General Feedback on Draft Scripts

I am about halfway through the draft scripts.  I’m pleased with our first attempt at this type of writing, but a few trends have become clear.

1. Read your writing aloud at least once and revise it before you record it.  Everyone’s prose is clunky the first and second draft and you will need to do several revisions.  Make at least one revision based on the sound of the prose spoken aloud (which will be the eventual form it takes).

2. Get more specific and detailed to give a sense of the human drama, individual agency, and contingency in our situations.  In some cases, discussion of the experience of a situation will make it more compelling — the setting, for example.  In other cases, knowing more about the individuals who are making the decisions and taking the actions within an organization is the key.  In some cases, the context is key.  I’ve said before, this should not read like a term paper that we deliver aloud.  This is an audio story — it’s a different type of writing and we are going to have to go over it a few times to get it right.

3. Keep your segments short and your audio varied.  Just about everyone is going to have to revise and edit to keep things moving.

4. Get your interviews done as soon as possible and get your transcripts done so you can fill those [interview here] gaps in your script.

5.  Also, data.  I want numbers.  How many people?  How many votes?  How did the people translate into votes? No generalizations — give me data!

5a. On the data: no election stands alone or can be interpreted on its own.  If we are making claims about a statewide election, we need to compare our race with other statewide races or previous/later races for the same office.  Was it a larger margin of victory?  Smaller?  Make sure you tell us.

social media week

Some thoughts as I wrap up my social media week with a few last posts (plus rain-drenched provisions for our class):

— My week fell during the Day of Remembrance (and the ten year anniversary of the events of April 16th ’07). I wanted to be very careful not to look like I was remarking on this opportunistically. This is a huge deal in social media — it’s really tasteless when publicity outlets appear to use a catastrophe, or even just a major event that’s unrelated to their beat, to gain more “likes” and followers. Of course, it’s also important to note things like this. I’m hoping I did a decent job.

— Not being in the History Department, and also being somewhat outside of the world of Public History (except for this class), I struggled a bit with figuring out what to post. I stuck to some interesting articles and tidbits about state and national history. Hopefully this didn’t seem too boilerplate or generic.

— I found myself wondering what other platforms would be useful. Tumblr seems to be waning in popularity, and I don’t know if VT Public History would make for a good Instagram account (let alone Snapchat). A publishing platform like Medium might be useful, but I think having a self-run WordPress is even better.  I think Twitter is more powerful than Facebook, and strategizing how to get more followers might be useful for @VTPublicHistory.

Now, onto converting my podcast to an mp3…



My “Week” as Social Media Manager

I spent last week writing posts for the Public History program’s social media profiles, just like I have every other week all year (woohoo!). I posted the usual posts I do every week: a #MuseumCrushMonday which featured the Glencoe Mansion Museum and Gallery in Radford (this was a re-feature because the museum had a rededication ceremony last week), a post on new job openings in the public history field, and highlights on any current events at Virginia Tech that relate to public history. With the 100 year anniversary of the U.S.’s involvement in WWI approaching, I focused most of these highlight posts on Daniel Newcomb’s work on VPI’s role in WWI and the exhibit he curated on display in Newman Library. I also posted a shoutout to Dr. Melanie Kiechle, who was quoted in the New Yorker, and retweeted some relevant tweets from institutions around the country.

One of my biggest concerns about VTPH’s social media is its impact and outreach. On average, the Facebook posts reach about 20-30 people. That’s out of 75 people who follow the page. If more people who interact with the posts by liking or commenting on them, then more people see them and potentially interact with them as well. I like each post with my personal profile to help with that and I can typically count on the same 2 or 3 people doing the same (looking at you Rebecca! Thanks!). I really hope that this interaction trend will rise as more students in this class post on the page. We definitely post more regularly than other VT social media profiles for the liberal arts, so there’s a lot of potential to increase our impact.

Social Media Assignment

I was assigned to contribute to the Public History social media sites during the week of Spring Break. As I thought about what would be good to share, I decided since it was Women’s History Month it would be good to share interesting facts about Women at Virginia Tech. Facebook provides an opportunity to draw people’s attention to historical facts and provide a link to further details. I also posted about the film “Hidden Figures” which was playing at The Lyric Theater in Blacksburg – providing another opportunity to celebrate women’s history – and get some free popcorn to boot.

At Reynolds Homestead we use Facebook to promote our activities. We recently began adding “Interesting History Facts” on Wednesday and we are launching a “Throwback Thursday” to share old photos, some of which we will ask our friends to help us identify people in the photos.

We’ve also found the Facebook “Boost” option a good way to reach a larger audience for events. During this past week, I “boosted” a post on an “Old Time Music and Dance” concert and for $18, much less than I would pay for a newspaper ad, I reached 1,368 people – 77 of whom engaged in the post and 10 shared the post with others.

