Lauded, local storytellers gain a wider stage via PBS with “Long Story Short”

It was a dream come true for Cincy Stories creators Shawn Braley and Chris Ashwell when a local public television producer from CET approached them at the 2018 regional Ohio Valley Emmy Awards, admiring the work that had garnered them 13 Emmys over the past several years.

“When we first dreamt of what we could do, PBS was one of the things on the list, like, ‘Wow. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could be on PBS?’” admits Braley, executive director for Cincy Stories. “Much of our inspiration in documentary filmmaking and storytelling has come through the scope of national and local PBS content.”

Braley and Ashwell had been working together since 2014 — after realizing that their separate talents could together become symbiotic and impactful, given the right format.

Braley is a former pastor who is familiar with organizing community events, while Ashwell is a self-taught documentarian with a background in photojournalism. Both have a deep love for storytelling as a means of enjoyment and understanding.

Their shared goal of weaving communities together by highlighting the universally human aspects of diverse individuals’ lives and experiences culminated in the creation of Cincy Stories — a nonprofit using online and public channels to encourage community-wide empathy, compassion, and tolerance via documentary-style storytelling.

“Cincy Stories does community engagements in a number of ways. We host storytelling events throughout the city. We create short documentaries based on community residents," says Braley.

They've also done youth story workshops at libraries.

The public television execs from CET and Think TV who took note of Braley and Ashwell’s award-winning online content offered them a broader platform for transmission of their message — a message that resonated heavily with the mission of the local PBS affiliates.

“Their approach to storytelling and the stories they choose to tell provide a platform for our neighbors to be seen with nuance and grace. This perfectly aligns with our mission of building community through programming,” says Mark Lammers, director of content of community affairs and education for Public Media Connect, CET, and Think TV.

Long Story Short, which premiered on the Cincinnati and Dayton based network channels at the beginning of April, is a current incarnation of Cincy Stories produced in partnership with CET and Think TV. The name for this series points to a wider regional focus, as the viewing area extends beyond Cincinnati to Dayton.

Braley has anticipated the airing of the series for quite some time, and is relieved and pleased that it has finally come to fruition.

“We were supposed to release the first season in October of 2020. Then the pandemic hits and we’re in the middle of some of our stories,” says Braley. “We didn’t do any filming from March til June. Then we started filming again.”

While they chose not to directly address the pandemic, as not to deter their focus, Braley and Ashwell did gingerly allude to it as far as the gaps in timelines and sudden appearance of masks that make it evident within the episodes.

With the first series now rolling out successfully, Braley and Ashwell can finally take a breath and continue cultivating the second — which will contain eight episodes as opposed to the current six, and is set to air in January.
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Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.