Over the weekend, I finally took the jump and launched the first episode of a brand-new mini podcast. As someone who’s been producing audio for years now, the current landscape of podcasting can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. On the one hand, it’s great that people are finally taking to podcasts and relishing in listening — but on the other hand, it can feel like everyone has a podcast, or thinks it’s so easy to start one given the barriers to entry are relatively low.

And, as Emily Bell has pointed out, the current swarm of podcast genres tends to include the following:

Which brings me to “Loitering,” the occasional, but lovable traveling minipod — and the name of the mini podcast I just launched on the app Bumpers! It admittedly took a bit of time for me to warm to the idea of recording and editing audio stories entirely on this app (some may call this snooty, but audiophiles who know the painstaking process of trimming audio to the finest detail know that the bigger the screen, the better). But, true to Loitering fashion, I also wanted to loiter on this app and experiment with new methods of audio production.

Also…I’ve been wanting to do my own podcast again for a long time! But I’ve been struggling with the big how. Shizuoka Speaks, my baby from my Japan days, was my first podcast (before the word became part of the everyday media landscape). But now that the medium has become so popular, and radio/podcasting industry wonks like me know how competitive and saturated the market is right now, it’s too much to just “launch a podcast” the way some non-industry insiders might presume. Who would listen? How would I market it/produce it/edit it/cultivate it while doing my other work?

So, I decided to approach a minipod on Bumpers as a way to chill out about this and do something a bit more low-key and fun (but insightful!). And because I personally have trouble finishing some podcasts, I wanted to keep it short. (I know, I should be ashamed given how many high-quality podcasts exist that are meant purely to delight your ear, but…I do think we tend to overestimate people’s time and availability, or indulge in our egos a bit too much when we think how great it is to be behind the mic/how great our story is, etc.).

Regarding the name of the minipod, well, that’s best saved for another post. But to put it shortly, it’s about staking claim in public space, especially as a woman.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Look at that red flower loitering amongst the yellow! Taken while I was loitering in Washington, D.C., recently.

Heylo! You might wonder why an “extended bio” is necessary aside from a “regular bio.” Sometimes I wonder that too, and feel it’s a bit much. But it’s sometimes helpful because I’ve admittedly had a bit of an untraditional career path. If you’re curious to make more sense of my work, read on.

In 2016, I was selected by the International Women’s Media Foundation as an African Great Lakes Reporting Fellow to Uganda, where I reported on media and politics ahead of Uganda’s 2016 elections and completed a hostile environment training course.

My desire to report from Uganda stemmed from an itch to want to grow professionally and understand a different region of the world. I had previously been freelancing from Lucknow, India, from 2013 to 2015. I had moved to Lucknow after graduating from journalism school, when I received a scholarship to study Urdu there. I then stayed beyond my language program to freelance on the dynamics of a changing India from the perspective of the tier-two city and surrounding regions. My work includes extensive reporting on the country’s 2014 election, research into the freelance economy for international news, and an ongoing project on women and the justice system.

Why Lucknow? It’s more of an emerging metropolitan hub in India, and not really on the international map. While in graduate school, I helped initiate the New Global Journalism, a project investigating foreign correspondence in transition (it later served as the foundation for the Tow Center report on the topic). Lucknow happened to be where my language program was based. But on a deeper level, I wanted to report from an area that stood to have much more nuanced and original reporting, especially given its political and social sensitivity in India. I wanted to see whether it might be possible to translate those so-called “local” stories for an international audience, despite Lucknow not being very well-known globally.

Now, I find myself doing that for stories regardless where they’re based!

It’s my “2015 in review,” according to WordPress.com stats.

Among some interesting things to note…

This website has been clicked on from 61 different countries, with the United States, India and Brazil ranking highest. I’m not sure why Brazil ranks so high, but thank you.

Another interesting tidbit is that my top three referrals are Twitter, LinkedIn and WritersofColor.org. I didn’t even realize until recently I was on the Writers Of Color database, so thank you to the people behind that!

Here’s an excerpt of how WordPress made me feel popular:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

(Posting this here for future reference).

In January, thanks to the gracious support of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), I’ll be traveling to Uganda to report on underreported issues of democracy and governance ahead of the country’s 2016 presidential elections.

I’ve never been to Uganda, let alone Africa, and am excited at the chance to report in and experience a new country. A former professor recommended this book to read as a useful primer on the country, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it: The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda.

Given this reporting fellowship, India reporting and other plans are on hold for a bit while my schedule sorts itself out. I had almost forgotten that it takes time to secure a visa for a country. My OCI card has been very good to me in this respect.

