Humanities at Large

Podcasting Workshop With Melissa J. Gismondi

Submitted by Sonja Johnston on February 24 2021.
Melissa J. Gismondi by Katherine Holland

Melissa J. GismondiJHI's New Media and Public Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow for 2020-2021recently gave a public workshop about podcasting. Melissa is a writer and journalist, who holds a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia. Her writing has appeared in major media outlets, including The Washington Post, Salon, Toronto Star, and The Walrus, among others. As a radio and podcast producer, she contributes to national network programs on CBC Radio and the podcast BackStory. Gismondi was selected as a Writers' Trust Rising Star by Charlotte Gray. Check out her website for more information and examples of her work.

Melissa wrote a summary of the workshop below.

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On Friday February 5, I offered U of T humanities faculty and students a brief overview into the world of podcasting. I started by inviting a discussion about what brought participants to the workshop and what podcasts they listen to. The answers represented how eclectic the podcasting industry has become in recent years. Many participants, for instance, noted that they listen to podcasts in their professional and personal lives. Some cited their desire to start a podcast, while others said they were hoping to incorporate the medium into the classroom and their teaching.

From there, I asked and tried to answer the question: What do we talk about when we talk about 'podcasting'? This isn't an easy question to answer but we talked about some essential criteria of podcasts, such as their roots in the digital world, different kinds of formats (conversational/interview, for instance, versus narrative storytelling) the importance of learning to think with your ears, and maintaining your podcast and publishing it. There are a lot of inactive podcasts out there, just like blogs and social media accounts. So I encouraged participants to think about their goals for the podcast and convey their plans to the listener. There's nothing worse than discovering a new podcast you love only to find out it dropped off years ago and has been silent ever since!

I then invited participants to reflect on questions related to intention and development. I suggested that when thinking about starting a new podcast project, they ask themselves some important questions including why their story works well for audio, what their story is, if they should be the one to tell it, who they think might listen to the podcast and why -- given the plethora of podcasts -- someone would want to listen to their podcast over others in the genre. I also encouraged participants to think about what they like and don't like as a podcast listener. Is your goal to educate? Entertain? Or perhaps both?

Next I gave participants a behind-the-scenes look at the development and production of my latest audio project for CBC Radio's IDEAS. We talked about the importance of research, conducting a good interview, writing for the ears not the eyes, audio mixing and the art of telling a good (audio) story. I walked participants through my process and showed them the script I crafted for the program as an example of how some programs might be formatted. I stressed the importance of giving listeners' a diverse listening experience -- different voices, different clips, different sounds, different pieces of music, etc.

We closed by talking briefly about some tools of the trade, which has changed considerably during the global pandemic. Now, for instance, an entire program can be recorded using only smart phones. It might not give you the same sound quality as a professional studio but if you're on a budget and recording a variety of guests in faraway places, different apps and even Voice Memos can work in a pinch.

Overall, my suggestion to anyone thinking about starting a podcast? Ask yourself why your idea works best for a podcast program, as opposed to another medium (film, for instance, or print.) Then try to teach yourself to think with your ears -- asking yourself again and again, how does this sound. And always, always, always, find a trusted friend or colleague to give your podcast a "second pass" before you publish. Like anything else, they can catch things you might have missed or give you a fresh perspective as to how the story you constructed stands up when someone else is listening.