StoryCorps' Jasmyn Belcher Morris Leads Upcoming Audio Storytelling

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Jasmyn Belcher Morris is a Senior Producer for StoryCorps. In 2011, she was part of the team that won the 71st Annual George Foster Peabody Award for the StoryCorps 9/11 collection. Her work has been aired on dozens of public radio stations across the country, and national programs like All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Latino USA. She also produces radio documentaries for the podcast network, Midroll.

by Rachel Baron | November 21st, 2017

Jasmyn Belcher Morris is a Senior Producer for StoryCorps. In 2011, she was part of the team that won the 71st Annual George Foster Peabody Award for the StoryCorps 9/11 collection. Her work has been aired on dozens of public radio stations across the country, and national programs like All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Latino USA. She also produces radio documentaries for the podcast network, Midroll.

DCTV Development and Communications Associate, Rachel Baron, sat down with Jasmyn to discuss her career in audio and our upcoming Audio Storytelling workshop.

    1) How did you become interested in radio and audio storytelling?

    I fell in love with journalism in college. I began asking a lot of questions, and developing different interviewing techniques in order to get answers. As I started to explore different mediums, I found, as a woman, I really responded to radio because I could report the news without being told I had to look a certain way on camera. I had no patience for that. Of course, women's voices are constantly being criticized, but I digress. I got my start reporting for an NPR affiliate, and I found that a small microphone and digital recorder gave me access to places a camera never could. After I'd finish my newscasts for the day, I'd wade around in hours of tape, cranking out sound-rich human interest feature stories. At that point, I was hooked on storytelling.

    2) Do you have a favorite story you've produced or worked on?

    That’s a very hard question, but I think one of my favorites is this one I produced for StoryCorps: "Former Security Guard Reflects On What He Lost One Fateful Night”. In 1990, at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, two men posing as police officers tricked Rick Abath — the night watchman — into letting them in. They stole something like $500 million worth of artwork. It's been called the greatest single property theft in world history, and the case remains unsolved to this day. Rick refused to talk to the press, but after some time, I developed trust with him and he allowed me to interview him 25 years after the heist. It’s probably the last interview he’ll ever give. We’re still in touch, and I’m still honored that he let me in.

    3) What are some challenging aspects of producing these narratives?

    The most common thing new producers ask me is how to get people to open up. So I think for a lot of people, the hardest part is just being uncomfortable. Whether it’s in approaching a stranger, learning when to ask a question, or how to ask it. We’ll talk about this in the workshop! I think it’s also important to keep pushing yourself. Keep digging on a topic until you find the best talker, or the most compelling angle. Don’t settle for the lowest hanging fruit. Keep reaching until you have found a story that you just cannot wait to share with someone. As for challenges specific to audio, most audio producers know that you can’t get married to your tape. Sometimes a moment can seem so powerful during the interview, but when you listen back to the tape, you realize the emotion just doesn’t come through. You can’t rely on body language, or facial expressions to convey feeling.

    4) Our society is so image-dominated, what do you think are the qualities of audio storytelling that continue to make it compelling to listeners?

    Audio is an incredibly intimate medium, which is why I’ve always been drawn to it. A lot of people listen in their cars while driving, so it’s almost as if the storyteller is sitting in your passenger seat telling you a story. Or if you’re listening through headphones, it’s a one-on-one experience, almost like someone’s whispering a secret in your ear. Because there are no visuals, listeners have to actively engage with the content. It’s theatre of the mind. Your brain fills in the gaps as you visualize the stories being told to you. I think that’s what makes audio so compelling — it’s personal.

    5) What do you think people will gain from taking DCTV’s Audio Storytelling workshop?

    My hope is that people leave inspired to make their best work. My goal is to share the most important things I've learned over the last decade, expand their tool belts, and instill confidence by helping them create a compelling piece that they can walk away with.

Join Jasmyn in our Audio Storytelling workshop starting Saturday 12/2/17. Register here!