Dear Diary

This fall, Radio Diaries and NPR are collaborating with the storytelling site Cowbird on a project to collect personal, true, and surprising stories from teenagers around the country. Here are the stories from teenagers they’ve collected so far. A selection of the Teenage Diaries posted on Cowbird will also appear on npr.org. Plus, two teens will be selected to work with Radio Diaries to produce full-length audio Teenage Diaries that will air on NPR in 2013.

If you’re a teenager who wants a chance to produce a radio diary for NPR, first read the step-by-step guide to learn how to tell your story on Cowbird. Then sign up for a free Cowbird account, join the Teenage Diaries Project, and start writing! And if you’re someone who knows or works with teenagers, please help us spread the word about this project.

We interviewed Sarah Kramer, Associate Producer at Radio Diaries to learn more about this collaboration and the process of working with teens to tell their stories.

The Recollective: What was the impetus for the Teenage Diary collaboration with Cowbird?

Sarah:  We’re going back to five of the original teenage diarists who recorded their stories with Joe Richman 16 years ago and producing new documentaries about their lives now. We’re finding out what happened to Melissa, a teen mom; Frankie, a high school football star; Juan, who crossed the border illegally from Mexico as a teenager; Josh, a kid with Tourette’s syndrome; and Amanda, a gay teen who came out to her parents in her story. Their voices may be stuck in our heads as teenagers—but they’re actually in their 30s now! We decided to collaborate with Cowbird because we wanted this project to have a connection to actual teenagers today, and Cowbird is a simple and beautiful way to collect stories. Annie Correal of Cowbird helped us come up with the idea of making this a storytelling contest and selecting our next teenage diarists from the batch of contributors. BTW, the contest is still open, for any teens reading this! It’s very exciting because we have no idea what stories or teenagers will find us.

The Recollective:  As a producer how do you coach/guide teens recording their lives? Any tips for interested teens?

Sarah: Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself. Don’t worry about “sounding like” a professional, the most authentic voice is your own. Interview people—sometimes a microphone is the key that opens doors, and people you’ve known your whole life will tell you things you’ve never heard before. And record everything. Sometimes you don’t know that the most interesting things about your life are the ones you consider totally normal. Radio Diaries has a whole list of tips in our Teen Reporter Handbook, which I encourage any budding reporter to read. (We’ll also be updating this resource in 2013, so stay tuned). One tip we always tell teens is there is one simple rule for getting people to talk openly and honestly in an interview: you have to be genuinely curious about the world around you.

The Recollective: How might young people participate in this project?

Sarah: Any teenager between the ages of 13-19 can be part of the Teenage Diaries Project. Detailed instructions are outlined in the step-by-step guide on our website. But in brief, teens should first go to cowbird.com and set up a free account, secondly they should go to the Teenage Diaries project page and join the project, and thirdly, tell a story!  If you’re a teen reading this, make sure you have a picture to include and don’t forget to “add” your story to the Teenage Diaries Project so we can see it in our collection. If you have any questions, you can contact our outreach manager Nellie Gilles, Nellie@radiodiaries.org.

Check out the stories we’ve collected so far, tell your own, and tell your friends!

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