Francis Fitzgibbon, CEO on Storytelling

When I was growing up, my grandfather would take us for long walks back the Canal bank in Tralee and tell us stories about his time working on the railroads. His job was to fix the walls and bridges on the rail lines and he would meet all kinds of interesting and whacky people. My granddad had thousands of stories stored in his head. The night he died, those stories died with him. That hurt me greatly, so I decided I would start recording peoples stories so they are not lost for future generations. Stories give us both a glimpse into the past and the future. They help us to learn about how we should be living life but most of all, they give us empathy for other people.

My name is Francis Fitzgibbon and I am the CEO of StoryStock.com. StoryStock is a technological platform that enables an online community of journalists to archive their videos and sell their stories to media and brands. I am currently building a new complimentary platform called TribeStarter.com, and this is taking up a large chunk of my time at the moment.

Outside of my job, I have always loved recording people’s stories, both in audio and on video. I have a side project called People of Ireland (peopleofireland.ie), which I do in my free time from StoryStock. With People of Ireland, I hope to develop it into a large global Irish community – sharing stories of what it means to be Irish. Irish people are lucky in that our influence extends all over the world. This is in part a testament to our ability to tell great stories.

I started with People of Ireland when I recorded the story of Patricia. In 2013, I was a freelance reporter on the Pat Kenny radio show – my job was to go around interviewing people and collecting their stories. We were doing a piece for the Pat Kenny show about internet dating in your 60s. Patricia was trying to find love again and grappled with the whole world of online dating. After the interview on internet dating, we kept talking and the camera was still rolling. Somehow she got talking about her young son, who had committed suicide in the house some years earlier. It was a powerful story. When we stopped recording, I asked her why she had never told that story before. She replied simply that no one had asked her. I decided that I needed to ask more questions and record stories that would help people find meaning in life. Patricia went on to become an ambassador with Pieta house and her story was watched by hundreds of thousands of young teens and parents all over Ireland.

I actively seek out contributors for People of Ireland, but we have just added some technology to the website to allow people to upload their own story. I am excited to see what comes in.

There is no science in collecting stories. Start with your family, your friends, your neighbours. Everyone has some story to tell. They might not think it important but it is important to someone. New technology has made storytelling easy. Whereas once, you needed a big expensive camera, now you have a high-quality camera on your smartphone. All you have to do is whip it out and start filming. Modern technology has made storytelling more accessible to all.

Storytelling has changed because the person now telling the story has to do it with editing tools rather than telling the story to a crowd. They are very different skills. One is solitary and one requires a certain skill.  When we were kids, my father used to take us to the traditional Irish musician Maura Begley’s house in West Kerry. She would have Ceile nights with musicians and a Seanchai (storyteller). The Seanchai would hold court telling great stories of fairy forts, mythology, and strange goings-on. It was a magical time. With modern technology, it’s a bit different now.

The more stories you listen to, the more you learn about life. The more you learn that really when money and power and everything else is stripped away, we are all the same – we cry, we laugh, we get hurt, we make progress, but we are vulnerable to the world around us. A good story will hold anyone’s attention. The medium is not important – the story is.

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