Podcasting professor trains students in the art of storytelling

Professor Will Davis discusses Vox Pops with his Podcasting I class. Davis said he preferred a more casual environment when teaching and sat amongst his students on Tuesday, February 6, 2018. (Photo by Vikka Schweer)

By Chelsea Bailey, Assistant Features Editor —

Will Davis’ knack for narrative has taken him from film to radio to podcasting, now landing him in UTC’s Metro building in 255, training the next generation of storytellers.

This semester, Davis is teaching two sections of Podcasting, which is classified as a “beyond the classroom” class. In which, students’ time is split between learning a skill and being sent into the community to hone said skill in the form of an ambitious creative project. In this case, that project is a podcast.

“Our class has partnered with the Hamilton County Department of Education and we will go to several schools in their district to tell their stories in episodic podcast form,” said Davis.

Students will be placed in groups and sent into the organization to find stories they feel need to be heard and use the skills Davis taught in the classroom to bring those stories to life.

“We will be embedded in this organization and we will just kind of look around, keep our ears open, and figure out what’s going on and say ‘This the is story I think really needs to be told right now,’” said Davis. “Maybe it’s the story that everybody’s talking about, but maybe it’s a story that nobody is talking about.”

With millions of potential stories and stakeholders across Chattanooga, Davis is incredibly excited to see what his students create.

“I’ve done versions of this before, but this one is much larger. This is like huge,” Davis said. “It’s going to be amazing. We’re going to have something at the end of this that’s going to be really cool.”

Long before he discovered podcasting, Davis explored other modes of storytelling, starting at a young age with film.

“I grew up in a very small town in Ohio… I was interested in storytelling, I just didn’t know that,” said Davis. “When it came time to graduate from high school, I wanted to study film because all I knew was the movies.”

His transition to Chicago where he attended college was a shocking one, but the move exposed him to new forms of expression.

“It was just so eye opening, but what it did was like, it made me think it wasn’t just film – I was interested in storytelling,” said Davis. “I was interested in theatre as much as film, music as much as theatre, it was just like all was interesting to me.”

This discovery inspired him to switch his study focus from film to a self-designed program in which he studied storytelling across many mediums, such as theatre, film and music. He went on to get a master’s degree in humanities where he discovered a new love.

“As part of my humanities degree, I took a class in radio, and I hadn’t worked in radio before,” said Davis. “I figured I’ve worked in film and theatre, but never radio, so I’ll go ahead and do this just because I was curious, and I just absolutely fell in love with it.”

The practicality of creating a storyline via radio versus film was really what appealed to Davis. With a much more accessible medium, he was able to produce content he was proud of and broadcast it to a large audience, all on a much smaller budget.

Back in Ohio, Davis landed a job at WYSO, an NPR member station. There he created podcasts, including one he continues to remotely produce, “Veterans’ Voices,” which has been renewed for a fourth season.

“It’s a peer to peer storytelling podcasts in which veterans talk about issues and things that are important to them,” Davis said. “The audience is mostly civilian, and it not only has to make sense to civilians, but it has to be compelling.”

He recalled a memory from his time as an undergraduate student which in part foreshadowed his career in radio. In a film class, he was told to create a silent film, turn it in and then create a soundtrack for it.

“I went kicking and screaming in the studio [to create the soundtrack] because I just didn’t want to do it. I was like ‘I want to be a filmmaker, it’s visual,’” said Davis. “But I loved it … and it took me years to get back there.”

If he had stayed in that moment of loving mixing his soundtrack for his silent film, he might have been on his way to radio a little sooner.

“You have to be engaged and listen to yourself because I think you will have experiences and you’ll be like ‘I like this, I really like this,’” said Davis. “Sometimes it’s a fleeting ‘Oh, I really like this,’ and then you just move onto something else, but its like no, let that land. That could be telling you something, like this is what you should be doing.”

Since July 2017, Davis has been in Chattanooga as a professor at UTC and an outreach manager at WUTC, where he has some creative projects in the works.

Grace Stafford

Grace Stafford

Features Editor

3 Comments
  1. Dear Mr. Davis: I am Executive Director of the National Storytelling Network, the largest membership organization of individual storytellers, organizations and institutions interested in storytelling. We are having a international conference July 26-28 in Kansas City, MO. I thought you would be interested in submitting a proposal to do a workshop on podcasting for storytellers at our National Summit/Conference. You can find more information at our website at: https://storynet.org/nsnevents/conference/cfp/

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