Questions spawn stories; stories are life

UPDATE: Apparently some kind of error occurred at the paper and an older column of mine ran Sunday. This column will appear in the hard edition of the newspaper at some point in the future.

UPDATE 2: This will run on Sunday, Sept. 7 in the paper. You got a scoop here on the blog.

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Aug. 31, Hibbing Daily Tribune. A shorter version of this piece ran as my radio essay on KAXE’s “Between You and Me” yesterday.

Questions spawn stories; stories are life
By Aaron J. Brown

Right now there’s a big silver trailer parked outside the studios of KAXE, near the library, on the Mississippi River in Grand Rapids. Inside that trailer people are talking to each other, to loved ones, telling them things they never knew. The trailer is part of the StoryCorps project, an initiative to bring understanding to families and record the human history of America. You can schedule a visit to the trailer with a family member or friend and simply interview each other. The recording is given to you as a free CD to serve as part of family history. With your permission, select interviews may be archived in the Library of Congress, used on National Public Radio or locally on KAXE.

Though the StoryCorps trailer is now located in Grand Rapids, a fact that might cause central and east Rangers to recoil, organizers say they hope to attract interviews from all over the area, especially the Iron Range. Our area, with its vibrant history and unique culture, was central to StoryCorps’ decision to come to northern Minnesota. The project will be running in Grand Rapids until Sept. 20.

These interviews are as simple, and complicated, as asking questions.

Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

These are the questions they teach you at journalism school. There’s some other stuff, too, but good journalists are either too busy and/or drunk to remember. Just know that those words provide the nitty gritty of interviewing. A good question will lead to an enduring story.

The answers to the really important questions are easy to remember. You don’t need notes or a commemorative plaque. You’ll always know if someone said they loved you, or not; if they knew what was in that odd looking laboratory beaker that you just drank, or not. You do, however, need to ask the important questions, and sadly so many important questions die on the vine.

My life was changed entirely by a question. Though its exact phrasing is a matter of contention, a woman once asked me, “So, are we a thing?” The answer was yes. This one question ignited a marriage, indirectly created three human beings, and continues to line the pockets of a mortgage company somewhere in Ohio. So, that’s a pretty big question, but good questions don’t have to be directly related to the status of a relationship or produce babies to remain valid.

For instance, I am reminded of a story I heard one time about a new reporter on the Iron Range. She wasn’t from this country and was still learning English. Perplexingly, she was assigned to cover a hockey game despite having no idea what hockey was. After reading a book about hockey from the library, she attended her first game at an Iron Range rink and asked the local coach just one question afterward. “Why you lose game?”

That’s a deep question. It’s the only one you need, really. An experienced reporter might have known to ask about puck handling, skating strength and missed power play opportunities. But isn’t that all succinctly tied together in this foreign reporter’s query?

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Right now we’ve all got important questions churning in our minds: questions we’d like to ask our families, our spouse, our friends, our kids. These questions are the substance of a good life. I don’t mean we have to ask them to survive. Many people live long lives never asking the big questions. One of the endearing traits of human beings is that we are born capable of asking questions, weaving the answers into our lives and passing on stories.

NOTE: For more information about StoryCorps and how you can schedule a time for you and your friend or loved one, see or call Heidi at 218-326-1234.

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