In 2020, KOSU committed to holding listening sessions in communities around the state, but COVID-19 upended everything. While trying to figure out what to do next, we found ourselves frequently consulting news archives from 1918 about how Oklahoma dealt with the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It was a wealth of information about how schools were coping, how teachers reorganized to help in hospitals, resistance to mask mandates, and more.
In collaboration with the Oklahoma Historical Society, we created KOSU’s Audio Diaries. We designed a guide to teach people how to record themselves and collect audio of their surroundings using their smartphones. When people agree to record a diary, we start with a phone call to talk about what is happening in the person’s life. This allows them to begin shaping the diary and brainstorm topics to highlight. Then, we send them the guide and coach them through the process.
Unlike many traditional journalism stories, the audio diaries are collaborative and allow the participants to be involved at every stage of the process, including the selection of the music bed. We want to ensure the end result is something that is a true reflection of the person and the moment in which they are living.
This project became about more than connecting our community. We are tackling systemic racism, criminal justice issues, and other difficult topics in a way we’re not sure we would have been able to had the pandemic not forced this new way of production on us.
We collaborated with several local organizations, including the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, unions, arts alliances, and others to find participants. In addition to launching a podcast, we have brought these uniquely Oklahoma voices to national platforms like America Amplified, the CPB election project, and The Takeaway.
While we believe this project has had several impacts, the most long-lasting and profound is that it allowed Oklahomans to document and preserve their own history in a pivotal moment. With many reporters furloughed and other news outlets closing their doors, these diaries have helped frequently marginalized voices from being lost or overlooked. This inclusion has helped strengthen our journalism and our service to diverse communities.