Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps, an oral history project that in 2014 received a grant from the Knight Prototype Fund to develop an app. Today, Knight Foundation is announcing $600,000 in new support to enhance and expand the app, and integrate it into existing StoryCorps programs. This post has been updated to reflect the additional support StoryCorps received from TED for its app.
When I first imagined StoryCorps in 2003, my vision was simple—to build recording booths where two people who knew each other well would get together (with the help of a trained facilitator) to share a conversation and preserve the important stories in their lives. I hoped that one day there would be booths across the nation accessible to everyone, allowing us to preserve a broad cross-section of American voices.
A sampling from Storycorps
Excerpt: “Aw, you’re funny mom, you still are really funny.” Listen.
Excerpt: “There are so many moments I wish I had savored more.” Listen.
Excerpt: “Daddy, um, has big questions that he wants to ask me.” Listen.
Back then, I never imagined that in a short period, technology would change not only how we live our lives, but also what it means for two people to record a StoryCorps interview.
As a result, over the last three months I have listened to the voice of a school teacher in Texas whose mother is living with dementia as she tells her mom how much she loves her and how she dreads the day the disease will take away her ability to speak; to a married Massachusetts couple in their 30s with five kids as they talk about the first time they met and how their lives are different today from what they dreamed they would be when they started dating in high school; and to a 4-year-old girl in Tennessee as she tells her mom that when she grows up she wants to be a soldier just like her father—an Army sergeant who recently returned to the States after serving another tour of duty in Afghanistan.
None of these conversations would have been preserved without the prototype grant StoryCorps received in 2014 from Knight Foundation that we used to help us develop and launch the StoryCorps app. People no longer need to make an appointment and travel to a booth to have their conversations recorded and archived at the Library of Congress. The introduction of the app, which was brought into public beta with additional support from TED, made a unique StoryCorps experience available anywhere in the world to anyone with a mobile device, and now that we have the app in people’s hands, we have seen that it is not simply a piece of technology, but a tool bringing people closer together. We are reaching individuals who would have never heard of StoryCorps even if we had hundreds of booths roaming the country.
In the short time the app has been available—we launched it at the global TED Conference in March—it has been downloaded 220,000 times with nearly 8,000 stories uploaded to Storycorps.me. Children, parents, grandparents, friends, and even strangers across the globe are sitting down together in their homes, churches, schools and cars to tell stories and share experiences. Even more importantly, they are listening to each other.
Knight’s new support will have a tremendous impact on the success and growth of StoryCorps by making the app experience more enjoyable and allowing us to reach more people. The upgrades and improvements include adding features such as internationalization and accessibility; adding support for tablet devices; implementing a more powerful and robust way to search and browse interviews; improving the recording and uploading process; and more.
This is a transformative time for StoryCorps. Releasing the app allowed me to realize what I always knew to be true: There is tremendous interest in preserving the meaningful personal stories of humanity. With Knight’s support, we will keep expanding the public service reach of the app to give a voice to those who may never have realized how much their stories and lives matter.
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