Bwogger Chloe Gong attended Women in Podcasting, the second of the three-part series, The Podcasting Revolution, happening at Barnard.
On Thursday night, three influential female figures in the podcasting field—Theo Balcomb, Tracie Hunte, and Stephanie Foo—came to Barnard to speak about their personal journeys navigating the world of media, and how they came to achieve their current success in podcasting.
The event started with a brief introduction of each of the speakers: Stephanie has worked as a producer on This American Life and Snap Judgement, Tracie is a host on Radiolab, and Theo is a Barnard alumna who is now a producer at The Daily. Professor Kassonoff, one of the hosts who introduced the speakers, actually had Theo in her American studies class years ago, and even pulled out the receipts (essay comments, including a request for Theo to come to her office hours).
Following the introductions, the speakers each shared their stories of how they fell in love with podcasting and talked about the favorite episodes that they were involved in.
After graduating from Barnard in 2009, Theo knew she was interested in journalism, but didn’t know which medium she wanted to work in. She eventually realized that she preferred audio over print, because unlike print, audio doesn’t have to be a finished product—you can explore ideas as you talk. She joined NPR (“the holy grail place” for audio journalism back then) and became a line producer. Feeling pressured to pack a complex news story into a short few minutes, she thought some people might like to access more in-depth storytelling. Around that time, the New York Times was planning on making a show with longer stories, and they liked Theo’s ideas—thus, she became one of the founding members of The Daily, a podcast that now has around two million listeners a day.
The episode that she is most proud of is about the Charlottesville incident. While still at NPR, Theo wanted to interview Derek Black, a former member of the white nationalist movement. He declined because he didn’t like doing media and felt uncomfortable fitting such a complex story into a short segment. After Charlottesville, she remembered Derek and reached out to him again, expecting him to refuse. But this time, he actually agreed to come on The Daily because he understood and liked what the show did—longer-form storytelling. The episode ended up becoming very popular and transformative for Derek himself.
Tracie’s pathway to podcasting had more twists and turns: she started off in print journalism, switched to film (her miserable internship experience made her realize she did NOT want to make documentaries), then worked in news broadcasting for a while, and eventually stumbled upon the podcasting scene, landing a job as a host for Radiolab. At first, she felt that she had scammed her way into the job (she didn’t apply for it; she was offered the position while still working at Studio 360), but she eventually overcame the imposter’s syndrome, and realized that she did in fact belong.
Tracie’s favorite episode that she’s worked on is about Surya Bonalee, a French black figure skater who she admired as a kid. As one of the very few black female skaters at the Olympic level, Surya was often criticized for being too muscular, and not elegant or flowy enough. Even though the audience loved her, the judges would repeatedly put her in second place. At the World Championships, she cried after coming in second because she felt that it was unfair. During the recording of the show, when one of Tracie’s co-hosts started implying that Surya had overreacted, Tracie jumped in and began explaining to him from her personal experience what it means to be a black woman. After the show aired, she received a lot of positive responses for being so bold and outspoken. However, Tracie said that she wasn’t trying to impress anyone; she was simply saying what was on her mind.
Stephanie first discovered the podcast This American Life through a friend and immediately fell in love with it because it felt so intimate (and made her cry on many occasions). She loved it so much that she started her first podcast called Get Me on This American Life, and it actually led to her working there a few years later! But before working for This American Life, she worked as an intern for Snap Judgement. It was a really small team, so she had a lot of opportunities to be on air, and went from an intern to a producer in only 3 months. During her time there, she learned a lot about podcasting and about herself. She found her voice (literally—she even experimented with a sexy vocal fry for a while, but sadly it didn’t work out), and took a lot of creative risks (got really good at editing sound effects). And finally, she got her dream job of working at This American Life. It was a more competitive environment, but it also made her grow more conscious of what qualifies as a good story, because “not everything [she finds] interesting is interesting to other people.” Stephanie also brought a voice to underrepresented communities in the podcasting world, such as Asian Americans and veterans.
Her favorite episode was one in which she shared a very personal story about her grandmother. She got more responses to this episode than any other episode she’d done before, many of them like, “I can’t believe I heard a Malaysian accent on the radio!” She felt empowered that she gave people the opportunity to not feel alone.
If you’re interested in learning more about podcasting, make sure to check out the third part of the series, The Podcasting Revolution: Podcasting Now, on November 12th at the Diana Center Event Oval!
Photo via Bwogger Chloe