How did the project come about?
Katrina Barlow: Last year, I fell in love with a NY Times multimedia series called One in 8 Million. Each weekly episode featured an everyday New Yorker, who shared something about his or her occupation or lifestyle. I realized that characters like those New Yorkers, who were so full of charisma and verve, lived in rural areas. The Walla Walla Valley is full of people who have remarkable stories. This is our attempt to highlight these untold stories.
Carlos Virgen: Katrina approached me about the project and showed me the NY Times series. We started talking about what something like that would look like for Walla Walla. Her enthusiasm and the opportunity to tell very personal stories have driven the project forward.
Who can we expect to see featured in this project?
KB: This project features residents from the Walla Walla Valley. Many are longtime residents, some have moved into the region more recently.
CV: We are trying to feature a cross section of people that we hope will be representative of the Walla Walla Valley community. That may include doctors, teachers, students – really anyone with a story to tell.
How do you select people to interview?
KB: I’ve been surprised at how easy it’s been to find people to interview. Everyone who hears about this project has a recommendation for us. It’s a good sign that everyone we’ve talked to has a relative, friend, or acquaintance with a compelling story.
CV: As the series develops an audience we expect to be able to reach more people and have the advantage of showing them what it is we are trying to do.
Describe the process of putting each episode together.
KB: When Carlos and I arrive for the interview, we really have no idea what our interviewee will say. That’s the joy of this project. We settle in and have a conversation.
CV: We try not to go in with any preconceived ideas about what the story will or should be. We know some background on the person so we’ll often ask questions about their jobs or family.
KB: Each episode is then condensed from roughly an hour-long interview, which we record. We listen to the audio recording and find the stories that are floating in there. It’s usually easy to spot. When someone is excited or invested in something, his or her voice lights up. Without realizing it, they become storytellers.
CV: In addition to recording the audio during the interview we also shoot some video of the person being interviewed and any objects like art or photos or surroundings that have some connection to the person. And Katrina will also take a few photos of the person which eventually become the featured image on the Voices website.
Katrina listens through the audio and points out interesting sound bites that we might be able to build on. And as she says, we often leave the interview with ideas based on how animated and passionate the person was on certain topics.
KB: Carlos builds a coherent and well-paced storyline from the recorded audio. Once the audio is complete, we look for still photographs and Carlos’ video footage to parallel what the person is saying. The finished video is uploaded to the Voices website.
When does an episode come out?
KB: We will release one episode every Sunday. A summary will run on the Union-Bulletin’s Sunday paper, and the full story and video will be on the Voices website.
Why is this project important?
KB: This series reveals something new and intimate about each person. The Walla Walla Valley is usually considered a small-town place, yet the people who call this valley home are incredibly diverse and distinct. We hope these personal narratives reveal how unique this region is.
CV: It’s an opportunity to reveal something about our community that otherwise may not be known. These are stories that may not make it into the newspaper but that are nonetheless important as they help paint a more complete picture of the Valley.