podcast

PODCAST EPISODE #36: David McRaney, “You Are Not So Smart”

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Remember those commercials where a poor sap cannot stop raving about the delivery pizza he is eating, only to be scolded: “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno”?

That’s how I feel at the beginning of every episode of “You Are Not So Smart”.

The podcast delves into various concepts of psychology, but it almost always opens with a pop culture example that both illustrates and introduces each episode’s topic … not unlike what I just did with the DiGiorno example.

But after host David McRaney lures you in with clips from Mad Men or the Twilight Zone, he provides a beautiful hour or so of discussion and conversation that connects on a much more sophisticated level.

McRaney is my guest on Episode #36 of the Telling The Story podcast.

I reached out to McRaney because I was impressed with both his expertise as a storyteller and his versatility in the field. This is a guy who once owned a pet store (twice!), but he transitioned to journalism and carved out an utterly unique path. He has written for a handful of popular web sites, but he has become most prolific through “You Are Not So Smart”, which before it became a podcast started as a blog and continued as a book. From his home base of Hattiesburg, Miss., McRaney has built an empire that has opened the door to opportunities.

What makes his show such a success? McRaney credits, at least partly, his subject matter. “These are heady topics that appeal to the lowest common denominator,” he says, “in that everybody is interested in why we think the things we think.”

But McRaney did not reach 200,000 Facebook followers thanks to topic alone. He reached it through exposure, likability, and superb storytelling.

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3 more podcasts I love in 2015

Two months ago, I had a great idea for a blog post.

As I thought about the many ways in which I consumed news and information, I came to a surprising revelation: I listen to podcasts more than ever.

Rarely did a day go by without me loading up Stitcher radio and pressing “Play” on a podcast. While I enjoyed many popular choices (This American Life, On the Media, 99% Invisible), I also felt I had discovered several series that had not yet pierced the mainstream.

So I blogged about it, listing three podcasts I loved that had hit their stride this year.

That was in September.

Now it’s November, and another revelation has arrived: I have discovered even more great podcasts bubbling up in my feed.

Perhaps I simply crave podcasts more than most. Or perhaps the podcasting industry is developing at an extreme rate, with increasing quality and diversity.

So two months after listing three podcasts I love, here are three more I love; I hope you feel the same way.

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3 podcasts I love in 2015

I am usually late to the game on cultural phenomena.

I started binge-watching 24 on Netflix when the show was already in its fifth season.

I first became enthralled with Mad Men seven years after it first hit the airwaves.

I didn’t start listening to the Beatles until 30 years after they broke up.

(Granted, I was not alive for the first eleven of those years, but still …)

Every now and then, though, I find myself ahead of the curve. Such is the case with podcasts.

I have been sampling and subscribing to podcasts since slightly after their inception, which Wikipedia pegs as somewhere in the 2004-05 range. Ten years later, the field seems to be catching up; podcasts continue to inch closer to mainstream use, and several of them have become legitimate moneymakers for their producers.

(Mine, by the way, is not one of them. I don’t make any money from the Telling The Story podcast; I simply do it, much like I write this blog, for the joy and value it brings.)

Last Saturday, facing a five-hour road trip by myself and feeling overloaded on recent music, I decided to scour the landscape for new podcasts. I was not disappointed. Ten days of binge-listening later, I find myself again excited for the future of a medium that finally seems to be getting its legs.

Here are three podcasts I’d recommend to anyone interested in a mind-expanding good time: (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #13: “Best Of” Advice Edition, 2013

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This year has been a blast.

Since launching the Telling The Story podcast in April, I have interviewed twelve great journalists and storytellers about their work.

With the year wrapping up, I decided to take a look back.

