This is the second post is a series outlining how the Austin Stone Story Team produces our written stories. You can read the first post Background and Introduction here.
All stories start with an idea. For the stories of gospel redemption and transformation that we focus on, the idea we pursue is that the gospel changes hearts and minds, brings hope to the hopeless, and glory to Jesus Christ. We tell these stories through the experiences of the people in our church. We tell these stories through changed lives. We tell these stories because they encourage our church and show the beauty and truth of the gospel.
Stories of gospel transformation can be seen in thousands of people’s lives in our church. We tell a lot of these stories, but we cannot tell all of them. Choosing which stories we pursue and which ones we don’t is critical to the quality of the stories we produce.
The leads for written stories come from two places: submission through our website and from staff members of The Austin Stone Community Church.
Clicking on the “Share Your Story” link on the Austin Stone website takes you to a submission form where our church’s partners and attenders can submit their stories for consideration. We also receive leads from the staff of the Stone. When a story is brought to us that way, we will talk to the staff member to determine whether or not to pursue it. If so, we then reach out to the subject of the story directly, and ask them to submit the same form website users fill out.
We use wufoo.com for these submission forms. We set up the story lead form to email each new submission to our staff. We use these emailed forms to track stories through the process and provide background information to our storytellers.
Sorting through Leads
When we start a new round of story assignments (usually every six to eight weeks) the first step is going through the stories and choosing which leads we want to pursue. We sort through the leads, removing any that obviously won’t fit our criteria. Among other things, when choosing a story lead we look for:
- Clear storyline of gospel redemption or transformation
- A compelling story with conflict and resolution. There must be both
- A perspective from the subject that shows they can articulate their story well enough during the interview
- A biblical understanding of the situation, story and implications
Essentially we are looking for a story that can be told well, with enough conflict to draw the reader in, and a subject who has a good (not necessarily perfect) biblical perspective on the situation.
From there, we will narrow down the list of leads to a number that works for the team. Time of year, availability, events, holidays, etc. all go into determining how many stories we need to choose to meet our goal of one story a week until the next cycle.
After the leads are chosen, we send emails to the subjects confirming that they want to pursue the story. Once we receive confirmation, we move onto assigning the story.
Each story has four volunteers assigned to it. A writer, photographer, editor and second editor. When we make assignments we pull from our roster and choose team members based on when they last worked on a story, availability issues we know about, and geography. We also consider what each storyteller can bring to the particular story—whether it’s life experience, training, craft or something else—we don’t just choose blindly or randomly. We take into consideration what each person can bring to the table because we have found it can drastically impact the quality of the story. We also carefully consider how we put together the team for each story. As we execute these cycles we look for patterns of who works well together and try to reinforce those teams. We don’t always have the same people working together, but when we find chemistry between storytellers, we go with it.
We track these assignments with a spreadsheet in Google Docs. Each round of stories is put into a new tab, and all the pertinent information for the story is included: subject names, contact information, backstory and what part of town they live in. Next, each story assignment is made. All four storyteller names are listed with the story, with a blank field next to their name to indicate availability. Finally, we assign deadlines to major portions of the timeline. These are:
- Writer: First draft (three weeks after start date)
- Photographer: Edited photos uploaded: (five weeks after start date)
- Editor: Copy Edit (two weeks after first draft)
- Second Editor: Final Edit (one week after copy edit)
These timelines have proven to work for most of our stories, but we are flexible where it makes sense for the story and our storytellers.
Once the spreadsheet is done and all stories are confirmed, we send an email out to the team members assigned and ask them to confirm. They will go into the spreadsheet and mark themselves as yes or no. If there are storytellers who are not available, we make adjustments and reassignments. Once that is complete, we kick the stories off.
When the story assignments are completed, we send introductions to the subjects and storytellers. This consists of two emails. One goes to the subject, with our artists copied, introducing them to the storytellers and the process. The second goes to just the storytellers and it includes the backstory the subject submitted and any other important information they will need. From there the storytellers take over the process, which we will get into in our next post.
If you have any questions or suggestions about this part, or a future part, of our storytelling process, please let us know in the comments below. We’d be happy to answer your questions and help you think through your storytelling process.