Investigating statelessness through audio storytelling: A conversation with Sowt’s Tala El-Issa

In the latest from Sowt’s series, On Podcasting the Arab World, Tala El-Issa, the producer of Sowt’s Blank Maps, discusses its production.

Given that this is the first podcast you’ve ever produced, could you tell us a bit about the process?

We first brainstorm an idea, and roughly research potential topics relating to it, then search for cases, and depending on our findings we build the structure and angle of the episode. After that, interviews are conducted, and the script is written and recorded. Finally, the episode gets uploaded on SoundCloud to be packaged and distributed on social media.

How would you change this process next time around?

The process described above is the new changed process. At the beginning, I used to research a lot before meeting any cases; I expected to know everything related to my topic before I conduct interviews, which proved to be very unrealistic and inefficient because I ended up diving into very theoretical issues that I later did not use. Now it is clear to me that although deep dive research is very important, it should be driven by the case rather than the other way around.

Your professional background is in writing, what were some of the elements that surprised you in producing your first podcast?

I didn’t expect that writing for a podcast would be so different from writing for the web, but it definitely is. When you’re writing for the web you can add more complicated information including numbers and statistics, because no matter how complex your sentences are, the reader can simply read them again. However, it is much harder and much more annoying for the listener to rewind. Podcast content needs to be smooth and light for the listener to be able to follow through without the need to repeat.

In terms of the first episode how did you decide on the topic? How did you find Mariam’s story?

It really all depends on the cases you find.

Once I decided the main theme of statelessness, I was asking everyone around me whether they know some cases and this is how I found Mariam. I was actually telling her about the show as a friend when she told me the story of Saif.

What were some of the specific challenges you faced while trying to tell Mariam’s story?

It was very difficult to reach Sudanese officials or lawyers from Jordan.

What kind of response have you received from listeners?

Very positive. There was a great interest in what we are doing, and I think people are appreciating new storytelling methods.

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