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J 349 - Oral History Project

Studio 6F where Austin City Limits records its shows is only one building away from the School of Journalism, but in many ways, it is a world apart. The ACL world is one of accomplished musicians and technicians who put together one of the best live music show in the country; our school of journalism is one of young people learning the basics, the ethics and as much as we professors can cram into their four years here on the UT campus. It is no surprise, then, that before the winter of 2006, when ACL producer Terry Lickona and I sat down for the first time to discuss the possibility of a semester-long oral history project, it was the first time we had met, even though we are next door neighbors.

Students enrolled in Oral History as Journalism learned about oral history interviewing techniques, best practices in videotaping, capturing that videotape so that we can display it on the web, parsing what we've learned into stories to be presented on the web and on a hard copy - and, of course, about ACL and the behind-the-scenes work that is required to make it possible.

Throughout this class, we've followed the best practices of oral history - we've made sure to use good external microphones for our interviews, we've indexed the interviews, used signed consent forms with all interviews, included introductory information for each interviewee. Copies of the interviews will be housed at the Center for American History on the UT campus, available for future researchers. A copy of their interview was also provided to each interview subject and another copy was provided to ACL. The original tapes will be donated to ACL, after digital preservation has been assured by our own College of Communication.

As to this class' relationship to ACL: ACL did not provide any payment, financial or otherwise. Our class was allowed to conduct group interviews in Studio 6F, which was helpful, as it has professional lighting and studio acoustics. ACL did provide contact information for most interview subjects, but not all. Interview subjects were provided with copies of the stories before publication to correct any errors and answer any questions. However, we reserved the right to decide what revisions were a matter of fact and which were matters of interpretation - we were, after all, doing journalism, and not public relations. That said, I am pleased to say, there was no attempt at interference by the main ACL staff members involved.

Students standing on the ACL stage

Our thanks to all ACL personnel who participated, both present and past, who opened their homes, their offices and their memories for us to make this semester-long project successful. Special thanks to producer Terry Lickona, public relations person Leslie Nichols and branding guru Ed Bailey, who have been nudged for information and, in the case of Lickona and Bailey, interviewed several times over the semester by different students.

And thanks to the School of Journalism, which provided partial funding for the publication of the hard copy version of the web site. As always, our greatest appreciation to the College of Communication technology team, for dubbing 23 mini-DV tapes and one audio cassette tape from a long-distance telephone interview. Our group interviews owe a deep debt to David Cox, the College's ever-patient and passionate videograph expert, who helped us set up the somewhat elaborate taping procedures for group interviews and who provided expert training on video camera taping. Thanks to Mark Rogers, Videographer with CoComm Creative, who gave us all lessons on using IMovie to capture interview excerpts to put on the web. Thanks also to Susan LaRonde, the College webmaster, who helped us set up our templates for our website.

Each of these people were absolutely essential to our success.

Finally, to Larissa Mueller, the teaching assistant for this class, who no doubt didn't realize what she was getting into - but who met the challenge brilliantly, and I hope learned something in the process. And a special thanks to my students, in particular those with technical expertise, who helped shepherd this to the end.

Please let us know what you think about this - so that the next time, we'll do an even better job.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Oral History as Journalism class, Spring 2007