I do hate that I am without my passport while I wait for this process, though. It’s like losing keys to a car for me, and I realize how much I rely on the capacity to move.

But the upside is that it has been very nice to be back in the United States during this time of year. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and now Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa for those celebrating) and New Year’s. Perhaps it’s the influence of the holidays, but being around my family and old friends makes me feel almost more homesick for them than I was in India.

Of course the reverse is true for India, and even still Japan, although the latter feels much farther away. But someone — I can’t remember who — once asked me if I am sometimes homesick for India, and I was a little bit stunned that the answer might not be obvious. Of course I am. I learned long ago that one needs to distance herself from one experience and immerse herself into another in order to reap the full benefits it.

The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget is a useful title for so many instances of life.

Hi Everyone,

After much, much time, I’ve finally updated my website. I’m still toying around and figuring out certain things (for example, “Blog” is a work in progress since it currently contains ALL recent stories as opposed to an actual blog or updates). But I’m getting there. If you manage to check it out, please let me know what you think.

I’m still based in Lucknow, India, where I’ve been since the summer of 2013. If you don’t know the story, I originally landed here to study Urdu in an intensive language program, then realized one summer would not be enough for what I wanted to take away from the experience. So I extended the language program into the fall while getting my feet wet to try the world of freelance international reporting…and so here I am. 🙂 Lucknow is not a typical place for an American freelancer to base herself, I know, but that’s partly why I like it. I think there is something very valuable about getting to know a community this deeply, and having the lived, everyday experience of how people around me are reacting to news, issues and life (as opposed to discovering and understanding that through reporting specific stories). Uttar Pradesh, the state where I live, is also one hell of a place through which to learn about India. The entire population of Brazil could live here. As someone I recently interviewed put it, “The last battle of poverty would be fought in UP.”

I’ll try to be fairly consistent with this. Thanks for taking the time to read. 🙂


This week MediaShift is doing a special in-depth report on cutting the cord to cable TV — who’s doing it, why, and how. One of our most popular posts over the past 5 years has been our special guides to cutting the cord, which we first published in January 2010 and again in 2012.  Stay tuned to MediaShift for more on cutting the cord.


Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: The monthly bill keeps going up. You can get a lot of channels and DVR functions, but that of course comes with a cost. According to research from Centris, the average cable bill was nearly $75 in 2009, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69. Fast-forward to 2015, and the prices are even more startling: A January Bloomberg Business report predicted the average DirecTV bill would climb to $107 by February and that dish customers would pay between $2 to $5 more per month starting that month as well. A 2014 report by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, also cited in the Bloomberg article, found that the average cost of expanded basic cable service has been increasing by about six percent a year since 1995.

Photo by  flash.pro on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

On top of that, access to more and more options doesn’t necessarily mean that people are turning on all these channels. Nielsen’s 2014 Advertising & Audiences Report found that while the average U.S. home television receives 189 TV channels, the typical consumer only watches 17 different channels. And with mobile devices like tablets and phones increasingly becoming go-to screens as well, it makes sense that some people may prefer having “cordless” viewing options, particularly young people who have grown up used to watching shows online — sometimes referred to as“cord-nevers.”

Yet a report by Leichtman Research Group found that the top pay TV providers have lost only about 0.2 percent of its customer based in the past couple of years. A study by Videorx.com that was cited in the January/February 2015 issue of Streaming Media Magazine also found that most of its respondents hadn’t completely “cut the cord.”

Instead, combining streaming services with traditional programming — in other words, creating individual viewing options according to your own preferences — is becoming much more the norm. Among the Videorx.com study’s respondents, for example, almost 60 percent subscribed to paid TV, and 66 percent had Netflix accounts and 48 percent Amazon Prime/Instant video accounts.

Amazon Prime's membership pitch. Screenshot courtesy of Amazon.com

And there are more and more services catering to the various viewing habits of the American population. HBO Now, “the network’s stand-alone premium subscription tier,” is now available in the App Store for iOS and Apple TV users as well as Optimum Online customers for $15 a month. HBO expects to add about 10 to 15 million more cord cutters to the current pool with its new service, according to a report from Quartz. Sling TV, the live TV package of 16 channels available for $20 a month, is also set to add HBO to its list of services for an additional $15 a month. CBS’ Internet TV service CBS All Access, which shows previous and current CBS content on demand, just launched on Roku for $5.99 a month. Sony Vue, a streaming service of 53 channels for $50 a month available on PlayStation, is slated to come to the iPad soon. Consumers can now also expect to watch TV over the air on XBox One.

