kompheak reveals the frequent nightmares he suffers, reliving the trauma resulting from witnessing his brother’s death and discussing the lifelong scars the Khmer Rouge seared into his psyche. Louna struggles with having been too young to remember the horrors.
Husband and wife Antwoine and Tiffany reflect on multiple miscarriages and the impact this loss has had on their marriage and family, as well as depression and the infrequency with which it’s openly discussed within the African-American community.
“They are pretty short, so it gives people a chance to binge them all, if they were taking a long drive or something like that,” Kilbride says, “I love them all. It’s about people telling their stories, but they’re talking about subjects that you don’t really talk about all the time. Some are a little taboo. Some are just a little uncomfortable. People really opened up and wanted to tell a story, and I feel really privileged for that. So my hope for the podcast is that people will hear these stories and maybe they’ll bridge some divides and start some conversations. I hope they’ll hear a perspective maybe they aren’t familiar with, or haven’t thought about before or considered. Maybe it will educate you and help you just be a more informed person. Maybe you’ll be a little bit more considerate. That’s kind of what I hope people get from it, and that’s why I did the podcast.”
WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo hopes to see plenty more podcasts in the future. Discussions are in the works for a potential Season 2, though other projects will also be released in coming months. “This is the first podcast we have done where the content is made specifically for this medium,” Palombo says, “It’s not a podcast version of a radio program. It’s not meant to air on the radio. It’s truly a podcast. All of them are stories of people who live in our community, and most of them are experiences that most of us never even imagined having. I think what makes them really interesting and emotional to listen to is how honest and vulnerable and open people are about these experiences. So everything from losing a friend in war to having multiple miscarriages to making the transition from one gender to another… these are things most of us don’t ever have to deal with, but they’re told so honestly that it’s hard to imagine someone could listen to them and not feel a human connection.”
Palombo served as executive editor on this project and suggests listening with a box of tissues. Both Kilbride and Palombo are longtime podcast fans. They hope “What It’s Like” will interest existing podcast enthusiasts, as well as spark curiosity in those who have not yet given it a try. “When I’m looking for podcasts to listen to—I’m somebody who listens to podcasts at night when I’m washing the dishes or just hanging out or whatever—what I look for is something that makes me see life from a different perspective and learn something about the range of human experiences,” Palombo says, “This definitely does that as well as any podcast I’ve listened to. I would definitely listen with a box of tissues nearby. I had to listen to each of these episodes several times through the editing process, and every single time I listen to them, most of the episodes made me cry even though I knew what was coming. So I think that if that is something as a listener you look for, then give it a shot.”
“What’s cool about it is that they’re Jacksonville stories, but you don’t have to live in Jacksonville to appreciate them,” Kilbride says, “They’re pretty universal. This really eclectic group of stories is all happening in your community. It’s an opportunity to learn a little more about people who are probably surrounding you in your own community. Everyone’s dealing with struggles. Everyone has a past. Some people come out on the other side of it. Some people are still dealing with it. I think it helps people become more understanding and empathetic. That’s something I really hope people take away from it.”
Check out https://www.wjct.org/podcasts/ for more information as well as links to podcast applications if you are new to podcasts and would like to get started.