Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Using Oral History as a Newsgathering and Storytelling Technique

Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Using Oral History as a Newsgathering and Storytelling Technique

Article excerpt


Multimedia storytelling has transformed news organizations and journalism classrooms in recent years. While this approach is popular, alternative ways of telling and sharing stories with audiences are being explored and adopted. One approach that increasingly is gaining traction professionally as both a newsgathering and storytelling technique is oral history. In 2016, magazines such as Rolling Stone (oral history of the Allman Brothers), Vanity Fair (oral history of the Comedy Cellar), and Outside (oral history of "Hot Dog... The Movie") published news accounts using first-person interviews (O'Brien, 2016).

Some organizations also have relied on oral histories in the digital media era to tell stories. One in particular is StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization that records, preserves, and shares the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. This organization has helped make oral history mainstream by specializing in recording first-person voices. Since 2003, the organization has recorded some 65,000 conversations and archived them at the Library of Congress. In 2015, StoryCorps launched a free mobile app that has since notched up more than 80,000 interviews, making it easier for people to preserve their stories. In addition, archival material-recorded long ago and stored away in academic libraries-is in greater demand by journalists and the public (O'Brien, 2016).

Among historians, oral history interviews help scholars to dig deep into studying the past and find information that deserves to be explored in greater detail. Journalists also must perform the same skills to do their work, and the journalism classroom is the place where students can experiment with oral history to attain these skills on deeper learning levels. With this in mind, oral histories can serve as experiential learning opportunities desired in an undergraduate journalism classroom.

Rich with classroom observations and student comments, this article explores oral history as a pedagogical approach for teaching newsgathering and storytelling techniques. Students in two separate semesters of an in-depth reporting class conducted oral history interviews as part of a project that stud- ied public education in Kentucky before standardized tests were emphasized. This article concludes with recommendations for journalism educators who might wish to incorporate oral history interviewing as part of their classroom instruction.

Background Information

Oral histories are beneficial not only for history classrooms, but they are vital primary sources that help enrich students' understanding of the historical period for any academic discipline. In addition, through oral histories, students are able to bring history alive by capturing personal stories and connecting with individuals to understand their experiences and perspectives better (Dutt-Doner, Allen & Campanaro, 2016). For the journalism classroom, oral history allows for a range of voices and insights within a chronological structure, with structure being a key element of narrative (Williams, 2013). With the right sources and focused reporting, students can make an oral history out of almost anything (Williams, 2013).

Two pedagogical approaches to using oral history in teaching are passive oral history and active oral history. Passive oral history uses audio or video recordings, transcripts, websites and other media to connect the student with content for the curricular area of study. Active oral history focuses on the instruction of methodology and prepares students to be researchers to collect their own oral histories (Lanman & Wendling, 2006). In other words, passive oral histories are interviews that were prepared previously and made available for use, whereas active oral histories are interviews in which students are conducting and recording the interviews. Therefore, oral histories can include anything from video sessions with veterans, talking about their experience in World War II, to grabbing any audio recorder and sitting with a grandparent, inquiring about growing up during the Great Depression. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.