Why I’m glad I spiked my own podcast
I created a podcast business that I never launched and it taught me what makes work meaningful.
I did not always want to be a journalist. Actually, the very first profession I remember dreaming of as a child was ‘paranormal investigator.’
At first journalism seemed like something men in suits did, and only on TV. Then the 1998 movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas introduced me to the idea that some journalists were not suits with teeth on TV–they could be part of the story. They could reveal the nuances of a culture or a moment in history that few people outside certain circles could even imagine.
Still, even when I was working in journalism, years passed before I actually saw myself as a journalist. It felt like the more I learned about it, the less I saw myself in it.
Think of the shows and movies you’ve seen with journalist characters. All The President’s Men, The Post, Nightcrawler, Spotlight–overly ambitious, aggressive people (usually men, but occasionally there’s an equally relentless woman) who would sell their family dog for a good “scoop,” always rushing from one story to the next, in hopes of getting to the front of the scrum, the front of the morning paper, the cover of the magazine, an exclusive interview. That’s the norm.
The average newsroom demands each reporter pitch 2–3 stories per day, in multiple formats, creating an overly competitive news environment where being first is better than being right, toxic masculinity dominates, and falsehood can travel faster than truth. It creates an environment that attracts and rewards forms of whiteness and masculinity, while patronizing anything appearing passive, feminine, or non-white.
Traditional news media misses the point when it creates an environment where journalists are forced to rush important stories. Topics that seriously impact lives require time to capture the deeper context, including how it feels to be affected or involved in it. The time is spent digging deeper, reflecting, debating and conversing, making it more engaging, enjoyable and accessible. No matter how big the newsroom, this can’t be done 2–3 times a day, every day.
And despite appearances, most news rooms are not rapidly changing their ways.
Most Canadian news rooms are still 100% white, and despite the combined efforts of several organizations across the U.S. and Canada over the past 40 years, the larger majority refuse to even share their diversity statistics, let alone make radical changes in hiring to affect who gets to decide the stories that get told, and how.
Do I also need to point out the fact that white men make up the majority of leadership roles in all media formats? My point is, legacy media is not going to lead the charge on doing news differently.
We need journalists to report on events day-to-day, but we also need timely narratives that make sense of complicated stories in a way that is meaningful, enlightening, and helps us understand the world better.
So when I decided to start an independent Black media company, I was faced with an immediate problem: if what I’m doing isn’t like traditional news, what is it?
I first applied to the Canadian Google News Initiative (GNI) Startups Boot Camp to answer that question. I vaguely knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know what that was called, or how it could work practically and financially.
After completing the program I created the first episode of a podcast I called Black Halifax, a BIPOC guide to living and working in Halifax. The investors at the pitch event were so impressed with my entire cohort that we were each offered some start up money to launch our businesses.
Then, on the day I hit ‘publish,’ a sudden realization hit me like a ton of bricks: I didn’t want to make a podcast.
The independent digital media world is a double edged sword: the new and exciting thing you’re doing is also necessarily something that no one–yourself included–can easily understand. There are many examples of successful independent media businesses, and still none of their roads to success will exactly mirror your experience when you decide to start yours.
I spent 10 weeks creating and pitching a business that would attract investors and clicks, but I forgot to ask if it was actually what I wanted to do. Deep inside, I knew that my goal was not to make quick money, nor to start another traditional news room, nor to double my workload for something that was unfulfilling.
I know how to make a podcast. At my day job, I host and produce a biweekly podcast for Lion’s Roar magazine. I also know that even with an established mailing list, it is a ton of work, most of which is everything but interviewing people and producing audio. You need images in multiple sizes, you need promotional copy, you need headshots and bios, social media posts, and the better the podcast becomes, the longer the list becomes.
I love audio and the way it lives inside the mind of the listener, sometimes making it even more engaging than a feature film, but why was I starting one? Like, really, did I have a meaningful and fulfilling answer for why I wanted to make a podcast? The truth is that I didn’t.
The podcast had nothing wrong with it, except it was part of a media churning machine, and an unrealistic workload, both things I was not interested in being part of.
I can’t emphasize enough that at the end of the day no one will teach you how to decide what is fulfilling work to you, but the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program (EJCP) was the thing that finally brought it home for me. It played an important role in my long process of figuring that out. It gave me practical knowledge about the independent media industry, and I met people who had similar visions and styles who are glad to be my soundboard, or to make recommendations, or just to give me a pep talk. That community of like-minded people gave me the strength to constructively challenge myself, even as all my plans seemed to fall apart.
I dropped the podcast but I ended up with a much more realistic and enjoyable format that works for me: an email newsletter with text and audio.
When it’s not triggering or exhausting, daily news is often cliche and stale, especially in Black news. Twice As Good helps people stay tuned in without burning out. Through a mindful approach to journalism, these stories about topics in the news are intended to make you feel curious, introspective, inspired, and refreshed.
I don’t make promises about when it comes out, but it’s about twice a month. I have enough time to work on branding, social media, networking, workshopping, etc. while working another job, and I’m still able to write and produce journalism that meets the criteria for what makes work truly meaningful to me. So far it has paid off.
Twice As Good is nearing 100 free subscribers, making some income, and already in conversation with potential sponsors in local media, entertainment, and Black business.
Before the GNI and EJCP programs I had no idea how to approach branding, web design, social media strategy, accounting, and everything else, while also covering Black news in a way that’s meaningful and fulfilling.
I’m still no expert in any of those things, but today I know how to find a balance.