Depending on various room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But thanks to the rise of all these streaming services, packages, and hardware options (like the Roku box and Apple TV), cutting the cord to cable TV is much more common than before and sure to save you some money. And it might actually suit your lifestyle and viewing interests more than you realize.

“In short, you don’t need cable anymore to watch all the cool stuff that’s out there,” cord cutter Zhulmira Paredes, an attorney based in Chicago, wrote in a message.


The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel’s streaming sites (such as NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.), or on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don’t appear until much later and usually must be bought via a service like iTunes.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to what’s available online, check out the kinds of TVs you’re working (or not working) with. The quality of over-the-air broadcast channels has changed since the digital switch-over in 2009. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which currently run at about $30 to $50. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site and check out Steve Belk’s advice on how to get the best reception. Many new HDTV sets now come with Internet connections built in them as well (in other words, they’re “Internet-enabled” TV), so you might not even need extra hardware such as a Roku box or Apple TV.

Below is a rundown of some of the more important options for enjoying TV content via the web. You can mix and match them to get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.


This is the box many cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and computer network and let’s you watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, as well as offers some free and pay options for additional content. Models range from $49.99 to $99.99, depending on your needs.

Google Chromecast
This thumb-sized device plugs into the HDMI port on your TV so you can stream media. It works with a number of apps so you can transfer what you see on a small screen — as in a phone, tablet, or laptop — onto the big screen. The price is currently set at about $30.

Amazon Fire TV
This is a small device you can connect to your HDTV, allowing you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, games, music, and more. The current price is about $99.

amazon fire tv stick

Amazon Fire Stick
Like the Amazon Fire TV, this stick allows you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, games, music, and more by connecting to your TV’s HDMI post. The current price is about $39. (Note, MediaShift contributor Kathy E. Gillcompared the streaming sticks on the market and found the Amazon Fire Stick to be the winner.)

Apple TV
It’s basically a front-end device to iTunes, and allows you to download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: no TV tuner or DVR functionality. However, it now connects to Apple’s iCloud service so you can view your media much easier. Apple is also reportedly working on a new, cheaper streaming service aside from iTunes. The current price is about $70.

Second generation Apple TV. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Viera Connect Panasonic TVs
From 32” to 65”, these TV sets come with Internet access built into them. All you need to do is connect them to your WiFi network, and then you can bring up extra content through the TV remote. Content and services include Netflix, Hulu, AP, Skype, YouTube, and more. Learn more about Viera Connect and its apps here. Prices range from $400 to over $3200.

Samsung Smart TVs
Samsung even has a Samsung App Store for all the services it offers for its line of Smart TVs. That includes Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, and even Facebook and Twitter.

WD TV Live box
This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos, or music you have downloaded. WD TV Live comes in a regular $99 model, or a $199 model with a 1 TB hard drive included.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Services and Sites

The godfather of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they’re available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for unlimited streaming for new members.

The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. There are still commercials (you can’t skip) on its Hulu Plus premium service, which costs $7.99 per month, and has no contract. Hulu Plus includes content that’s hard to find elsewhere, like “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”

Apple’s digital media buying service started out selling music downloads (hence the name). Then it added a podcast directory and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $2.99 per episode is pricey compared to other options, though there are discounted “Season Passes” and some limited free TV show offers.

YouTube "play" button courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and resused here with Creative Commons license.

The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. Plus, YouTube has created helps support original content and even lets creators charge for their videos.

Amazon Instant Video
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV. You can rent or own content for a fee, or stream it instantly. Streaming is free for Amazon Prime members who pay $99 per year, which includes free shipping from Amazon for all online purchases.

Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation, Wii or XBox. Cost: $19.99 per year, $39.99 for lifetime, $49.99 for lifetime with AdSkipper technology.

HBO Go is an app that allows you to stream HBO anytime through your normal cable subscription. It’s available on both Apple and Android devices, as well as Microsoft XBox’s gaming platform. With HBO Now, however, you can access all that same content without the cable subscription. HBO Now is available at $15 a month. A good explainer on how it currently operates is here. Another list of where you can watch HBO content via different services and devices, alongside their prices, is here.

Sling TV
Sling TV streams live TV over the Internet. It offers a package of 16 cable channels at $20 a month, including ESPN, AMC and the Food Network. HBO content — both the live channel feed and a library of on-demand programming — is also available for an extra $15 a month.

The Public Library
In a comment on the previous version of this guide, Prashant Shah, said: “The missing option is the public library, where I’ve always found not-so-recent shows. Newer shows you need to wait a bit, but then I’m in no hurry.” True enough. The public library in many communities offers up free borrowing of TV shows and movies on DVD. The selection can vary from library to library, but the price is right: free, as long as you return them on time.


Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Samsung TV + Apple TV/Amazon Fire + Netflix 


Who: RoseAnne Gutierrez Towers, stay-at-home mom, Los Angeles, Calif.

Setup: Netflix streaming, computer/phone for mobile access to content; Netflix streaming, television, Apple TV or Amazon Fire for access to content at home

Quote: “We cut the cord for a number of reasons, but the big one was that the cost of cable no longer reflected the how we prioritized our time watching television — particularly premium shows on premium channels. We still have a television, but we use a regular antenna (which are really good nowadays) for network channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, etc. [But] at the end of the day, what we can get through Netflix, Amazon or even content from the individual network websites is all that we need.”

TV + Apple TV + Netflix + Hulu + HBO Now


Who: Lisbeth Ortega, community manager at EyeEm photo app, San Francisco, Calif.

Setup: TV, Apple TV, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now

Quote:  “I really love not feeling tethered to a cable service. It’s one part not having to be contractually/monetarily obliged to something that feels like a luxury and one part being able to choose what programming actually matters to me. Less choices means I’ll more likely get what I want out of it. I know what I want out of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now. That’s why I pay for them individually.”

Roku + Netflix + Hulu + HBO Go

Who: Bernice P. Ines, assistant director of Experiential Education, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC

Setup: Roku, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.

Quote: “So the pro of cutting cable is cost, but the con is…when I lived by myself, I used to just have the TV on in the background — mainly the cooking channel, and now I can’t do that. I have to (maybe not have to, but I do) make conscious decisions about what show I’m going to watch. In that sense probably also a pro for cutting cable is that, I deliberately figure out what I watch and take time to watch it, versus just having something on and only being mildly interested.”

Apple TV/XBOX + Hulu Plus + Amazon Prime/Netflix

Paredes switches between using the XBOX (white, below) and the Apple TV (the small black box to the left of the TV) to stream content. Picture courtesy of Paredes.

Who: Zhulmira Paredes, attorney at law, Paredes Law Office, P.C., Chicago, IL.

Setup: Apple TV or XBox, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime/Netflix

Quote: “We decided to get rid of our cable service to 1) Save money; and 2) Because we realized we didn’t really need it to meet our TV-watching needs … Apple TV allows us to watch networks like ESPN and HBO. Hulu Plus is great because it works basically like a DVR, allowing us to watch most programs we miss the very next day. Pros are definitely the money we’re saving and also just coming to the realization that we don’t need all of the options that come with cable…Cons: Not being able to watch certain programs the day of and having to avoid spoilers for about 24 hours.”


For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports and the loss of live events in general. “Mainly, live TV content is impossible,” said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. “And most of that live TV content isn’t available to download on iTunes later — for example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content.”

YouTube this year experimented with offering its own halftime show online during the SuperBowl, and CBS All Access now offers sports content on demand. Sling TV too offered its subscribers the chance to stream college basketball’s Final Four game in the beginning of this April, but the traffic spike proved too much to handle, and an outage occurred. As AdAge wrote, “The brief weekend outage that prevented some Sling TV subscribers from watching college basketball’s Final Four highlighted the Achilles heel of cable cord-cutting: reliability.”

Buffering and crashing issues aside, being behind on a show, sports, or awards event that’s become part of the national conversation can be frustrating for some people.

“We’re also just not the type to ‘have to watch’ the next big show,” Gutierrez Towers wrote in a message when explaining how cutting the cord has worked for her and her husband. She estimates that about 70 percent of people she knows still have traditional cable subscriptions. “A lot of people I know still are caught in the ‘FOMO’ of television,” she wrote. “Fear Of Missing Out.”

Chris Turillo, co-founder of the NGO Medha, based in Lucknow, India, also pointed out that streaming options can be difficult for expats or people who must travel frequently for work, even if it is becoming easier and easier to primarily rely on streaming services.

“There are geographic restrictions if you’re outside the country, because most of the streaming services are for U.S.-based accounts,” he said.

Screenshot courtesy of Hulu.com

Ortega, the community manager at EyeEm, also wrote in a message that she misses not having access to national news channels without a cable subscription, even though she is still able to get local channels. “Instead, I’ve found other ways to keep up with news (Twitter, news sites, local news), but I do miss having it all in one place,” she wrote. “Then again, it’s nice to not have a monopolized new source.”


