The Washington Post is releasing its first narrative podcast produced in-house this week, a five-part mini-series that explores daily situations mixed race Americans find themselves in, from dating to what it means to be a 'mashup' family.
The first episode of 'Other: Mixed race in America' aired yesterday (1 May), with four other episodes scheduled to go live every day this week.
Alex Laughlin, social media editor at The Washington Post and the producer and host of the podcast, said she pitched the idea because she wanted to create a "space where it would be ok to not just be one thing".
"It came out of a personal interest because I am half Korean and half white, so I'm always going through a personal journey of trying to think about how I identify.
"But I was also really frustrated that conversations about race always tended to be framed in black and white and black versus white, and there wasn't really a space for people who either identified as multiple things or didn't identify with either of those things."
Laughlin spent two months on the initial research for the project, which included books, articles, music and films, and this gave her an idea of the themes she wanted to explore in each episode of the podcast, such as microaggression.
She then went on to speak to people about their experiences, which she found by posting in Facebook groups and on Twitter for example, so the themes for each episode were shaped by the stories people were sharing.
"I wanted to be talking to people who were doing work on these topics and also have them guide my research, so if they recommended materials, I would follow their guidance, and if a new topic would present itself, I would read up on it at the same time that I was reporting it."
The first episode of the podcast features stories about microaggressions faced by multiracial people in romantic situations, and the second episode, published today (2 May), explores mashup families and their effects on cultural heritage.
The project was designed as a mini-series from the beginning, and Laughlin, who also produces a regular podcast called The Ladycast as a side project outside of work, said she was interested in producing a limited run podcast.
"Having an enclosed space to play in, in terms of time and length, allowed me to really think hard about what the podcast was going to be and execute it exactly the way I wanted to," she explained.
Her experience with The Ladycast gave her some advantages on the production side, for example in terms of structuring interviews and framing questions. The biggest challenge she found with the project was "the sources giving themselves permission to have their stories be validated as stories about race".
"A lot of people would have stories, for example about feeling awkward about speaking their native language around people who don't know it, and their stories would be totally valid, but they didn't feel like they were worth telling because of the way we structure our discourse about race."
Another podcast produced by The Post that came similar to the narrative format was Historically Black, a co-production with APM Reports. With 'Other', it was the first time the organisation has created one in-house, which is "more deeply edited at the level that some of our enterprise journalism is", said Jessica Stahl, deputy editor for audience and executive producer for audio at The Post.
'Other' was also different in that being a limited series, it offered fewer opportunities to establish and grow its audience over time, an advantage that regular podcasts with an indefinite time frame and an established host have.
The Post used the podcast's trailer published last week to build momentum around the launch, being more aware that in this case, the "first push" mattered more than with other audio projects.
"I think the narrative format is very interesting for us and it offers a whole different type of storytelling, so I want to keep doing that and to perpetuate some of the things that have worked for us," Stahl added.
"'Can he do that?' is our most successful podcast and people like this idea of exploring topics in a very in-depth, contextualised way, relying on experts to help walk us through and using the real advantage of the audio format – that people will really let it inside their heads."
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