“This Dartmouth Life” brings radio journalism to campus

by Amelia Rosch | 1/20/15 9:24pm

While the student-run radio program “This Dartmouth Life” officially began in the Shakespeare Room in Sanborn Library last September, founder Laura Sim ’16 said that the idea for the program started with an interview she heard where Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life” host Ira Glass talked about achieving dreams. Since its founding in the fall, “This Dartmouth Life” has released one episode and is working on a second.

The first episode, “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” explored the various definitions of home for College students, while the second one will be about hiding in plain sight.

Sim said that she wanted to create a platform for National Public Radio-style journalism because it was a different style of storytelling than what previously existed at the College.

“You know how reporters on Fox News, CNN, they don’t talk like normal people,” she said. “We wanted to strip that from audio journalism and make it all about storytelling.”

Sim said that her goal for “This Dartmouth Life” is to bring attention to the “seemingly mundane” and to emphasize how everyone at the College has a story to bring to the table. She said that she hopes the program will help create and further empathy at the College.

Co-director of “This Dartmouth Life” Ivan Hess ’15 said that the opportunity to meet new people and learn about their stories is the most fulfilling aspect of the group’s work.

“We have all these experiences that are collectively shared, but the nuance is so brilliant,” he said.

Sim said that another goal is to find stories that are unique yet relatable for other members of the College community. She said that Melissa Padilla’s ’16 story in the first episode, in which she discussed applying to the College as an undocumented immigrant, captured their goal for a story by discussing a shared experience — such as applying to colleges through a different lens.

“Learning her story was crazy,” Sim said. “We want stories that everyone appreciates, even if they do not completely relate.”

Co-director Max Gibson ’16 said that the upcoming episode, which will explore the topic of strangers at the College, will allow students to think about people who they see every day but with whom they never form a real connection, such as staff members in the Class of 1953 Commons or the Baker-Berry Library.

“It’s cool that we think of Dartmouth as a close-knit community where you might be able to know everyone, but there are 4,000 students, so it’s impossible,” he said. “This episode shines a light that there’s so many people you walk by that you can never sit down and get to know.”

He said the new episode will include the story of a student who plays piano in public spaces and a prose-poem that was inspired by the situation in Ferguson.

“This Dartmouth Life” currently has a staff of around 25 students.

Hess described the structure of the program as “egalitarian,” as all members have input in the editorial and production process, as well as the opportunity to explore stories and create content.

Gibson said that they like to encourage their members to try aspects of radio journalism with which they may not be familiar, such as audio production.

Sim said that their editorial style focuses on collaboration, both between the directors and reporters as well as between reporters and their sources. She said that the “This Dartmouth Life” staff will come up with a theme together and then go out to look for stories and interviewees. She said that each audio story they run will go through several drafts, including re-interviews with the subjects.

Hess said that some of the show’s main challenges have been technical, such as learning how to use editing software. He said that editing each feature in an episode can take up to 12 hours, due to the level of detail required to produce a clear audio piece, such as removing distracting coughs and stutters or adding music.

“We had a lot late nights in Novack [Cafe] at first,” Hess said. “There was a learning curve, and I think we surmounted it.”

Gibson said that some of the challenges the group has faced have also been administrative, such as gaining recognition from the Council on Student Organizations.

Sim said that the College’s schedule has presented problems. Due to the D-Plan and the termly turnover it causes, the group has had to work to figure out ways to retain institutional memory — Gibson was abroad in the fall, while Sim is taking the current term off. She said that the relative shortness of the term can also make retaining their standards difficult.

“With only ten weeks, we want to do things as well as we can,” she said. “When you try to produce quality work, it’s easy to get sloppy. With stories online, people will always be able to revisit, and if something is sloppy, it will be sloppy forever.”

Gibson said that moving forward, their goal is to reach out to students and get more people involved and excited to share their stories.

Sim is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.