If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:

Diary of a Cord Cutter in 2015, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, TechCrunch

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer should you buy?, CNET

HBO Now hands-on: it’s HBO Go without cable. What else do you need?, The Verge

CutCableToday.com website

Should You Cut the Cord?, Slate

Streaming TV Is Bigger Than Ever — But Pause Before Cutting the Cord, Huffington Post

The Internet’s Clearly Not Ready to Stream Big TV Events, Wired

What Is an Internet-Enabled TV?, About.com

TV Breaks Rules To Take Ads From Streaming-Video Rivals, Variety

Cord Cutting and Hollywood: The Sequel, BloombergView

2015 Best Internet and TV Comparisons and Reviews, TopTenReviews

Un-Bundling Pay TV Brings New Questions, WSJ

HBO to Netflix: Bring It On, FastCompany


Do you have thoughts on important elements to cutting the cord, or different setup options that have worked for you? Share in the comments below, and I’ll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on April 13, 2015, on PBS MediaShift. 

StoryCorps, the initiative that helps give people the opportunity to record, share, and preserve their own personal stories, has been around since 2003. What started out as just an idea and experiment from founder Dave Isay turned into an American success, and it’s now a global project. Isay is the winner of the 2015 Ted Prize, and with the funding from the million-dollar award, he and the StoryCorps team have launched the new StoryCorps app.

A week after the app launched, I got the chance to talk with Isay on Skype about StoryCorps, its app, and what it means for the future of the oral history project. Below is our edited conversation with some audio clips.


Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, accepts the 2015 Ted Prize and announces his Ted Prize wish -- a StoryCorps app. Screenshot courtesy of Ted.com.

Sonia Paul: Dave, could you please just introduce yourself and StoryCorps a bit more, for people who might not know much about it?

Dave Isay: Sure. I’d been in public radio for many, many, many years and used to make documentaries for NPR. But I was always an independent journalist, and then had this idea about a dozen years ago to start StoryCorps. I did all social justice documentaries, and saw when I did these documentaries that people who felt like they hadn’t been listened to before, that the act of being interviewed could be an important moment in their lives, sometimes a transformative moment in their lives. I could literally see people’s backs straighten when they’d be listened to for the first time, whether it was in a prison, or psychiatric hospital, or wherever it was.

So I had this crazy idea twelve years ago to start this project that kind of, in a way, turns documentary on its head, at least broadcast documentary. And it says that the purpose of what we’re doing is not about the final product. It’s not about doing interviews to create the final product; the purpose is the interviews themselves.

I wanted to give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So I put a booth in Grand Central Terminal where two people can come, and they’re met by a trained facilitator. You sit in basically a soundproof booth for forty minutes. And you have a conversation. And a lot of people think of it as, “If I had forty minutes left to live, what would I say to this person, or ask of this person who means so much to me?” So very intense conversations.

Photo by Renée Johnson on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

At the end of the interview, you get a copy. And another copy stays with us and goes to the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress. So your great-great-great grandkids can somehow get to know your grandmother through her voice and stories.

So it was a kind of crazy idea that took a little while to take off. But it worked, and we’ve now recorded about 65,000 interviews, with about 100,000 to 110,000 people. Most people come in pairs, across America, all fifty states, thousands of cities and towns, in eighty different languages.

It also turned out that there was pretty amazing content coming out of these interviews. So we also have broadcasts on NPR every Friday, and we’ve done animations for PBS. We have a couple of dozen of those, and we have books that have come out, all of which just celebrate the poetry and wisdom and beauty in the words of everyday people all around us. And it’s a project about listening, and helping us recognize our shared humanity — that if we spend a little more time listening to each other and a little less time shouting at each other, we’d be a better and stronger country. So it very much speaks to the core values of public broadcasting.

Here’s an example of one of a StoryCorps animation: “Danny and Annie,” a married couple who recount their twenty-seven-year romance, from their first date to Danny’s final days with terminal cancer.

Dave Isay: And then a couple of months ago, I got word of this Ted Prize. Ted is the amazing organization that has the conferences and does these videos that everybody knows about. I had actually never even seen a Ted Talk. I was the last person in the universe, when they called me and told me I had been nominated for this thing. But I’ve since seen a bunch, and they asked me to come up with a wish for humanity, which I did, and then got a call a few weeks later which said that I’d won, and then a couple of weeks ago gave a Ted Talk where we announced what that wish was. And we’ve created an app that takes StoryCorps out of the booth and gives anybody, anywhere, the chance to record a StoryCorps interview. It’s basically a digital facilitator that walks through the StoryCorps process, and then with one tap you can upload your interview to the Library of Congress. So that’s a very, very long answer, from Brooklyn to India, to your question!

Sonia Paul: Ok, thank you. And so, just to make sure we’re understanding correctly, has StoryCorps always worked with the booth setup, in that two people or more duck into the booth to do the interview?

