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Best way to go about an oral history piece?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Jim Luther Davis, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. For my next assignment I'm putting together an oral history piece on a local boys' prep basketball team in the area. Won the last two state titles and have won their region four straight times (losing in state semis the prior two years).

    A lot of talk around here is they could be one of the squads ever this state has seen.

    I figured I'd start from the year prior to that first semifinals loss. Was coach's 2nd year, had unexpected success and the seniors that were a large part of this year's squad were just finishing up 8th grade.

    My question is: For those who have done an oral history, how have you attacked it? Speaking in terms of format and how you go about your interview questions?

    I've seen countless similar pieces these last few days, and seems to be a lot of varied formats.

    Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
  2. Tommy Deas

    Tommy Deas Member

    We did one on the University of Alabama's 2014 football season. We broke it into chapters, like a book, and ran one per day over 12 days.

    It was chronological, more or less, but each chapter ideally had some sort of topic (i.e. the quarterback competition, which was placed in the order of when Blake Sims emerged as the clear winner but included material from people discussing the competition from preseason up to that point; another was placed chronologically at the point of the Florida game but was focused on one key play call by Lane Kiffin and illustrated his impact as offensive coordinator).

    To me, at least if you're publishing it in newspaper form (as opposed to writing a book) it works best when the quotes are short, quick and to the point. Most of ours were one sentence, maybe two. The idea was to set a quick-read pace so even if it was 70 inches it didn't feel like it.

    Organization ahead of time -- knowing what ground you want to cover and what sources you want to ask about each topic -- was important. So whatever the topic or point in time the "chapter" related to, we tried to ask several people the same or similar questions about it.

    When it worked best, it read like you were sitting at a table with the key people listening to them talk about it. It was Kiffin saying something, then the quarterback saying something about the same thing, then the receiver, as if they were having a conversation.

    As for the writing part, having everything transcribed and organized by both source and topic made it a lot easier. That part went much faster than I anticipated.

    I don't know if any of that helped or not, but feel free to reach out to me if you have questions.
  3. Matt Stephens

    Matt Stephens Well-Known Member

    I did a big feature in February about a race riot at a CSU/BYU basketball game back in 1970 that had swept under the rug. Very little documentation existed, even in the school and city's definitive history books. I wouldn't have even heard about it had it not been for the old AD's wife calling and telling me about it one day. I had to get a lot of first-hand accounts to help verify what did and didn't actually happen, but plenty was still left up for debate, so I broke it into chapters from different viewpoints: organizers, BYU players, innocent bystanders. Everyone remembers history differently. I also spent days on LexisNexis tracking down people across the country, which was a BLAST! Let me tell ya ...

    I think chapters is the best way to go. I linked it below. Hopefully it helps you.

    The Day Moby Rioted
  4. Vombatus

    Vombatus Well-Known Member

    No comment. Still pondering the thread title.

    Well, on second thought, maybe from the perspective of first person experiences?
    spikechiquet likes this.
  5. ^If that's a sarcastic retort, save it, bud.

    Thanks, Matt. Enjoyed the piece and thought that was a great way to attack it.

    Also thought it was pretty cool how you added the "Who's who" and "Notable protests" at the bottom. Nice touch.

    Good stuff overall.

    This was one that I really enjoyed when I was going through past oral histories: http://www.indystar.com/story/sport...hayward-shot-butlers-run-final-four/70680056/
  6. That's good stuff. Do you have a link of the finished product? Would be interested in giving it a look.

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