Not since the cold war has the world needed to take a time-out from political posturing and the information game to get beyond the gate keepers and speak directly with the people referred to as “Russia”. Not unlike 25 years ago, we in the west are once again talking about a people as if they cannot be spoken with and do not have a wide range of opinions and values. Over in Russia, similar is happening with what the media refer to as “the west”.
Enter the power of the podcast:
On today’s program I am coming to you from Moscow, the heart of the nation that so many are talking about these days with angry and confused tones. But this is not about Ukraine or Putin. This is about the city, life, culture, changes, and other developments that remind us of the wealth of things we citizens of planet earth have in common. Today we speak with my friend Victor, an resident and keen observer of this country and its culture, to hear what he sees and has seen.
I started this blog under a different title and with a different purpose over 11 years ago. Back then I was moving my life from Portugal to the Netherlands, writing about my travels and things happening in the world. Writing both for me as well as my friends and a few strangers who were crazy enough to read me. My philosophy was write when I want, write often, and try to be creative. It was, as always, personal, spontaneous, and honest.
Somewhere along the way things changed of course. As did my life. A neverending list of interesting adventures came my way and a changing outlook on my style of media and what I wanted to do here resulted in a podcast, a focus on what I call “under reported news”, and strangely enough – an attempt to look more professional or serious. I think that I realized I want this to be my career and I got busy trying to make it look like one. Like so many things in life, keeping up appearances sometimes becomes as important (unfortunately) as the real heart and drive behind something. Want to be hired or funded? Put up a front like you’re an experienced pro and the world will believe you’re an experienced pro.
Happily, the experience part actually did happen as time went on, I’ve amassed a unique and fantastic collection of media producing experiences that I’m proud of and make me uniquely qualified in this world. Uniquely qualified sounds more lucrative than it actually is, I still struggle every month to pay my bills and figure out how I’m going to make a living 3 months from now. But that if we put aside that common problem many of us share, this work I’ve done has still led me in a really special direction.
What I do lament is how during this whole process I began to write less. To over think everything out of fear of making a mistake or wasting my energy. This place was once an open canvas for working out ideas together with an audience. But in the name of looking professional and not appearing vulnerable, I shifted more towards publishing my weekly program and in between some first hand observations and notes from the field.
The point? Sometimes I miss the old days. I definitely miss writing without fear or certainty of what my point is. All this posturing as a media professional hasn’t brought me a stable or lucrative career. It may have earned me respect among the more conventional journalists out there. But I lost something essential about who I am and what i love to do. That is to tell stories, to bring forward other people’s stories, and to increase understanding of who we are as humans in this world and how we could do that old cliché thing of making it a better world than it was before we each appeared on the scene.
The word storytelling seems to pop up all over the place over the past year. A quick glance at cultural events in your community and projects being carried out by NGO’s (such as our very own hardworking Small World News) and you are sure to see the word storytelling. Storytelling as an art, a hobby, an activity to bring people together, to share experiences and culture; it’s this thing that has always been there, for generations, and might just be having a bit of a renaissance in the context of on and offline culture.
I’m often involved in discussions or projects related to the world of online story telling. Truth be told, I do love a good story, and I do believe it is part of why I love to record other people’s words. By and large it must be a big benefit for all of us now and for future generations, that in 2013 storytelling got hip!
photo by giulia.forsythe /flickr
Despite the fact that it is probably good for our collective health and I myself am involved in teaching and promoting story telling online, I am also partly skeptical of all the noise surrounding the word. Storytelling for the sake of sharing with the world and bringing us closer together- yes! Surely it does matter how you present something, if the audience can understand it, follow it, and to some extent relate somehow. But storytelling that is focused on entertaining and manufacturing emotional high’s and low’s, as a journalist at heart, that is not what I am about. Of course I like a good story and have certainly exaggerated my way through some tales for the sake of a big smile or a “huh.. wow.. that’s amazing” reaction. I too love the stories coming out of radio projects like This American Life, Radio Lab, or Snap Judgement. But if indeed I am a storyteller and I’m busy teaching means of better telling their stories, I would rather inspire people to not try to entertain but rather – tell the truth.
Choose to record the words of a person without chopping up the audio or video in an effort to create an emotional moment. Films do that. Radio plays do that. Even the guy or gal at the bar on a Friday night does that. But we who genuinely want to bring stories of real lives and real issues from one part of the world to another, our priority should not be to produce “a story” that will captivate and move an audience, we should let the truth do that. And if the truth isn’t enough to get someone’s attention, if the reality of suffering or triumph from some corner of the globe isn’t enough to compel an audience to listen, at some level, I say- so be it- life is not always entertaining or captivating. Sometimes life is just sad or wonderful or something in between. It is not a made for tv drama, and there are still many of us out there that don’t need to be entertained before we learn something new.
You can’t windsurf, because that would be elitist. But, if you’re the American president, you can drive around your ranch in a golf cart shooting guns, because people can relate to that. As comedian and writer Lizz Winstead explains it, sometimes there is no debate possible if we don’t agree on fundamental and proven facts. Over the past few months Lizz has been promoting her book “Lizz Free or Die” and travelling around the United States to see what people are doing and what they think about politics or life in general. Having written for several memorable television programs which includes having co-created The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lizz can tell you thing or two about what is good and what is bad about politics and media in the United States.
By chance, I ran into her at a conference in Sweden earlier this month and spent a few afternoons having excellent discussions, such as this one featured in today’s podcast.