StoryCorps was founded in 2003 by MacArthur Fellow Dave Isay, whose motto is “Everyone around you has a story the world needs to hear.” Since then, his Brooklyn, NY-based non-profit has conducted more than 45,000 interviews with over 80,000 Americans, capturing their stories via a traveling MobileBooth (an Airstream trailer/recoding studio) and its new mobile app.
Inspired by “everyday American” storyteller Studs Turkel, Isay has gathered the largest collection of human voices by one source and each conversation is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and can be listened to in StoryCorps’ weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on its website.
StoryCorps grew out of Sound Portraits Productions and is modeled on the work of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s that conducted and recorded oral history interviews nationwide. Recent StoryCorps examples include Gabe López, an eight-year-old transitioning from girl to boy, and Wendell Scott, the first African American inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
With work such a huge part of people’s lives, StoryCorps’ new book, Callings, celebrates the purpose and passion of work. It’s also using its skills to help companies become more effective brand storytellers. Witness its Delta Air Lines partnership, which includes interviews from Delta customers and an in-flight StoryCorps presence on the Delta Studio video channel.
Delta Air Lines employees and customers are telling their stories as part of the brand’s oral history project with StoryCorps as the company welcomes a new CEO today, with Ed Bastian replacing the now-retired Richard Anderson.
In addition to creating and enriching the Delta archive and history, it’s a great tool for internal brand engagement; for employer branding, to capture and communicate the company’s culture for new hires and potential recruits; for content marketing, creating a rich trove of stories (and testimonials) to share; and for boosting employee morale and pride.
That commitment to storytelling is why StoryCorps was present in January 2007 when Delta employees gathered at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the ‘Fly Delta Jets’ sign was illuminated for the first time in years as the airline worked its way through bankruptcy.
“It was the same day that we found out that the creditors were going to reject the US [Airways] hostile takeover and stay with Delta and invest in the people of Delta to let us out of the bankruptcy,” Bastian commented in a press release today. “We relit the light, we celebrated our freedom, and it was a great evening.”
— Delta News Hub (@DeltaNewsHub) May 2, 2016
As it expands to Delta customers’ stories, StoryCorps’ MobileBooth pulled up to Delta HQ in Atlanta last month to begin a series of interviews with employees. The stories collected so far “include the story of a couple who met on a Delta flight and eventually married, and a member of Delta’s Honor Guard who talks about his work honoring the remains of fallen military members,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As Delta notes,
The StoryCorps interviews tell stories of triumph and tragedy, of love, life and loss – from Assi and Marco, who met while sitting next to each other on a Delta flight and later married, to Tim and Ron, who forged a bond through their grief over the loss of their children and now help others at Delta who have experienced the loss of a child. Listeners will meet Andrea, who made a promise to herself that she would become a Delta pilot and is now an MD-88 Captain, and Brian, who reveres and cares for fallen service members during their final journeys home as the leader of Delta’s Honor Guard.
“We share with StoryCorps a mission to build human connections around the world and are excited to further our mission by sharing employee and customer stories through the StoryCorps lens as well as sharing stories with our 180 million annual customers in-flight through Delta Studio,” the airline’s in-flight entertainment channel, stated Julieta McCurry, Delta’s Director of Marketing Communications.
Why Delta? Isay said in the release, “In our deep history of preserving human stories, Delta is one of the few brands mentioned organically by the people we recorded. It’s a testament to the impact the Delta culture and its travel experience can have on our society.”
The first interview is between the airline’s new CEO Bastian and Glen Hauenstein, who also starts as Delta’s President today, and covers what it took to revive the brand, which also just introduced RFID baggage tracking and a new hub in Seattle (as promoted in the Donald Sutherland-narrated spot below):
“Five interviews will be shared this week as Delta marks the beginning of a new chapter with Bastian’s transition to CEO. After the first week, interviews will be shared every Tuesday throughout the summer on Delta’s News Hub.
StoryCorps tells us they’re eager to working with more companies. “From the StoryCorps side this is the type of corporate partnership we have been working towards and find this particular sponsorship as an excellent model as we further our relationships in corporate America,” Braden Lay-Michaels, StoryCorps Chief External Relations Officer, told us.
“We are an unusual organization, a mission-driven 501(c)3 that also produces a weekly show for NPR. While most know us from that weekly broadcast, our mission is to gather the voices of all Americans, with an emphasis on voices that are rarely heard. Instead of a corporation just adding its logo to our website, partnering with StoryCorps allows an entity like Delta to value and present its own voices in their authentic and personal way. The will have the ability to curate their own oral history for both internal and external use.”
Isay has been opening up StoryCorps — thanks to the 2015 TED Prize of $1 million — to organizations to use its app to capture and organize their efforts, enabling anyone to record a conversation and conduct an interview.
“What changes with the app is that the app becomes the facilitator, so that allows us to do many, many more interviews, and you don’t have to come to StoryCorps,” said Isay to MediaShift, “The purpose of what we’re doing is not about the final product. It’s not about doing interviews to create the final product; the purpose is the interviews themselves.”
TED’s Chris Anderson commented to the New York Times about the reason for awarding the TED Prize to StoryCorps — its mission “is a powerful antidote to superficial communication,” he said, noting that the average 40-minute interview/conversation “is very different from Twitter’s 140-character limit.”
“It almost works the other way,” Anderson said of the oral history project. “This is longer than the conversations we usually have and encourages people to go deeper than they may want to.”
Isay acknowledges that there is “act of generosity behind the project — listening to another human being.” And now you can add – listening to a brand.