Dave Isay: Yes, well they don’t duck into a booth. Because now it’s very hard to get an appointment. You know, you make a reservation. And you come into the booth, and you record the interview with the help of a facilitator. We also do these in quiet rooms around the country.

What changes with the app is that the app becomes the facilitator. So that allows us to do many, many more interviews, and you don’t have to come to StoryCorps, you don’t have to make a reservation. Anyone can do these interviews. And, you know, it’s an experiment just like StoryCorps was an experiment 11 years ago when we opened up. And we’re going to see — you know, we’ve seen, really, a tremendous response.

I don’t have the stats today, but it’s obviously growing very, very quickly. If you go on the site and see the interviews that are coming in from all over the world. And we’ll see what happens.



Screenshots from the StoryCorps app. It walks you through the process of doing an interview.

Sonia Paul: Yeah, and so I was curious about this idea of the app becoming a digital facilitator. Do you think that having the other human being there in the beginning ever added to the experience in any way?

Dave Isay: Of course, yes! I mean, having the facilitator there was huge. But you can’t scale. You know, obviously our facilitators are paid; they’re highly trained. But, you know, we’re doing 5,000 interviews a year, 6,000 interviews a year. And that is the gold standard of the StoryCorps experience, and it always will be. But it was time to experiment and see if we could spread this wider and spread this to places where we couldn’t necessarily go with facilitators.

So again, it’s an experiment. And having a facilitator is great. We do our best to approximate the facilitator with the phone; we’ll see how it works. I’m very encouraged by the interviews that are coming in that, from what I’ve heard, and again, they’re coming in far more quickly than what I had expected, a week into it.

But people are being respectful, and they’re taking it seriously. You know, they’re not the same as StoryCorps interviews, but people are having the opportunity with this app to, you know, have meaningful conversations. And that’s what it’s all about.

Dave Isay expands on the differences between the app and the original StoryCorps experience:

Sonia Paul: And so what kind of hurdles are you anticipating in getting the app off the ground, if anything?

Dave Isay: My first hurdle was that I didn’t think anybody would use it. I mean, the technique is the easy part. When we started StoryCorps, no one actually came to the booth. And it took years before people understood what was going on, and we ended up kind of selling out the booth, and that was because of the public radio broadcasts. But, you know, there are stories coming in from all over the world every couple of minutes now. I did not expect this kind of pick up this quickly.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it [the app]. But I think what we need to do is we need to keep pushing out best practices to people, and encouraging them to do interviews that approximate the StoryCorps experience as closely as possible, and get the word out. And especially because StoryCorps was born out of a kind of social justice, documentary work to, make sure that people who feel like their voices are least heard know about this and have the opportunity to be heard through the app.

Sonia Paul: Right. Yeah, and I downloaded it, and I was looking through it. I mean, obviously not everyone in the world speaks the same language, but the default language for the app right now is English. So I was curious, how do you plan to make it available in other languages and work around issues of translation and interpretation?

Dave Isay: We’re going to translate it into other languages. I mean, this is all very new. But, you know, the app has been created in a way where we can swap other languages. Ted has a community of translators who are getting to work to start translating this thing, and we’ll have a plan and slowly roll it out, depending upon resources, in other languages, as time goes on.

Isay discusses a potential model for how StoryCorps could work in other countries:

Sonia Paul: So I have a question now that’s not directly related to StoryCorps, but it’s kind of related. Have you been paying attention to the emergence of these sort of live broadcasting tools like Meerkat and Periscope?

Dave Isay: Yeah, two weeks ago, yeah.

Sonia Paul: Yeah, so now people can essentially livestream their lives to the world. And now, with social media, putting a status update on Facebook or Twitter is pretty normal for a lot of people. And obviously, StoryCorps is very different from those things because the point has always been to preserve the art of that interview. But do you think we, as a society, are sort of heading in a direction in which people are becoming more accustomed to simply blasting out their lives more, rather than asking the kinds of questions to others that we need to ask in order to actually understand?

Dave Isay: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I do feel like StoryCorps is different. I mean, StoryCorps is an act of generosity. It’s about listening to another person. And it’s kind of the opposite of the selfie, right? And I do see there are some interviews where people are getting on and doing their own life story, and it seems to be helpful to them. I mean, I’m looking at what’s come in in the last couple of hours, and, you know, it’s mostly people talking to each other.

I do think that this is different. The stuff that I’m hearing — and I’m not a tech person, I am not that interested in a lot of tech stuff. But from what I’ve seen from social media and elsewhere, the kind of stuff happening on this app feels very different than what you see elsewhere.

