How to record conversations with the new StoryCorps app

byNatasha Tynes
Apr 14 in Multimedia journalism

When radio broadcaster Dave Isay was in his twenties, he had a meaningful conversation with his father that inspired him to create a project encouraging people to record their own conversations.

The project, StoryCorps, came to life in 2003 when Isay set up a recording booth in Grand Central Terminal in New York City, inviting people to sit in the booth and record their conversation while one person interviews the other. The idea of the project is to tell stories that otherwise would not have been told and share them with the world.

The project aims to create a digital archive of people’s conversations, with all recordings stored in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. More booths were set up during the years and a total of 100,000 Americans have participated in the project. Some of these stories are featured on the StoryCorps website, broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) or made into short animated videos.

Isay, who recently won a 1 million dollar prize from TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), is taking his brainchild even further by creating a mobile app that enables anyone to interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger and then upload the conversation directly to the Library of Congress. The app in essence will let anyone be a citizen journalist.

According to StoryCorps, all you have to do to “honor someone” by interviewing them using this app is to find a storyteller, prepare your questions, find a quiet location and record your interview.

The StoryCorps app helps you prepare your questions, which are divided into categories. When you open the app you can choose from the list of questions and also add your own. When you hit the record button, the app prompts you to start with an introduction where you introduce yourself and the person you are interviewing.

The app then displays the questions you prepared and allows you to swipe through them. When you are done, the app asks you to take a selfie with the person you interviewed, and then you can publish the interview directly to the StoryCorps website and the Library of Congress.

In a blog post that was published on the TED website, Isay provided tips for conducting better interviews using the Storycorps app. The tips include:

  • Ask the big life questions.

  • Pour your attention into the interview.

  • Be an active participant in the conversation.

  • Remember it’s not the “story” that matters.

  • Say thank you.

In an interview with the BBC, Isay said: "The act of honouring a loved one (or a stranger) in this way can help us recognize all that we share in common as human beings, and remind us that every life matters equally and infinitely."

According to the BBC, Isay hopes to create special events with the StoryCorps app, including a day when children record a conversation with an elderly relative.

The StoryCorps app is available on both Android and iOS, and is currently only in English.

The video below explains how the app works in more detail and provides tips for producing a better interview. You can also watch Isay's TED talk here (in English), in which he annouces the launch of the app, with subtitles available in Hebrew, Italian, Turkish and Ukrainian. 

Main image courtesy of StoryCorps.org