Twitter is not a social media outlet I have used often, because the majority of our patrons tend to respond well to Facebook, we tend to focus our efforts there. I can see where it could be useful as we attempt to grow our number of younger patrons.

Social Media Review

I worked on social media last week, so I wanted to write a post about what the week was like. Starting out, I was more comfortable with Twitter because I’ve been using Twitter most of the year for the VTHistoryMA account. The Public History Twitter account is really simple to use because the account follows a lot of people who share public history content. It’s pretty easy to find interesting articles that they’ve shared and then retweet them. It was a little more difficult to create original content, but I think I was able to strike a good balance between retweets and original posts. It turns out that most of my original posts dealt with podcasts, but I think that’s just because it’s what I listen to everyday and because of our class projects. The best advice I can give for the 15 tweets is just to get started early. It isn’t a lot, really, but it definitely helps to get started ASAP so you can find good content over the course of several days instead of retweeting just anything to get your quota.

I struggled more with Facebook. I haven’t been using Facebook as much, and the way that it’s set up lends itself to more substantive/important posts (maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it makes me feel). I had to brainstorm for a while about what kinds of things I could post on Facebook. My first thoughts were “happenings in the history department” which Ellen already does on a weekly basis. The next thought was to go for current event sort of things, like the upcoming the 100th anniversary of the US’s entrance into WWI. I think that post was the most successful – it was informative and timely.

I think social media is all about being consistent: posting consistently and posting consistent content. I haven’t really delved into professional social media other than having a LinkedIn, but it might be something I need to invest my time in over the next year.

My Week in Social Media

It’s amazing really just how much of my time on social media was based on reacting to current, social events regarding public history. Sure it’s in the term “social media” but felt different from my normal interactions in social media because I was representing more than just myself in my posts. I went into my week controlling the social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter with some minor concern over what I should be posting that would be acceptably in line with previous posts. That quickly became less of a concern however as my very first posts where reminders for the Public History Address and Panel from the previous week. Following that I stuck with a near theme of funding for the public humanities which was a narrative that seemingly wrote itself out over the week.

The most successful posts I made were regarding this theme. The first being the importance of Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary for funding of the public humanities and the other being the passing of David Rockefeller, the son of the founder of the Colonial Williamsburg recreation and a philanthropist towards the site in his own right. Both of these posts on Facebook were by far my most successful and it’s clear why. They’re important news and both are underlined with the worried tone one would expect when cost-cutting Republicans are in control of the federal government.

As for Twitter I feel my time on there could have gone far better. I’m not too experienced on the platform but I thought the best means of success was to retweet current content from larger institutions, mainly from the Smithsonian and Digital Humanities. Perhaps a more direct responsive approach would have been better, yet I also question that to an extent as well, since I would doubt I would get much a response of if that was even appropriate. In any case, playing a small part in further spreading news stories over social media from this perspective was fairly interesting to me. If I have any advice to anyone who has yet to take the helm I would suggest latching onto key news in the moment.

Podcast News

First, all should recall that we backed up the due date for the podcast a week — the final cut is now due April 20th, and the rough cut is due April 6th.

When we launch the podcast series, we will also launch a site to host the podcasts and contextualize our work.  This means you will have a blog post/page to submit to go along with your podcast.

This should be 750-1000 words and should be visual and data-oriented, including at least two data images.  You will expand on and contextualize the material in the episode — giving the written support for your audio podcast.  You will also indicate where the sources are that you used through citation/links.

When you refer to an election result or a public opinion poll in your episode, you should put the data into a chart of some kind and visualize it.  Further, you should consider going beyond just the race that you refer to — what are some comparable races in the state?  Contextualize the material in the episode.  By the same token, if you are talking about the demographics of the electorate, you can map it and include it in the post.

Not Missing Richard Simmons

Well, my marathon podcast-listening session that took place during the thirty-two hours I spent in a car over spring break couldn’t really continue once I got home. (Although I enjoyed writing about it in my last blog). I have been listening to Serial, and like everybody else, I love it. I’m also convinced that the man convicted is indeed the murderer, and now I’m worried that I’m listening to the podcast through the lens of a serious confirmation bias. This made me think about the podcast I’m producing — my political leanings are very explicit, and I wonder how I might have approached it differently if I was instructed to deliver an ideologically neutral rendering of coal mining history in Appalachia.  Have I been selecting historical events just to make the case for unionism? Although I believe that media content is never free of political bias — and that the same is true of historical research and writing — I’m aware that it doesn’t hurt to check in with oneself about that from time to time.