Dave Isay and I discuss more the kinds of conversations StoryCorps produces. But should we need an app to do this?:

Sonia Paul: And if you happen to know, what countries are using the app?

Dave Isay: You know, you’d have to look. I don’t even — I can’t even recognize the languages. If you browse, it seems like a lot of them are in the U.S., from like, all kinds of different towns. It’s largely younger people who are using it.

But, you know there’s Arabic and there’s French, and you know, I don’t know. You’d have to check. And I haven’t had. And you know, it’s Monday morning, and we haven’t gotten the status yet of what’s happened over the weekend. But they’re clearly coming in from all over the world. And unfortunately, we don’t have geo-locate yet on this app, so I can’t easily tell you. But that’ll happen in a couple of weeks.

Sonia Paul: Right, and so, just to be clear, you’re using the funding from the Ted Prize to go forward with this app, that’s how you’re able to do it?

Dave Isay: Used.

Sonia Paul: Oh, right, used! But was the idea for the app something you had before the Ted Prize, though?

Dave Isay: Yeah, but it wasn’t going to happen. Doing something global and doing this app wasn’t going to happen in the next five years, until the Ted Prize came around. But you know, Ted is about digital, and it’s about global. So there was only one way to yes to work with them. And I’m glad. You know, it’s a great thing. It’s great to be pushed out of your comfort zone, and this was a real push. And it’s exciting to see where it’s going.

Here’s the full audio interview with Dave Isay:

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on April 7, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.

It’s been nearly two years since former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden first leaked to the Guardian that the NSA was spying on American citizens. A new survey from the Pew Research center finds that the revelations of the mass government surveillance programs has definitely impacted the way certain segments of the American population now view their privacy — but that hasn’t yet translated into behavior changes.

The survey found that a vast majority of respondents — 87 percent — had heard of the leaks in some way. Among them about a third, 34 percent, had actually modified their behaviors to protect their privacy from the government more, with 25 percent reporting they had modified the way they use different technologies “a great deal” or “somewhat.” Common reactions included changing their privacy settings on social media (17 percent), using social media less often (15 percent), avoiding certain apps (15 percent) and uninstalling apps (13 percent).

Meanwhile, 14 percent of the 475 respondents said they now speak in person more often than communicating online or over the phone. About 13 percent said they now avoid the use of certain terminology online.

The Pew survey found that the people most likely to have taken steps to shield their privacy are the ones who have heard a lot about the surveillance programs and lack confidence they were in the public interest. Figure courtesy of the Pew Research Center.

While some of these changes might be subtle, they do show evidence of the social impact of surveillance monitoring, said Mary Madden, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and a co-author on this report.

“This is especially true of those who have heard ‘a lot’ about the programs and among those who are younger,” Madden told PBS MediaShift in an email. “At the same time, when viewed within the context of Americans’ concerns about the programs, the changes in behavior don’t yet match the level of concern.”


At the same time, a significant portion of Americans have taken the impact of the Snowden leaks to heart and modified their behaviors to protect their privacy. The survey also showed that adoption of more advanced privacy or security strategies is low.

One big reason for this, according to 54 percent of respondents, is that it would be “somewhat” or “very” difficult to find the tools and strategies that would enhance their privacy online and when using cell phones.

Some other notable figures, as stated in the Pew report:

53% have not adopted or considered using a search engine that doesn’t keep track of a user’s search history and another 13% do not know about these tools.

46% have not adopted or considered using email encryption programs such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and another 31% do not know about such programs.

43% have not adopted or considered adding privacy-enhancing browser plug-ins like DoNotTrackMe (now known as Blur) or Privacy Badger and another 31% do not know such plug-ins.

41% have not adopted or considered using proxy servers that can help them avoid surveillance and another 33% do not know about this.

40% have not adopted or considered using anonymity software such as Tor and another 39% do not know about what that is.

Image courtesy of Flickr user r. nial bradshaw and used here under Creative Commons license.

Madden said a range of factors came up in the survey that could be influencing these figures. It’s not just that people didn’t feel they had the right expertise or time to research the tools available  — it’s that they also thought that doing so might defeat the purpose of trying to enhance their privacy, or that it didn’t really matter.

“Other respondents viewed activities such as the use of encryption or anonymity software like Tor as something that might raise suspicion and make them a target for monitoring,” she told MediaShift. “In addition, we heard from some respondents who weren’t concerned about monitoring of their accounts and activities because they felt as though they ‘had nothing to hide’ or it was a ‘small price to pay’ for their safety.”