I compiled some of the best moments from the past year into a “Best Of” advice edition of the Telling The Story podcast. Hear from eight terrific storytellers about their thoughts on what makes a great storyteller, such as:

  • Jon Shirek: my first podcast guest and my co-worker at WXIA-TV in Atlanta
  • Anne Herbst: a versatile news photographer and now assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV in Denver
  • Matt Detrich: a longtime staff photographer at the Indianapolis Star
  • Andrew Carroll: the author of the fascinating new book, Here Is Where
  • Roman Mars: the esteemed host of 99% Invisible, and my most popular podcast guest to date
  • Erin Brethauer: multimedia editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times, and — for a week this year — the overseer of the New Yorker’s Instagram account
  • Tomas Rios: a self-described paid-lance sportswriter whose work has appeared in Slate and Deadspin
  • Rachel Hamburg: a recent graduate of Stanford and the managing editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project

It’s a solid group of storytellers, and they offer some great advice.

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PODCAST EPISODE #12: Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, American Promise

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One of the biggest challenges of storytelling — particularly when dealing with stories of emotion — is determining what to leave out.

As a reporter for a local news station, I will regularly shoot several hours of video for a story that lasts several minutes. I realized early in my career I would never be able to tell someone’s full story — only as much of that story as I could fit into the allotted space. A news director of mine once crystallized the appropriate mentality: it’s all about eliminating the “good” in one’s story and keeping the “great”.

Of course, sometimes you don’t even get to keep all of the “great”.

And sometimes, as in the case of filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, you shoot 800 hours of video for a two-hour documentary — a documentary in which you are two of the main characters.

Brewster and Stephenson are the husband-and-wife duo behind American Promise, currently playing in select cities and premiering on PBS in February 2014. The documentary follows two young boys from Brooklyn, both black, whose parents enroll them in a prestigious, mostly white collegiate prep school in Manhattan. Brewster and Stephenson began filming in 1999, when both boys — Idris and Seun — were starting kindergarten.

They stopped filming after the boys’ graduation from high school — 13 years later.

To make matters trickier, one of the boys, Idris, is Brewster and Stephenson’s son.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: American Promise filmmakers: “You lose audiences” when you preach

Imagine you are a filmmaker and documentarian who aims to make pictures with powerful themes.

Imagine you are also a parent with strong views about education, and you are a person of color with even stronger views about how race plays a giant role in education.

Imagine you decide to make a documentary that explores this topic.

Imagine you do so by putting a microphone on your son, as well as his best friend, and following the two boys through their schooling … for 13 years.

Imagine you finish this task by receiving various grants throughout the year and launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to pay for an editor and original score composer.

After all that, imagine finally sitting down to edit the documentary — this collage of experiences that are both personal and powerful, and from which you have developed major conclusions about life, race, and parenting — and having to keep so much to yourself.

Such was the challenge for Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, the parents and filmmakers behind American Promise. The documentary is currently in select theaters in 35 cities, and it will air as part of PBS’s POV series in February 2014.

In the film, Brewster and Stephenson follow their son Idris and his best friend Seun from kindergarten to graduation. The young boys start their educational experiences at prestigious (and mostly white) collegiate prep school Dalton on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Only one completes his education at Dalton; the parallels between Idris and Seun as they grow are simply fascinating.

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PODCAST EPISODE #11: Alexa Keefe, National Geographic photo producer

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I am hooked on exquisite photographs.

I subscribe to several blogs that curate great photography — I wrote about them in a recent entry — and I find myself constantly coming back to them as I scroll through the various feeds and media that dominate my daily reading.

And I am absolutely not alone.

Alexa Keefe is a photography producer for National Geographic and curates the “Photo of the Day” series for the magazine’s web site. And with every picture she posts, thousands of viewers share it.

Keefe is my guest on this week’s Telling The Story podcast.

She has worked as a photo archivist and editor, but now Keefe is responsible for curating beautiful content in an era where photographs are more ubiquitous than ever. In doing this, sites like National Geographic have thrived. On the podcast, we discuss why.

