What advice would you give to your younger self? How do you know if you’re gay? Which expressions in other languages endure in English speakers’ hearts?
Exploring answers to these questions and more was the creative basis of a WSU student-led digital storytelling and technology skills-building project that recently aired on community radio station KRFP and is now accessible online.
Seven students in digital technology and culture (DTC) Assistant Professor June T. Sanders’ class last fall conceived, developed and produced the project, applying what they learned about interviewing, scripting, framing and other aspects of creating nonfiction stories while gaining hands-on experience with audio recording and editing equipment.
From humorous to tender and scary to profound, the collected stories provide intimate glimpses into peoples’ actual lives and reflect Sanders’ contention that nonfiction doesn’t have to be dry or presented as documentary to be effective.
“You can work within the realm of real life while still having fantastical narratives and fantastical stories,” she said.
Each student selected their own topic within the theme of identity/identity creation and produced a professional-quality audio narrative using technology in the DTC media laboratory. Sanders, who is an experienced radio producer, combined the individual stories into a seven-part show they called “Underpinnings” as a synonym for foundation.
“We were thinking of solid foundations of identity, foundations of our community, what holds us up, what creates us and what affects how we move through the world,” Sanders said.
Through interviews with friends, family, classmates and strangers, the students examined topics ranging from the hidden struggles even outwardly successful people face to a dad’s philosophy about drinking beer.
In student Jayce Carral’s story, a woman talks about the beginning and end of a years-long friendship with a ghost. Senior Willow Yaple’s story focuses on an interview with her twin sister to explore changes in their identity relationship since they started college.
For her story, psychology senior Clara Peninger asked random passersby how they would counsel their younger selves and recorded some unexpected—and useful—responses.
“A lot of the advice received was something I could apply to my own life, which was definitely a pleasant surprise,” Peninger said.
Leigh Robartes, station manager at KRFP, welcomed the chance to broadcast the students’ work for the Moscow, Idaho–Pullman community and hopes to have similar opportunities in the future.
“It’s rare that we get to air such a densely produced local production,” Robartes said. “It flowed in the podcast-style of storytelling that’s popular these days. For local, volunteer-driven community radio, it’s one of the ideal types of local programming.”
Among Sanders’ goals for the project was providing her students with professional experience and insights about the role of community media and other forms of broadcast and production, including online platforms, that operate outside of giant media conglomerates and corporations.
“It was also intended to encourage thinking about the broader implications of whose story is being told and why—in everything from documentaries to radio stories, video games and TV shows—and understanding how to be contemporary, fresh, critical and poignant when it comes to telling those stories,” she said.
“We live in a pretty saturated media landscape where everyone has a platform and everyone broadcasts their own image most of the time. ‘Underpinnings’ allowed the students to use their skills and abilities and their own life experiences to highlight other people’s stories and lift up other voices—a very useful and important skill to have.”
Yaple, an advertising major minoring in DTC, said the project experience will be useful in her future career.
“Of course, there are the objective skills I gained, such as familiarity with audio editing and interviewing. However, I was also able to develop my narrative-building skills more, which is very appropriate for any creative field I go into. I am currently working toward a career in advertising and graphic design, and both rely on creating stories that audiences will be interested in.”