Recently I’ve had the enormous joy of spending time with people I love, connecting and/or reconnecting.
I’ve logged hours of oral histories in the process. In some ways it comes naturally to me as a journalist, but in others it feels very foreign to do so with people so intimate to me, so I’m always looking for ways to improve or adapt my process. It’s never perfect. No two interviews go exactly the same way. I suppose the only common way to go is forward.
As I tell people what I’m up to a common response is, “I’ve always wanted to do that but wouldn’t know where to begin!”
Last week I met a woman who traveled from Thailand to Canada and the U.S. where she pursued her education 25 years ago. She had no intention to stay, but did. It was overseas that she ended up connecting with her Chinese roots.
Now a cultural director at the Wo Hing Museum in Maui’s historic town of Lahaina, Busaba Yip Douglas offered this: “I don’t need Ancestry.com. If we have a good relationship with your ancestors, we don’t have to search for them. They will come to us at the right time, and with the right people.”
This is a story from Cupertino, Calif., a slice of school life. I worked on it for my master’s thesis when I was studying journalism at Stanford and held on to it and didn’t really share it outside of school — I’m not totally sure why. Because I’m embarking on a journey to share more tales from Asian America, I’ll kick it out the door now.
The students featured in here have likely advanced, graduated from middle school or high school or college. Their parents may have retired, switched jobs, something else. I wonder what the community is like now?
In any case, the stories here were recorded in the spring of 2014. The Atlantic published an article called “The Silicon Valley Suicides” by Hanna Rosin last month, and because Cupertino is next door to Palo Alto, where her article is centered, I think it’s relevant to take another look at the various experiences of students in an area exceptional for its multicultural makeup and academic experience.
Hey, this is groovy! The Freedom of Information Act has been reformed to make it easier for the public to access the government and its records.
FOIA states that generally “any person has a right…to access federal agency records.” Reform improvements include offering a one-stop shop-type portal where users can issue FOIA requests to all agencies, as well as encouraging agencies to be more open to disclosure, according to a press release.
Find out more about what the reform entails this summary on the blog from the Society of Professional Journalists (of which I’m a member).
From SPJ: “The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.”
This is is the million dollar question, the one I get asked most frequently: “What are you going to write about?”
My usual response is that I have a general idea of what the story might be about, but rarely know in full until it’s finished and published. It’s the people I encounter and research I do that transform the story and give it its final form.
I’m constantly on the lookout for “nuggets,” these little sound bytes, inconsistencies, or funny details that either throw my initial hunch for a loop or make me go, “Huh! This is way more interesting than what I originally had in mind.”
Nuggets point to something richer than what I’ve initially scratched up on the surface, show me places to dig deeper that will lead to the truest, most interesting story.
Sometimes these nuggets add a layer of texture to the story that’s already been mined. At other times they alter the story to be completely different from the one I set out to tell.
Glynn Washington, the storyteller behind radio show Snap Judgment, articulates this beautifully. Interviewed by journalist Daniel Alarcón in the Winter 2015 issue of California magazine, Washington had this to say about circling back on interviews to revisit stories:
“When we start an interview, we have an idea of where the interview is going to go. There’s a reason we’re talking to this person. We think we might know something of the story, and we’re looking for that person to tell it to us,” Washington said. “But then there’s the surprise, where he or she just took us somewhere the interviewer was not expecting…And we’re trying to tell stories that are really true to the person’s experience…And sometimes this great storyline we had thought out, that’s just not gonna work. That’s just not what happened. But maybe something else will.”
– Sara Hayden