“With the ubiquity of photographs on the web now, I think the focus has shifted toward curation,” Keefe said. “There’s just so much to look at, so much to consume, that I think we need that more and more.”

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Alexa Keefe: Photography “speaks to how visual we are”

Take a look at this study, which came out last month.

According to Ipsos, when Internet users (read: nearly all of us) share content online, more often than not, they share photos.

In fact, 43% of said users have shared a photo on social media. This is 17% higher than how many users have used social media to share an opinion, status update, or link to an article.

Photography is more ubiquitous than ever, and it has really only become that way within the last decade. Digital cameras, camera-phones, and social media have all fueled the movement.

So, with photos all around us, where does that leave the truly great ones?

That is what I asked Alexa Keefe, a photography producer for National Geographic and this week’s guest on the Telling The Story podcast.

Keefe curates the famous magazine’s daily web series, “Photo of the Day”. She delves through thousands of photos to find the 30 or so that fill up a given month, and she often chooses the most exquisite ones around.

But, you may be surprised to hear, even a photo purist like Keefe can respect the rise and current glut of amateur photos.

“I think it really just speaks to how visual we are, just looking at a picture …” Keefe says. “I think that’s been the amazing thing about digital photography.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #10: Rachel Hamburg, Stanford Storytelling Project

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At the end of a lengthy and optimistic answer about how young journalists can succeed professionally, Rachel Hamburg — a 2011 Stanford graduate — took a step back.

“As a 25-year-old hoping to make a career out of this, I think it’s a little bit scary,” she said. “And it’s OK to be scared.”

Then she broke into laughter — the type that occurs when, looking at the difficult journey ahead, all you can do is laugh.

The majority of young storytellers and journalists face the challenge of channeling their enthusiasm and skills into a stable, long-lasting career. Many industries have obvious and time-honored career paths; journalism is not one of them. It is a constantly changing field where new tools and vehicles pop up almost annually.

Hamburg is off to a great start. She freelances with innovative storytelling programs like Mashcast, and she currently serves as the managing editor for the Stanford Storytelling Project, which provides storytelling training for students in any field.

She is also my guest on the tenth episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

I chose Hamburg as a guest because she represents a unique viewpoint. She produces traditional media, in a sense; the Stanford Storytelling Project team regularly delivers episodes of an hour-long, “This American Life”-style podcast called “State of the Human”. But she also has relationships with cutting-edge journalists and does not limit the power of journalism to its traditional forms. She is a new college graduate who also, through her job, advises current students.

And she does all this while trying to figure out her own future.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Rachel Hamburg: “You have to be a hustler” as a young journalist

My favorite part of the Telling The Story podcast is the final part.

This is where my guest, young or old, offers advice and insight for young journalists entering the field.

At age 32 I consider myself somewhat in the middle — still (I hope) on the younger half of my career, but definitely far beyond the inexperienced journalist I was in college. As a result, I always enjoy the “time capsule” lessons my guests hope to impart on those who are just beginning their careers.

In this case, my guest actually is a young journalist.

Rachel Hamburg is 25 years old and barely two years removed by Stanford University. She may also wince at the idea of being called a journalist in the traditional sense; she participates in journalism, and storytelling, on very innovative and abstract levels. Currently she works as the managing editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project, a thorough and multi-platform college storytelling program in which, among other things, students produce an hour-long radio show and podcast called “State of the Human”.

The podcast is extremely impressive: almost like a college-level “This American Life”, filled with youthful sincerity and detailed attention to the individuals interviewed by the students.

I enjoyed my entire interview with Hamburg, but I specifically appreciated our back-and-forth at the end, where we reached the section about advice. She spoke about the challenges of entering this industry — and the need to which, as a young journalist, “you have to be a hustler.”

“You just have to kind of make it work these days,” she said, “and I don’t know if that’s going to change. But I still think it’s very possible — and I think there are lots of ways for it to be possible, thanks to crowd-funding and stuff like that.”

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