University News

Through website, students voice stories

Students launch Now Here This to foster empathy, sharing of narratives

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Featuring stories of magicians, teen crushes and loneliness, Now Here This — a new website created by Sophie McKibben ’16, Liza Yeager ’17 and a team of Brown students — provides a platform for student voices.

“It started when me and Liza had coffee together one day in October,” McKibben said. They both worked for the Swearer Center for Public Service’s program Storytellers for Good, and “both realized that we had this spark of an idea in the back of our minds.”

Yeager and McKibben then formed a team of student producers and designers that turned the idea into a reality.

Though it is independent from the University, Now Here This receives support from the Dean’s office, said Beth Taylor, senior lecturer in English, and Alex Braunstein, communications and outreach manager for the Swearer Center.

“We wanted to create a platform for student-produced audio storytelling, so we worked on inventing the vocabulary for the same idea,” McKibben said.

The website launched Jan. 30 with 12 stories ready for listening. Stories fall under categories such as “Features,” which revolve around a topic and include different speakers. Other categories include “Brown Storytellers” and “Spoken Word” — both of which are produced by groups on campus.

“You can listen to it on your own time in your safe place and get connected to so many people,” Yeager said. “It’s really exciting. Technology is now bringing us together instead of pushing people apart.”

Now Here This is “not quite a podcast and not quite a radio station,” according to its website. While a podcast tends to have the “same voice every week,” a radio station does not allow listeners to “choose what they’re listening to,” Yeager said.

Yeager and McKibben distinguish Now Here This as audio storytelling.“There’s a revolution of storytelling occurring (with technology), and we’re really excited that Brown can be at the forefront of it,” McKibben said.

Emma Funk ’16, web and graphic designer for the site, said the team wanted to find the “best way for people to browse and skim,” describing the website as being “like an audio magazine.”

“It’s a platform that is unusual, and we didn’t have any previous examples of it,” Funk said, adding that stories do not have a chronology, making the content “flexible.”

McKibben and Yeager both agreed that a sense of empathy is one of the key things they hope listeners will derive from their listening to the audio stories.

“The reason why audio is powerful is because when you listen to people’s voices, you have a very intimate connection with them,” McKibben said. “You build empathy between these people. We have all these people who have all these ideas and it has to be really conversational for it to work.”

Funk is also hopeful the platform will help instill an enhanced sense of community in the student body. “It contributes to the spirit in a way that Brown students are intellectually engaged and want to hear these stories,” she said.

The week before the site launched, the Now Here This team worked about 40 hours, Yeager said.

Now Here This currently focuses on Brown and its community, but McKibben and Yeager hope “to reach out to a larger community,” through collaborations with different universities to “make the stories as accessible as possible.”

Listeners can expect Now Here This to publish two to three new audio stories each week. McKibben and Yeager also said a mobile app is being developed.