Each fall, Themester interns create a podcast series which explores the semester’s topic. This year, interns spoke with various faculty members, including Rasul Mowatt (American Studies and Geography), Freya Thimsen (English), and Ben Robinson (Germanic Studies) to explore different facets of democracy. An interview with the interns, Noura Ahmed and Eliza Craig, about their experience is below.
Given the pandemic, what were the biggest challenges you faced while making this podcast?
Eliza Craig (EC): The biggest challenge we faced in the process of producing the Themester podcast, Democracy, was finding ways to record our episodes without being in person in a studio. We struggled with finding ways to maximize sound quality recording over Zoom without the proper equipment.
Noura Ahmed (NA): Another challenge I faced was not having a designated workspace. I live at home and my family takes coronavirus very seriously, so I couldn’t go to the library or a cafe to work. It could be kind of difficult to get into work mode in my bedroom, where I also watch countless hours of YouTube and scroll through Twitter. But it was also a valuable learning experience about the importance of having a routine.
At the 55-minute mark of recording our episode, my wifi went out entirely ...Eliza Craig
What kind of technical challenges did you have? Did you anticipate those challenges, or did they surprise you?
NA: The biggest technical challenge was editing out background noise. Obviously, a studio is designed to keep sound out; but also, in a studio there are no doors slamming or people talking in another room. I struggled a lot with doors slamming during interviews. I would tell everyone in my family we were doing an interview, but they couldn’t cease existing for an hour.
EC: Wi-Fi connection was a big challege! Many of the professors we interviewed have children or other people in the home using wifi to work and do school remotely. During the interview with Dr. Ben Robinson, in the midst of conversation, his Zoom connection cut out for this reason. Dr. Robinson ended up speeding over to his office to finish recording, which worked out perfectly.
During the episode with Dr. J Kameron Carter, regarding white supremacy as an American framework, I was at home in Indianapolis and there was a storm. As the conversation progressed and increased in depth and profundity, the intensity of the storm increased. At the 55-minute mark of recording our episode, my wifi went out entirely - right as Dr. Carter said the perfect concluding phrase to the episode. We are lucky that all the audio was preserved, but it was a very funny (and panic-inducing) moment.
How did you go about identifying people to interview?
NA: Eliza and I spoke extensively about what our goals for the podcast were and what subjects we thought were most pertinent for the time. After we decided on topics, we started researching, and we used the Themester course list a lot. We also contacted professors we’ve had.
EC: I had either taken class with or very much wanted to take a class with the professors I suggested. These are professors who are involved in multiple aspects of education, student life, academic discourse, and often, activism. The professors we interviewed have interdisciplinary fields of research and expertise that aided in directing me, Noura, and hopefully our audience, in thinking about aspects of democracy in entirely new ways.
How did you produce the podcast without a studio?
NA: We made it by using laptops and Zoom. The interviewee had a microphone that had to be dropped off, but we had to use the microphones on our laptops.
EC: We could easily extract the audio from the recording and went on to editing in Adobe Audition.
NA: Not being in a studio definitely lowered the sound quality at times, but I also think that that’s just a part of the pandemic. With some of my favorite podcasts during the pandemic, there’s a lot more recording at home. I think it just makes us seem more human.
Not being in a studio definitely lowered the sound quality at times, but I also think that that’s just a part of the pandemic.
Walk me through the process of producing an episode of the podcast.
EC: Noura and I listed out all of the potential terms and topics we felt would be necessary for a holistic discussion of democracy. We then did research about professors and lined up potential professors with our various podcast topics.
NA: The next step in the production processes was cold-emailing potential interviewees, which was a little nerve-racking at first.
If we got a yes, Eliza or I would write the questions, which could be kind of difficult. We wanted to ask the professor interesting questions, but we also wanted it to be easy to understand for our non-expert listeners. We would then do the interviews, which were the easiest parts. All of the professors were so kind and talkative. I was scared that at least one person would be very laconic.
The audio editing was the last step, and probably the longest, but it was also my favorite part. I’m into the more technical aspects of podcasting, so I really enjoyed myself.
We wrote questions for each episode and okayed them with the professors, conducted the interview, and edited the audio recordings. To complete each episode, we added our democracy podcast intro and outro, and other introductory context if necessary. We wrote descriptions, and titles, found pictures, wrote out the transcripts, and identified quotes to pull for social media promotion.
Which episode are you most excited about?
NA: The episode I’m most excited about is “Democracy is Dissent.” I think it’s an incredibly important podcast about how we use social media. I think anyone who’s interested in online activism would really benefit from listening to it.
EC: I am most excited about two episodes that have been published so far: “Racial Violence: A Continuum,” and the “Myths of Protecting and Serving.” We interview Dr. Rasul Mowatt, professor of American Studies and Geography, in both of these episodes. The other episode I am so excited for is still on the way. In this forthcoming episode, Noura and I interview Dr. J Kameron Carter, professor of Religious Studies. In the episode, “White Supremacy as an American Framework,” Dr. Carter dissects white supremacy, its origins, and the ways it bleeds into aspects of American life and American democracy.
What do you want listeners to know about the podcast that they might not already know?
NA: It’s educational, but also interesting. The issues are incredibly relevant to this uncertain time, and I think there’s a lot to be learned right now - this is just one way to make it fun.
EC: The majority of interviews were close to 50 minutes to an hour and filled with incredible discussion. It was very difficult to narrow down the audio to 30 minutes. This is why we made Dr. Mowatt’s episode into two different episodes. After his interview, we had close to two hours of rich, poignant, and relevant audio. We hope the 30 minutes that we chose to include in the podcast best encapsulate the topic of each podcast and efficiently explore the topics in multiple contexts and considerations.
How did your experience with the Themester podcast impact your plans for post-graduation work?
NA: This really solidified my interest in content creation. I loved being able to do something creative and that I could easily show my family.
EC: The podcast offered an incredible opportunity for me to improve my project management, audio editing, and interview skills. The podcast was the perfect intersection of my interests and areas of study, and allowed me to apply what I have in undergrad classes and in extracurriculars to a real-world project. As for post-graduation work…. with the pandemic, I’m just hoping I will find a job in general.
Listen to the Themester 2020 Podcast series