Storytelling With Social Audio: How AIR Cultivates New Media Life Forms

    by Jessica Clark
    January 24, 2013

    San Francisco makers and hackers recently packed SoundCloud’s SF office to the gills for the Making Of…Zeega event. Co-organized by veteran audio producers The Kitchen Sisters, Zeega, AIR and KQED, the event marked the launch of The Making Of…Studio: a digital sandbox for users to experiment with the Zeega platform, and share their strange and beautiful creations.


    Photo by Manolo Espinosa

    After learning how to mash social audio, animated gifs and text up into their own Zeegas, the crowd got straight to work. See what they made by clicking through this audiogif — a collaborative, immersive work of poetry.

    Hacking Storytelling One Station at a Time

    The Kitchen Sisters — Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva — are spearheading The Making Of… at KQED for AIR’s Localore production. Across the country, the 10 Localore teams are forging new forms of collaborative production with their communities, and in the process revealing the potential of social audio.


    A national initiative with principal support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Localore aims to expand public stations’ capacity to innovate and sink taproots more deeply into their communities. Last fall, AIR held a competition for both stations and producers to step up to this challenge, and then matched up the 10 producer-station teams to invent new forms of journalism and storytelling that expand public media to all Americans.

    The teams hit the ground running in the spring. Localore’s motto is “go outside” — i.e., outside of station walls, outside of traditional broadcast formats, and out into the streets to bring “full-spectrum public media“ directly to community members who might not always hear themselves on the air.

    The initiative reflects AIR’s larger goals: to identify, cultivate and deploy talented producers to solve conundrums posed by rapid transformations in the media landscape. Nearly 1,000 members strong, AIR is a creative brain trust of makers who tell stories with sound, and increasingly are moving into cross-platform creation. The core Zeega team — Kara Oehler, Jesse Shapins and James Burns — developed the guts of their platform during an earlier AIR challenge, Makers Quest 2.0.

    Now, Zeega is integral to the Localore production, partnering with eight of the 10 projects to craft cutting-edge immersive documentaries such as the recently launched Rough Ride, an eye-popping interactive expedition through the North Dakota oil boom led by Localore producer Todd Melby.

    The teams are working not only with Zeega, but with other innovative platforms — including SoundCloud, Cowbird, and ThingLink—that allow users to become documentarians of their own lives. And they’re reimagining the relationship between producer, station and audience.

    Here’s how.

    Enable Audiences to Co-Create

    AMM map screen

    In Austin, Localore producer Delaney Hall has launched the Austin Music Map (AMM) with KUT and Zeega, to explore the city’s hidden music spaces in tandem with performers and fans. In December, the AMM team invited listeners to share the sounds of their city, and then gave some of Austin’s best musicians two weeks to transform them into original compositions.

    The full collection, titled “Austin Remixed,” will be released at AMM’s February music festival, MapJam 2013. But here’s a teaser:

    Collaborative production is also central to AIR’s Ed Zed Omega (EZO) project, which invited users to help craft “authentic fiction” by interacting online and in person with fictional students who asked “what is education for?” Produced by game designer Ken Eklund at Minnesota station TPT, EZO ran over the course of the 2012 fall semester. Find out what happened.

    Embedding Where the Action Is

    On Sunday, 60 men from Esquipulas, Guatemala gathered at the Santa Cecila Church in South L.A. Armed with dyed sawdust, stencils and small colanders, they crafted the alfombras — “rugs” that worshipers carrying the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) would step upon on their way out of the church. Sonic Trace reporters were there to capture the procession:

    The feast of the Black Christ is only one of the myriad religious celebrations by Central and South American communities that the Sonic Trace team is documenting. Led by Localore producer Anayansi Diaz-Cortes at KCRW, the team has embedded their portable sound booth, La Burbuja (the bubble), at Santa Cecila to record the stories of those attending Sunday mass.

    The team and Zeega are hard at work on an immersive site that will launch in the coming weeks to track La Burbuja’s movements around L.A., and feature a rich array of photos, videos and radio pieces exploring links between local immigrants and their communities of origin.

    The church is La Burbuja’s second location. The booth was previously installed at Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza — the site of the Sonic Trace launch party. Over the holidays, KCRW aired a series of sonic profiles based on interviews that the team conducted at Guelaguetza. Here’s Diaz-Cortes interviewing Paulina Lopez, whose family runs the restaurant:

    AIR’s Hear Here project at Oakland-based station KALW has also built a novel sound booth to capture and share stories — but on a more local scale. Producers Erica Mu and Audrey Dilling aim to build connections across the Bay Area. Working with SoundCloud, they developed an interactive audio map of stories they’ve collected, out in the streets and at events hosted with libraries and other local cultural hotspots. Catch up with the project in this video, and submit your own story about a favorite spot here.

    Enlisting Field Reporters

    Localore teams are also working with community members to gather targeted observations — reframing them as citizen scientists, urban ethnographers and creative placemakers.


    Producer Jennifer Brandel heads up a team of gung-ho gumshoes recruited from the WBEZ newsroom, who collaborate with listeners to investigate their burning questions about Chicago. In the fall, the team asked users to go one step further in helping to define what makes the city distinct. Reporter Annie Minoff worked with linguist Corrine McCarthy to devise a script that volunteers could read to demonstrate the traits of the Chicago accent. Listen to samples from the more than 350 Windy City residents who participated, and see what they learned.

    In Paonia, Colo., the weather rules the livelihoods and leisure of local ranchers, farmers and recreationists. But are climate shifts disrupting the region? Localore producer Julia Kumari Drapkin set out to explore that question in dialogue with both the community and scientists through her project, iSeeChange. The result? An interactive almanac that encourages users to record shifts in the weather, and pairs their field observations with long-range climate data and stories aired on incubator station KVNF. Last week marked the soft launch of TheAlmanac.org, which went wide early this week at a launch party featuring NASA Goddard scientist Ben Cook.

    In Boston, Planet Takeout producer Val Wang asked WGBH users to report back on their most telling Chinese restaurant experiences — see the Zeega-powered site to immerse yourself in the three restaurants she explored in depth. And in Dayton, award-winning filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar have pounded the pavement with station volunteers to uncover how locals are reinventing themselves in the recession-hit region.

    Recently, their ReInvention Stories team launched a series of audio interviews that air on incubator station WYSO with corresponding video profiles. Watch the first, featuring founders of the Fifth Street Brewpub — a co-op pub that’s Ohio’s first and only the second in the nation. And stay tuned for the much-anticipated launch of the team’s immersive site.

    Stay in the Loop

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    More new media lifeforms are sure to emerge as Localore evolves throughout the spring. AIR and Zeega will continue to launch related sites, and to track the lessons that producers, stations and innovation partners have learned over their year of experimentation.

    Keep an eye on airmediaworks.org to stay current on the latest developments, or subscribe to AIR’s weekly public media scan to get up to speed on these and other cutting-edge makers who are transforming public media and storytelling. Also keep your eye open for a joint SoundCloud-AIR promotion, happening soon!

    Jessica Clark is AIR’s media strategist. Learn more about the Localore project at airmediaworks.org.

    This post originally appeared on the SoundCloud Blog.

    Tagged: air kitchen sisters kqed making of social audio soundcloud zeega

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