UO SOJC students partner with OPB to produce ‘NW Stories’

December 18, 2014 - 6:00am

What do a Josephine County sheriff, the leader of the Western Oregon Organization of Paranormal Investigators and a Corvallis violin craftsman have in common with Pacific Northwest favorites such as Bill Gates, Steve Prefontaine and Ken Kesey?

These everyday people will be featured in an experimental documentary series produced by students in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The documentary series, titled, “NW Stories,” will focus on intriguing people who share a connection to the Northwest, including a variety of folks living in Oregon and Washington. The 30-minute series will premiere on the OPB network on Dec. 22 at 9 p.m. PST.

“The Northwest is such a unique region of the country. There are so many interesting stories that can be told that people don’t know about; people who are pioneers in what they’re doing or in their way of thinking,” said Ed Madison, a multimedia journalism professor at the school and leader of the documentary project.

The inspiration for the production came from the work of radio personality and television producer Ira Glass, the host and creator of the program “This American Life” on National Public Radio.

“Documentaries are not a new genre,” Madison said. “[Glass’s] program speaks to a younger audience; it’s documentary storytelling for a new generation.”

One of the main goals of “NW Stories” is to engage audiences in new ways through a transparent production process that allows viewers to see every step of the documentary’s creation through various social media channels. Viewers can get to known the subjects in the documentary, understand what it takes to produce the program and have some influence on the final product.

“What we were really looking to do was engage the audience at the level of how the whole process comes together,” Madison said. “Often, transparency in journalism comes after the fact, so our objective was to have transparency throughout the process.”

“NW Stories” will become an annual project, giving the journalism school the opportunity to cultivate a flagship production that students can work on throughout the summer and into the fall. Additionally, it’s a chance for students to produce work that isn’t just for a grade but for a real audience, adding another option for experiential learning; a fundamental educational pillar in the school.

“The idea is really to bring younger voices to public television,” Madison said. ”That’s our first and foremost intent, and to tell stories which are interesting, relevant and explain what the Northwest is all about.”

This project was funded by the SOJC Agora Journalism Center. The center piloted a fellowship program in summer 2014, funding three faculty fellows. The goal of the center is to be the gathering place for innovation in communication and civic engagement.

—By Nathaniel Brown, Public Affairs Communications