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Blank On Blank: Rescuing Untold American Stories From Obscurity

When print reporters quote an interview subject for an article, readers only see a snippet of what is often a long, fascinating conversation with important American newsmakers. There’s a whole treasure trove of riveting stories that get left on the proverbial cutting room floor, stashed away on a recording device, often never heard again.

David Gerlach, a former TV producer and print journalist, has set out to rescue these untold stories from obscurity, and build what he calls “an audio library of untold American stories facilitated through our nation’s ultimate storytellers — journalists.”

The project is called Blank on Blank — a reference to the site’s “Interviewee X on Subject X” format — and already has a wealth of fascinating untold stories. Journalists can submit their unused footage to Blank on Blank, and then Gerlach, in collaboration with media producers of all stripes, polishes key parts of the conversation into brief packages. Some of the more choice interviews, like Bono describing the last moments with his dying father, are turned into animated shorts that bring the stories to life even further.

“I fashion it as part This American Life, part Library of Congress,” Gerlach says. “It’s about journalists getting their stuff out there, but we also want to preserve history that is in danger of being lost.”

One particularly riveting piece of lost history that Gerlach has plucked from obscurity: jazz legend Dave Brubeck describing the dangers in performing and listening to jazz behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. “If I told you all the stories about what happened to people if they were caught listening to jazz,” he said, giving unique insight into the fears many of us in the West will never fully understand.

The project has already amassed more than 45 interviews on its website, “a Hulu for showcasing great American journalism,” as Gerlach puts it. There readers can find previously-unheard audio of lesser-known but vitally important American artists like Pete Seeger to big-time newsmakers like… President Barack Obama.

Two years ago, the president generated controversy when he was quoted, in print, saying that Republican opposition to the stimulus bill “helped to create the Teabaggers.” The print quote was plucked from Jonathan Alter‘s book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, but Blank on Blank has rescued the audio of the interviews on which Alter based his book. For the first time, listeners are able to hear the actual audio of the president’s infamous remark, and get a fuller picture of the president’s emotions at the time: you can audibly hear him tap on his desk as he gets more and more impassioned by the conversation.

Eventually Gerlach hopes this project expands to the local level — with local libraries developing, capturing the stories of ordinary American interviewees all over the country. With enough untold stories to unearth, Gerlach says you can “build an album of a city, an archive of people who built that city.”

To check out the project, visit the Blank on Blank website here.

Watch a promotional video below for Blank on Blank’s Kickstarter campaign to raise awareness and funding, which has 10 days remaining:

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