By Kristan Schiller
Do you feel that you have something to say that might be too in-depth for Facebook, and for certain 140-character posts in Twitter? With Cowbird.com, Localore.net and other emerging platforms for independent storytellers and producers, you can tell your own story, but with a much longer runway. Who knows, with inspiration from your 2014 Spark and the travels you have in it, you might even become the 21st Century’s answer to Jack Kerouac! And like with your Spark color selection, your personal stamp will shine through.
As a Spark owner, you are tech-savvy and interested in exploring new things. The reinvention of storytelling in the public sphere involves citizens as participants, not merely recipients; so what’s old is new again. Photojournalist Aaron Huey has brought this idea to the fore by using Cowbird.com to chronicle his project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Huey spent seven years documenting the Lakota, then met up with Jonathan Harris, the creator of Cowbird, to launch a unique storytelling platform for the Lakota called the Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project. The effort has not only focused attention on the Lakota but also on Cowbird.com, a web-based product for “a community of storytellers” that, by offering users storytelling tools for free, will “automatically find connections between your life and the lives of others, forming a vast, interconnected ecosystem.” Cowbird extracts individual perspective from a story, leaving information (such as images, sounds and text) for the viewer/listener to interpret and make sense of. What remains are story elements that viewers and listeners assemble to compose into a story.
Cowbird actually began as an experiment by then 30-year-old Jonathan Harris. On a whim, Harris began posting photos to his personal website, number27.org, with a short story about each one. That project continued daily for 440 days and gradually grew into what is now known as Cowbird.com, a forum for sharing life experiences and for meeting other storytellers who approach narrative in much the same way.
Beyond Cowbird, there’s Localore, a platform for independent producers to distribute documentaries about events affecting their lives. Similar in nature to Cowbird, Localore provides a mechanism for collaboration and participation in the documentation that’s underway.
Localore got its start in 2012, when the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) picked 10 projects from independent media producers across the U.S. to collect a year of funding and local public radio- and TV-station support. The result is an umbrella site for these projects, each of which hail from varying communities and use several mediums to tell stories packaged in beautifully designed websites. Most Localore projects tell stories of communities through documentary films. There’s Boston’s “Planet Takeout,” that looks at Boston neighborhoods through their Chinese takeout restaurants, while “Reinvention Stories” studies life in Dayton, Ohio, one of the Rust Belt’s dying cities.
Interestingly, the majority of Localore’s producers are women, which sheds the stereotype of the 20-something white male as documentary producer. The hope is that Localore’s projects will gain lives of their own and continue for years to come, as well as become examples for TV- and radio stations on the importance of experimentation with new formats, community engagement and participation. Check Localore’s blog for updates on what its website calls “a new, 21st Century Public Media.”
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Kristan Schiller, a Travel Editor at Fodor’s, is also a blogger and writer whose articles have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Town & Country, Organic Spa Magazine and Entrepreneur, as well as on the Huffington Post and Salon.com.