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!

Making History Accessible

I’ve enjoyed listening to the History Chicks podcasts. The opening tag to each show is “Where any resemblance to a boring old history lesson is purely incidental”. The podcasts focus on historical women ranging from Joan of Arc to Jane Austin, and they even have podcasts on fictional women in relation to their context in history and society. The History Chicks focus on how the women fit in the political and social timeline of history and how their legacies may impact modern society. The tone of the show is conversational with an appropriate dose of humor. They don’t claim to be history experts – they describe their show as “training wheels of history”, and because they are both mothers of young children, they offer shows that are accessible to children as well.

I appreciate that their podcasts vary in lengths from mini podcasts of 20 minutes or less to more in depth podcasts lasting an hour or more. This flexibility allows me, and other listeners, the opportunity to select a podcast that fits our schedule. For the more visual learner, the companion website provides descriptions of podcasts and photos or illustrations.

From a public history perspective the History Chicks do a good job of making history accessible.

As I write and edit my script, like the History Chicks, I don’t want my podcast to end up being a boring history lesson, I want the information to be accessible. I am struggling with the balance between human interest and hard numbers. As a person who prefers qualitative research to quantitative research – I’m usually more concerned with the story than the data that drives the story.

Some of the challenges I’m finding in writing with production in mind, is determining the appropriate length for each segment, as well ass where  I should insert a short musical interlude to allow for a few seconds of reflection before making a shift in the story. Also, judging the amount of musical interlude, and the mood of the musical interlude that best fits the moment in the podcast is a challenge.

Finally, it is difficult to write the script, when I haven’t yet interviewed my personal informant. Between our schedules, it has been difficult for us to pin down a time to meet.  I’m concerned that when I do interview Mary Sue Terry, once I find where her story leads, I may have to make significant edits and/or conduct further research.

Missing Richard Simmons and Scripts

I’ve been listening to “Missing Richard Simmons” and Samara Freemark is right. This is one of the best pieces of media I’ve ever heard/read/seen. It’s funny and haunting. And I think that Dan Taberski was really brave to end it the way he did. He and his team set out to answer “what happened to Richard? Where did he go?” He didn’t find answers to these questions in his six episode arc and he just admitted it. I think “Missing Richard Simmons” is a good example of how we can’t always predict where our projects are going to lead us and we have to be open to ambiguous conclusions.

When I first started listening I thought it would venture towards the creepy and be an invasion of Simmons privacy. I know a lot of critiques describe the podcast as “problematic” and “invasive” but I don’t think it was. The project comes from a genuine place of concern and Taberski constantly reminds listeners of this. He repeatedly asks Simmons to get a message to him somehow to tell him to stop if he ever goes too far. Whatever others may say, Taberski was a friend of Simmons. And people have a right to know why their friends stopped talking to them. So in my book, if Simmons is happy and healthy then he is not as good of a person as we were led to believe. Anyone with a modicum of fame knows that if you act like you’re friends with your fans, then they will think you’re friends. If Simmons wanted to fall off the face of the Earth quietly, then he should not have been created the persona and the relationships that he did.

On to script writing, I don’t believe my script will ever be final. As I read it out to get the timing, I was constantly revising what I had already written. I know from previous projects I’ve done that I will get sudden ideas as I record and edit and I’m fine with that. This goes back to the idea mentioned earlier that we can never know what our final project will look like until it is final. Even then I’m sure there will be things that I want to go back and change, but I can’t because it’s a minute past the due date. So for me, the writing and production processes are pretty closely intertwined. While I write, I get ideas for what the project should sound like and as I produce, I’ll play around with the wording order to get my meaning clearest.

The most difficult part of writing my script draft was that I hadn’t conducted my interviews yet. I have questions to ask and a direction I want to go, but honestly my interviewees could say anything and I’ll have to figure out a way to make it work. But I’m not too worried about this as I always expect projects like this to evolve hour by hour.

Tricky Scripts

I’ve just been listening to This American Life recently. I usually only listen to podcasts when I run, and I took all of last week off from exercising since I had so much work to do for class, my thesis, Bertoti, and GA things. Definitely a huge wake-up call from spring break mode. I really want to start listening to Missing Richard Simmons–it comes highly recommended (thanks Emily and Heather).

I spent 12 hours on Thursday in Major Williams. Eight and a half of those hours were spent on my interview with Dr. Wallenstein and finishing my script. I learned that incorporating outside audio into a written script is extremely strange and hard to navigate. I also learned that in no way, shape, or form do I want to work for any kind of broadcasting network. As much as I love listening to podcasts, working on the other side of them is exhausting and simply not my thing.

I’m not sure if this is how it should be, but I think of the script as more of a guide for my podcast than something I should be reading word for word. I struggle to write in a conversational tone when my writing involves research, so I think when I’m recording I’ll go into presentation mode and refer to the script to keep me on track and make sure I cover everything. So I guess I’m saying the relationship between my writing process and the production process is more of a planning session for a presentation.

The biggest challenge of writing the script was the learning curve. I’ve never done anything like this before so I was very uncomfortable. I stuck to the writing that I know how to do, which is more informative and reliant on my research than descriptive, conversational, or “in the moment.” I constantly doubted what I wrote, thinking that I was talking too much or spending too much time describing the Lovings’ case and not the politics around it. I struggled with transitions to the audio clips I’m using–I wasn’t sure how to introduce them or frame them.

I also struggled with the word and page limit because they definitely didn’t add up. I got to 2,000 words at page 6. I ended up going about 300 words over and ended the script at page 7, and still needed about 3 more minutes to reach 20 total. But I knew we were supposed to keep the word count low and I had reached a good stopping point anyway. And since this was a draft, I figured there would be places that I could expand on later. And at this point, like I mentioned earlier, I had been on campus for 12 hours. So I went home.

Umm, Erm, and Hmms: Audio Problems Abound

I’ve unfortunately had less time to listen to podcasts as the semester continues and more work piles up but I have continued to be a regular listener of the BBC News Hour.  It’s a great program—I get to catch up on the international news during my twenty-minute drive to campus.  I’ve been paying more attention to how they use audio clips since we started thinking about our script.  News Hour often has a correspondent report where the reporter narrates the necessary backbones of the story and then includes witness interviews.  I want my podcast to follow my format so I’ve taken note of how they break up the audio, how questions are phrased, etc.  Now that I have one of my interviews done, I can return to script writing and editing with these tips in hand.

I think writing the script without the interviews made the process difficult because I don’t want to say something that could be said by my interview subject.  For example, I wanted to talk about the cultural and economic divide between NOVA and the rest of Virginia.  I said something to that effect in my script but then I got a great sound bite from my dad about how “Virginia is basically Northern Virginia and Richmond with Alabama in between.”  That’s way funnier and more likely to stick in my listeners’ minds after they’ve finished listening.

The relationship between writing the script and producing the audio is frustrating for me.  I feel more confident in my ability to write an interesting script (though I have a far way to go with my current draft), but I’m not well-spoken.  I worked on my introduction and imagined what I want it to sound like in my head but then I had the typical problems—I stumbled over words, mumbled, stuttered, etc.  I’m going to have to set aside a lot of time to record my audio because I’ll likely need a lot of takes and possibly just go paragraph by paragraph.