I want to keep an open mind as I listen to Serial, but now that I have my own theory about it, part of what keeps me listening is that I’m looking to prove it. Having an aim or an angle with serialized/narrative historical media seems to be really key to hooking in an audience. While I don’t want to believe that there has to be some validation, resolution or relief at the end in order to make the media-consumption time worth it, that just may be the case.

Incidentally, this is not why I strongly dislike Missing Richard Simmons, but (to make a haphazard segueway) it could be! Yes, I am a member of #TeamMissingRichardSimmonsIsIckyAndExploitative.  I’ve only listened through the third episode, and I think I’m done. I did some research on it after listening to Episode 1, and I was interested to see some early criticism of it that (rightly, I think) spoke to its intrusiveness. Yes, Richard Simmons should have been aware of his impact, and he could have disappeared from the public eye more graciously — in a way that didn’t make people concerned. But it’s absurd to think that grown adults (… yes, all of his fans are adults) can’t grasp that Simmons, too, is just a darn human being. It’s not difficult to read Simmons’s over-the-top performativity, lengthy career as an exhibitionist, and even his personal connections with fans as a really extreme form of self-expression. Who can’t understand why he’d want to call it quits.? Taberski’s inquiries may have been good-natured, but Simmons was not an officially recognized missing person, nor was his health or whereabouts in question to the point of concern for his safety where authorities may have had to get involved. (Also, had that been the case, it would have been the prerogative of his family first and foremost).

Therein lies the crux of my beef with Missing Richard Simmons. Exploitation issues aside, there’s actually not much of a story there. In choosing the colorful world of Richard Simmons fans/friends as his substantive content, Taberski walked into podcast gold. These personalities practically write the production themselves. But, as I said, Simmons was never officially missing; there’s no real intrigue or mystery, just a story about an unlikely recluse. I never really thought about Richard Simmons before this podcast, and I won’t be thinking about him after. Sorry, Taberski.

Onto scripts: writing and recording will be an iterative process, I know it. Making sure my voice remains poised, confident and natural while conveying detailed information is going to require a lot of revision. My interview with my expert was over an hour long. I’ve done transcription work before, and know enough to know that I cannot transcribe the whole thing (that would be excessive, to put it mildly; I’d use speech-to-text software for a job like that)— so, sorting through that interview for the right clips to transcribe is on the agenda.

Editing and revising is the most important part of any creative work, so I’m not concerned about the amount of revision I have in front of me. I expected that.  Will my script/podcast ever “really” be done? Probably no more so than the history of coal mining in Virginia can ever be told in one piece of content. I will do my best with what I have and aim not for perfection, which is an impossible ideal, but for media that resonates with listeners and makes them care about the topic.

After so much nonfiction podcast listening, I think that’s the best evaluative criterion for this medium: did this podcast me care about its subject matter more than I did before tuning in?

I hope my listeners care just a little bit more about mining unions than they would have before hearing my work. I hope they care more than I do about Richard Simmons.

Consensual cannibalism and other things I learned about in my digital history class

On Monday I returned from nearly a week at the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy conference. In one of the panels, a professor noted the blog The Partially Examined Life. During his talk, he specifically mentioned the podcast on Utilitarian Ethics: What Should We Do?, so on my delayed airport travels back to VT, I listened to that very strange episode. It is an exploration of the first five chapters of Jeremy Bentham’s An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, and Peter Singer’s “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”…those readings are all normal. The strangeness kicks in when the podcaster takes a deep dive into the idea of the greatest happiness principle and discusses gladiators, consensual cannibalism, and the ethics of illegal downloads.

Maybe now would be a good time to insert a quick personal preference: auditory products, for me, are not generally the most compelling things. The above podcast didn’t especially help me like them more. I rarely listen to podcasts outside of this class. I love visual and written products, but find it difficult to be persuaded, moved, or informed by auditory alone. This makes the podcast project’s audio piece an interesting challenge for me. I tend to zone out with podcasts, rather than be drawn in, and I have found myself wondering about ways I can address this personal tendency in the production of my own podcast. As with most writing, I found the process easier once I got into it. The hardest part is sometimes just starting it. I was a little confused by the mismatch in page numbers with word count in the assignment. I love the process of writing where I get to cull through a bunch of data and sources to find the best pieces of information or most interesting quotes. Organizing this information is one of my favorite challenges. I often prefer academic and wonkier writing as well as lyrical and very abstract writing, so keeping this grounded, clear, accessible, and concise is important. I am not good with catchy titles nor transitions in writing or in speaking. Sometimes I can hide this in my writing, but it often seems very stark and obvious in oral communication, so I will likely have to do several rounds of edits to help my podcast flow better from area to area. Finally, I’m not tech savvy and haven’t explored audio equipment in the past, so I anticipate that will present me new challenges as I finish recording and editing the complete podcast.