Among the other findings of the survey? Sixty-one percent of those who were aware of the government surveillance programs said they have become less confident the surveillance was in the public interest as news has continued to unfold. But, a certain double standard holds true — because most of the respondents said it was OK for the government to monitor others as long as they aren’t the average Americans. Eighty-two percent said it’s acceptable to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists, and 60 percent said it was OK to both monitor the communications of foreign leaders and those of American leaders. And more than half of respondents (54 percent) approved of monitoring the communications of foreign citizens.

In comparison, 40 percent of Americans said it was OK to monitor ordinary American citizens.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on March 30, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.


Given the amount of time some of us spend online, on social media and on messaging apps, the idea that technology can offer a source of comfort may seem obvious. The reverse might also be a no-brainer — that without technology, some people may feel isolated.

But what happens when you apply these understandings to the various circumstances surrounding human trafficking?

The lack of research on the relationship between technology and labor trafficking in particular pushed researchers at the Center for Communication Leadership & Policy at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism to examine this issue. The findings, recently released in a new report, have found that migrant workers — anyone who might leave their families and homes for an extended period of time for work — are more vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labor and exploitation when they are isolated from technology and social networks.


An outdoor market beneath a subway station in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Photo by Sonia Paul.

“There have been some studies on sex trafficking and technology, but almost nothing has been written on these issues as pertained to labor trafficking,” said Mark Latonero, the principal author of the study. And before the study began, much of the understanding on technology and labor trafficking came from different perceptions and narratives the researchers had been familiar with — but nothing with which they had concrete evidence to substantiate these claims.

“I’d heard many stories of cell phones being taken away form migrants, or them being disconnected from the Internet,” he told PBS MediaShift. “But in order to truly understand, we needed to understand what the migration process was like from a certain country’s perspective.”

The decision to focus on the Philippines came from the fact that it’s a huge source country for labor, with tens of millions of Filipinos traveling every year for work. According to the World Bank, the country received $25 billion in remittances in 2013.

The Philippines also had a key quality essential for the study — like other countries in southeast and east Asia, it’s extremely technologically saturated, and many Filipinos love to be on social media.

The report begins with this brief case study that encapsulates many of the concerns:

While interviewing survivors of labor trafficking for this report, researchers heard from a young woman in the Philippines who applied for domestic work in the Middle East. She recounted the way her friend, already working abroad, had called and sent texts of encouragement and eventually put her in touch with a recruiter. She was promised that her documents would be arranged with an employer before her flight to begin work. Upon her departure, the recruiter said that plans had changed. She was told her work papers and airline ticket would be issued in Malaysia. The woman was put on a boat and spent over a week crossing the Sulu Sea from one island to another. She was isolated. Her only means of communication was her mobile phone. Not wanting to worry her family (they had high hopes for her employment), she communicated only with her friend, asking for advice and reassurance. Even if she had been able to access the Internet, it is unclear whether she possessed the skills or knowledge to search for the appropriate online resources. Once in Malaysia, she was put into a van with others. While traveling to an unknown destination they were apprehended by police. Interrogated and imprisoned, the young woman managed to sneak her phone into jail and made one last call. Finally, the friend passed along word of her plight and the Philippine government intervened. After a month in prison she was repatriated and is currently in a rehabilitation shelter in Manila.


Photo by Flickr user downloadsource.fr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

Because so many of our interactions are shifting online, the space for horizontal networks — communications with different people along the same medium — to organically manifest is much easier now, Latonero said. People are keeping in touch with their friends, families and peers on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But these same communications could also take place with illegal recruiters or others with the potential to exploit workers — with the target person not even realizing the vulnerability.

“Technology can play an important role in both perpetuating and addressing labor trafficking,” said Ed Marcum, vice president of investments at Humanity United, a U.S.-based foundation. “Yet, little evidence-based research has been done on the relationship between the two.”

Navigating the full range of human behavior that appears online presents opportunities for both public and private sectors to help in the fight against labor trafficking, the researchers argue. By advocating for and ensuring that workers have free access to various technologies and social networks, researchers can also monitor something that might not ordinarily happen in the public eye.

“When something is online, we can actually see it. It’s visible,” Latonero told PBS MediaShift. “People are commenting on Facebook and message boards, and it’s giving us a sense of how someone is living abroad.”

With the evidence gathered from the report, the hope is to inform policy makers, Facebook, Google and other stakeholders to do something, Latonero said.

An example? “When the Philippines does a memo of understanding with Saudi Arabia [a top destination labor country], they ensure or specify that cell phones must not be taken away,” he said.

For more information on the report, check out the video below.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on March 17, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.