30 Days, 30 Lost Interviews

Last week I met with David Gerlach, founder and creator of Blank on Blank, a nonprofit that salvages, archives and remixes audio recordings journalists submit from their past interviews.

Visit the site now and you’ll see and hear from Allen Ginsberg, Thom Yorke, Dave Brubeck and even Jonathan Alter on how to interview presidents.

Blank on Blank currently has a Kickstarter campaign up and running. Aside from the $10,000 they hope to raise, they’re also trying to “raise” 30 new interviews. Have a great one on your hard drive or in a shoe box? Visit Blank on Blank and tell them about it.

In the Q&A below, we discuss how Blank on Blank started, how it works with Public Radio Exchange to distribute these lost interviews and give them new life, and what it means to remix an old audio interview. — Michael

FJP: What is Blank on Blank? What’s its origin story?
David Gerlach: Blank on Blank’s mission is simple: turn print journalists’ lost interview tapes into new unheard multimedia. We are a nonprofit transforming journalists’ interviews gathered to write stories, into a new podcast, public radio series, and collection of animated shorts on YouTube. The future of journalism? Remixing the past.

FJP: Why is archiving, salvaging and ultimately repurposing this material important?
David: So many remarkable stories are in danger of being lost forever. Yet there is a huge mobile, online, and radio audience that wants to hear them. As a former print journalist I always thought about these amazing conversations I had on tape that no one ever got to hear after I finished a story. There is something about hearing someone tell a story in an intimate setting versus reading what was said. We want to help print journalists expand their portfolios and realize the untapped value of the interviews gathering dust on their tapes and computer hard drives. It’s about rebooting and striking back in the face of a print media world that’s been turned upside down. Plus it’s easy to do.

FJP: When you get an audio interview in, what happens next?
David: We take a listen and and cull the interviews for the must-hear outtakes. We want evergreen stories. Unexpected conversations from the well known and universal tales from everyday Americans. Then our talented public radio-seasoned producers polish and edit the audio, add some music and storytelling, and a Blank on Blank is born. We turn most interviews into smart audio slideshows. And cartoonists, illustrators, filmmakers, graphic artists, and photographers turn these pieces into inventive videos that live on YouTube and beyond.

FJP: I’ve seen Blank on Blank production on PRX. What’s that all about? How and where is this material being used and distributed?
David: The Public Radio Exchange (PRX.org) is a phenomenal partner. They distribute both our new podcast and our interview segments to public radio stations. So now Blank on Blank content is being heard on stations across the country, as well as on XM Satellite radio. PRX is also home to The Moth Radio Hour, WTF with Marc Maron, and 99% Invisible, so we are honored to be in such must-hear company.

FJP: How can journalists get involved?
David: It’s easy. Have an interview or an interview excerpt you think should be heard? Go to http://blankonblank.org/your-interviews/ and tell us about it. Maybe there was an aside, an anecdote, or unbelievable story that came up when reporting a story. Or one that didn’t make it into print, but it always stuck with you. Perhaps there is a choice back and forth you think encapsulates an article or book you are writing now or years ago. Think of this as a multimedia sidebar to reach whole new audiences. Then all it takes is uploading the digital interview file to our storage cloud (or getting us a tape). From there we do all the production work. We also welcome any and all editorial input and do love recording our contributors to set the scene for their interview, if they’d like to.

FJP: You have a Kickstarter up and running, what do you plan to do with the funds if you raise them?
David: We’ve launched a slightly different kind of Kickstarter. This funding platform has become such a creative force we thought it was an ideal place to raise not only money ($10,000), but content. We’re looking to raise 30 lost interviews in 30 days - the best unheard conversations from journalists that have never been heard. The best excerpts from these interviews will be transformed and shared with new audiences. Funds raised on Kickstarter will go directly to covering audio and video production costs.

FJP: Why should a journalist or a publication partner with Blank on Blank?
David: Why shouldn’t they? We make it nearly effortless for our contributors to get more mileage from work that’s already been done. They reach new listening and video audiences simply by getting us an interview, raising the awareness of the journalist, the publication, and even driving a new audience back to the original print stories. We’ll take it from there. Our contributors keep the rights to their original interviews and get a new piece of multimedia to host on their website. Plus Blank on Blanks are perfect for spreading via social media.  Our sole mission as a non-profit is to preserve journalists’ interviews and bring your work to life.

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    Blank on Blank: audio archeological journalism
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