Translating A Script Into Production

I’ve been listening to one of the newest Hardcore History podcasts. It’s titled “The Destroyer of Worlds” and covers the beginning of the atomic age just as one would be expected from such a title. The sheer destructive terror that Dan Carlin can call upon through words alone is terrifying, especially if one views the new U.S. atomic bomb testing footage that’s has been declassified for the public.  It’s an extremely long podcast episode so I’m going through it bit by bit it’s as always I’m enjoying it.

As for the script-writing, it has been a very informative process. I have honestly struggled in finding a sweet spot between relaying information and telling a story. The ideal podcast should do both of these simultaneously but I fear I have fallen into the role of storyteller rather than historian in the script we turned in. I had thought that perhaps sticking to a thematic narrative would have been the better option for the podcast, rather than say, me reading off endless data for twenty minutes. Perhaps it’s the lack of confidence in myself that pushed me towards this decision as it is ultimately the easiest method. I now find myself planning on how to better weave actual data into the podcast.

Something else I learned was in the actual production of the first minute of the podcast itself. In my transition from my hook into my opening statement I completely and utterly failed to take into account the perspective of the listener; who would have little to no context of the setting and reasoning behind my particular hook without me personally telling them. It was a surreal realization and a humbling one.  This happened once more with me reading my own script as well. Words, even phrases that I nonchalantly use in my writing translated rather poorly when I spoke them out loud. It wasn’t just the manner of my voice but in how I actually pronounced the words. I seriously began to understand how off-putting the mode of the podcast could be when I struggled to pronounce a word clearly in the microphone. This more or less forced my hand into using simpler words that I wouldn’t have to so awkwardly navigate over in my future script recording.

Oh My Pod

“Podcasting from the horrored halls of academia!” I’m a bit of a horror junkie, so I’m very much into a podcast called “Faculty of Horror,” a show by two Toronto-based academic writers/film critics named Andrea Subisatti and Alexandra West. With each episode, these two tackle one of two horror films with the goal of sharing their thoughts, interpretations, and cultural analysis of the lasting effects of horror films. When they take on two, they’re usually related within a theme.  Andrea and Alex say a few things about the films, what prompted them to choose those that week, and follow up with the audio of the trailer for one or both before they launch into their analysis. They agree with each other, they disagree with each other, they share their memories associated with the films, they throw around some trivia and clips from interviews with participants in the filmmaking process, and they bring academic work, sociology, and theory into conversation with their interpretations.  Throughout, they also punctuate the episode with audio clips (from the film and the 2013 remake for the sake of comparison) which help make their point.  I also really appreciate the tone — it’s scholarly, but conversational and occasionally anecdotal.  Analyzing horror film is the foundation of both hosts’ educations in graduate school, but they’re always clear and engaging (even when Alex is addressing the “Jungian Theory of the Underworld”).

I’ve been keeping this show in mind for its structure and tone as I approach my own podcasting project. It’s a project based on scholarship and research that also needs to avoid the pitfall of becoming too scholarly.  Andrea and Alex are clearly scholars, but they manage to remain clear, concise, and conversational even when they are explaining theoretical ideas that inform their analyses. It helps that they have one another to play off of, but I could imagine either one of them maintaining the same atmosphere if they were doing this solo.

I enjoyed writing the first draft of the script more than I thought I would. It was refreshing to be able to write in a conversational style that I’m not really used to utilizing for a history class. Jumping to the recording of the script is neat because you get to hear yourself say the words and get a sense of not only what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. You have to be open to the idea of moving sentences and words around, reordering, rerecording, and tweaking, tweaking, tweaking. My next step is to go in and demarcate the periods of audio that I’ll need to pull from my interview with Rick Perlstein — I also have a technical glitch to work around (some occasional perplexing beeps that interject throughout the conversation, but I should be able to remove or skirt around) and some decisions to make about where to insert his comments on the political climate of the 1960s.

Finally, the biggest challenge to writing the script was (well, is) actually figuring out the best way to construct a narrative in a manner that really gets at the interesting and personal points without dragging along or seeming unbalanced. We have to tell a story, but we also need to provide historical context and data — balancing these and making them really work together in service of the narrative can be much more tricky than I thought. It’s also important to remember the possibilities of media that aren’t just audio clips to enrich the narrative.  This is kind of like the way Andrea and Alex use movie trailers to get the ball rolling on their show.  Just because you can’t see what’s happening in a video clip, it doesn’t mean that the audio won’t be effective for evoking a particular mood or tone. I use a Mad Men and a Simpsons clip from YouTube in my introduction, and later on, I even use a political cartoon to illustrate my point. My audience can’t see it, but I can still describe it in a compelling and evocative way.

Now that I have the interviews, clips, and direction that I need, I really look forward to pulling everything together and seeing what a first-time podcaster is capable of!