The New Storytellers: My Story

Microphone_Final_0243:10 Typically, the interviews last about an hour and once they are recorded they are transcribed and time-stamped, so we know precisely where everything is on the “tape.” It’s all digital, of course, so there is no actual tape.

47:24 This technique makes moving snippets of the conversation around pretty easy.  An hour interview has to be pared down to a five- or six-minute story. And that is not easy.


02:04 My name is Sue Halpern and I’m a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and the director of the Fellowships in Narrative Journalism or, as it’s popularly known, the “How Did You Get Here?” (HDYGH) project.


10:15 I was at a College dinner about six years ago, and everyone was going around the table saying where they were from. “Tel Aviv. Berea. Kabul. Amman. Spokane. Kathmandu.” As they spoke, I found myself asking the same question over and over.

12:07 It was some variant of “How did you end up at this small college in rural Vermont?”

12:59 Three months later, I was talking with Matt Jennings, the editor of Middlebury Magazine, and he was saying that the magazine wanted to do more Web-based multimedia. As he was talking, I thought, “Why don’t we train students to make short audio portraits of their classmates that answer one simple question: How did you get here?”

15:37 I proposed “How Did You Get Here?” and Matt was game.


Check out the 2013 “How Did You Get Here?” stories

48:42 I’d never done any audio before this. I am a writer and magazine journalist. But I know how to get a story and how to tell a story, and I know that this is something that can be taught.

52:05 I dislike grades. I’ve seen how grades, not learning, can become the goal, and I’ve also seen how sometimes students try to see how much they can get away with not doing. Because I knew that HDYGH was going to be a tremendous amount of work, I only wanted students who were passionate and fully committed.

39:00 Matt and I called it the Narrative Journalism Fellowship, and we put out a call for applications.

55:32 Experience was not necessary but strong writing skills were.

7:19 You get a very good sense of the range and diversity and uniqueness of the students who attend Middlebury from our pieces and from the journeys students take to get here.

11:14 I don’t have a favorite profile since I honestly believe all the stories are incredible. There’s a young woman who was smuggled out of Tibet in a box;  a competitive goat roper; someone who went to a secret school for girls in Kabul during the Taliban; I could go on. You should listen.

20:16 One of the most gratifying parts of the program, aside from the opportunity to tell these amazing stories, is to have created a cadre of very accomplished journalists and storytellers. The skills and competence they acquire in the program serve them well, whatever they do.

62:19 In May of the first year, the fellows mounted an exhibit in the Davis Family Library and provided iPods with a soundtrack of all their stories. Hundreds of people came to the opening; there were not enough iPods. Finally, with the blessing of the library staff, one of the pieces was broadcast over a set of speakers. Students who had been studying stopped what they were doing, got up from their chairs, and lined the balcony. Everywhere I looked, people were standing stock-still, just listening. And when the piece ended, they clapped and asked for more.

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Sue Halpern is a journalist, an author, and a Middlebury scholar in residence.

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