Posted January 14th 2013 at 10:27 am by
in Storytelling Course 2013

A Day in the Workroom

The third day of People, Planning, and the Story: An applied Media Workshop was a day of unstructured, independent work. We had hours on end for crafting our own stories, interviewing people, sound and image gathering, editing and production. Here’s a peek at what we were up to.


Class members were in the workroom beginning to process their media, or in the field gathering it. One member took the Red Line to Dorchester and followed his nose to an interesting story about food in different neighborhoods. One had a heart-to-heart about life and death with a nurse. One was biking around Central Square documenting the changing neighborhood. One was interviewing a food justice community organizer at the Museum of Science. One was stopping neighbors on the street and chasing down turkeys. The facilitators were in the workroom from the beginning of the morning, to lend technical and narrative advice.

Back at the workroom, individuals worked alone or in small groups. Two worked together with a facilitator on a storyboarding process to help them find their narrative flow. The diversity of the experience of the facilitators in one-on-ones enhanced our storytelling process.

A Day in the Workroom

Diana Lempel tweeted this brainstormed version of her My Avatar is a Turkey podcast on day three of the workshop.


We met over lunch to share our progress collectively. Students had five minutes each to share something about their projects, whether a progress report, a snippet of media, or a particular dilemma they were having. People gave feedback, and conversations beyond the five minutes continued on the etherpad. Some people were really set on their project at this point, and wanted specific feedback, while others were still finding their way and the discussion was more freewheeling. Lunch was delicious.

After Lunch

We split up again.  Most people were deep into their editing softwares and processes at this point. Facilitators helped find where to cut to make the story more concise, troubleshoot software, and share tricks of the trade like where to find ambient music to use with our projects (tip: try and They encouraged us to finish the project that night, so that we’d have plenty of time for tech troubleshooting and only last minute changes in the morning.


Here’s a look at how three class members used their time on workshop day:

winter photography setup

Lawerence's winter photography system.


I rose this morning bright and early to capture the images to illustrate my story. (After Monday’s hand-numbing experience of winter weather photography, I scoured the web to find these tips: & I suited up with my newly informed glove system and shot all morning. I came back to campus to load my pictures onto a computer and start piecing together which photos best (and most powerfully) represented my audio. The final story is a reflection of the clearest, most poignant, or funniest audio, but also the strongest photographs. I used our lunch session to get feedback on how to start the story and how to better hone in on my final narrative. In the afternoon, I took a few more shots and then returned to campus to begin the final process of editing (mostly cutting) the audio down to a reasonable length (I ended up with about two minutes) and also making the final selection of the 14 photographs I wanted to include. During this process, I quickly came to the realization that I was going to need many more hours of editing to finish by the 1:00 p.m. Thursday deadline, so I settled in a for a long evening of editing and catching up with my favorite bands and their newest CDs. I left campus a few minutes after midnight.

• Watch Lawrence’s finished story, A Place to Start.


My main aim of the day was to break the confines of my predictable editing behavior. Often I fall into the comfort of telling stories in a linear way: Here’s a problem and here’s the solution. The challenge for me was to break this chronic storytelling method. After sitting down with each of the facilitators individually, I was able to navigate how to frame my story in a way that felt fresh and intriguing. “I was told once to start with my best material,” Stefanie Ritoper advised me. That piece of advice stopped me in my tracks. My way of thinking about how to tell a story was challenged and ultimately changed. At 11:45 p.m. I finally rubbed my eyes, yawned, uploaded my media project, and felt proud. By listening to my classmates, receiving advice from the facilitators, and stepping out of my comfort zone, I felt I achieved my aim for the day.

• Watch Ellen’s final story, Dorchester Desert.


Up until now, I had been a writer. I’d done plenty of interviews, but always long-form ones, with the intent of writing about them. I was excited to have the opportunity to let the voices speak for themselves, but it was my first time with this kind of “man on the street” approach, and I quickly learned that it was a challenge. Not only did I have to get over my apprehensions about approaching strangers on the street with weird questions about turkeys, but I had to figure out how to have a natural conversation while making sure I got good audio quality, useable content, and make my interviewees feel comfortable. I didn’t always succeed: once I got so wrapped up in my conversation that I forgot to tell the person that I was recording, and at the end I had to erase it because she wasn’t okay with it. Another time I had a whole conversation only to discover the recorder hadn’t worked! I listened over my footage as I worked, constantly regretting what I’d done or fretting over when I sounded silly, pushy. I worried if I was doing too much of the talking, because in the process of gathering information, I ended up sharing what I was learning with my neighbors as I went. For all the power I had as a storyteller, I certainly learned that interviewing is more than anything an exercise in humility. But overall, I was really proud that I had the chance to take the kind of thinking and exploring that I do with my writing, and give it the texture and drama that only audio can have.

• Listen to Diana’s final story, My Avatar is a Turkey.

Post by Ellen Daoust, Lawrence Barriner II, and Diana Lempel. This post is one of several in a series unpacking the details of a Storytelling for Planners course at MIT.

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