Catholic Voices and Cherry Blossoms in Brooklyn

Monday, May 12, 2008 - 4:31 pm

Catholic Voices and Cherry Blossoms in Brooklyn

Spring has finally arrived in the upper Midwest. And it’s about time because Andy (the new associate Web producer) and I cranked away in our flourescent-flooded cubes on last week’s site for “The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic — Hearing the Faithful.” (Long title, non?) The production process took some surprising turns that ended up with a format-breaking radio broadcast, and some pretty groovy ways of telling individuals’ stories online.

We wanted to produce a show delving in to the Catholic Church from a practitioners’ points-of-view for some time now. Oh, to find a way in… We first started out working with two compelling conversations Krista had with Fr. Donald Senior (mp3, 1:49.05) and Sister Katarina Schuth, (mp3, 1:09.05) two Catholic theologians and educators who navigate Church doctrine and seminary life as a daily vocation. The entire staff was smitten with the uncut conversations, so Krista edited and scripted around them. Usually, when we’re at this stage of the process the show is a go because of the significant amount of effort and time required.
In an unusual turn of events, the staff listened to the first cuts-and-copy (c+c) session. FYI: during c+c, Krista reads her script and the staff listens to the in-cues and out-cues for the isolated audio segments. Then the staff critiques and suggests changes. No music or actualities are placed yet. Strangely, we felt like the humanness of the Catholic experience was lost in the edit — the essence of the story that sometimes gets lost in reporting on the Catholic Church.
I suggested that maybe we could do something similar to our program on the spirituality of parenting. Since I was going to ask our audience to contribute their stories and experiences of being Catholic, maybe we could introduce their voices. Lay Catholics might give the program a certain grounding and represent the complexity and diversity of how the tradition is lived.
We received well over 300 responses to begin. We isolated about 30 responses, asked people if I could interview them, and ended up recording each person reading their essay, with follow-up conversations (which we hope to release in the coming days). Rob and I were moved and amazed. Rob whittled that number down to about 15 for a group listen with Krista and the rest of the production staff.
What resulted was a surprising declaration by our host: these stories are the show. I was a tad stunned, and I’ll admit, excited. That ended up being the easy part.We had to ask ourselves how we’d step it up online too, rather than only producing a single page for the site representing these voices. We needed to let all those stories breathe oxygen rather than subterranean database CO2 where they’d never see the light of day, never contribute to the depiction of what it means to be Catholic. So we did. We crafted a pretty groovy dynamic mapping application and theme-based display that will continue to grow and convey more individual stories — the core of what we do here at SOF — and gave them greater context through geography, visuals respondents submitted, themed commonalities, and through the wonder of audio for a select number.
And we got to work with some smart colleagues in other departments under such tight deadlines: Maria, Dickens, and Jinzhu in IT and Melody at MPR’s Public Insight Network.How does the timelapse video of cherry blossoms factor in? Well, I just needed a moment to be mindful, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, and smell the virtual blossoms until Minnesota’s arrive.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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