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🥯 A bagel sandwich to write home about 🤪 the dark side of psychedelics 🐻 bear attack 🦵 Shrekcember 🕎
🍭 👂 You're in for a treat! 🌈 🤸♀️
Today is Monday, December 6. There are 183 days until I go on my next Disney cruise. In case you don’t have time to read the whole newsletter: I white-knuckled my way through this, I found Lifetime movies for your ears, New York Magazine has launched its first-ever investigative series podcast.
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Catherine Saint Louis, the Executive Editor at Neon Hum Media, a podcast production company. She spent 18 years at the New York Times as a reporter and editor. She joined Neon Hum in 2018 and has since edited limited-run podcasts such as The Sellout, Spectacle: An Unscripted History of Reality TV, Fake Priest, The Thing about Pam and Murder on the Towpath. (Ed. note: These are extraordinary, check them out!) She started the Neon Hum's Editors' Bootcamp in 2021 with support from Sony Music's social and racial justice fund. You can find her at @cslwrites on Twitter and @cslspeaks on Instagram.
The app I use: I toggle between different apps. I mostly use Apple to listen to a lot of first episodes of limited-run series to see if they set up a season well enough that I want to subscribe. I also like to listen to a lot of the first 5 minutes of what’s new and noteworthy to see if I agree it’s a standout. Recently, I paid to subscribe to bonus episodes for Believe Her on Apple, because I wanted to hear more from criminalized survivors and the cop who interviewed Nikki’s friend the night of the murder. I use Spotify to listen to Heavyweight and Resistance and LOUD, that limited run series about reggaeton.
Listening time per week: I listen to plenty of mixes for the podcasts I edit. Probably 5-6 hours a week. Sometimes I do a “binge” of a show I’m editing where I listen all the way through for pacing, any repetition and to make sure it hangs together so that’ll add to my hours. I also go to table reads for other podcasts Neon Hum is making or listen to scratches to be “fresh ears” for a show I’m not editing. In my own time, I try out a lot of narrative limited-run podcasts, about 4 new ones a week. Usually don’t make it past Ep1 and Ep2, but sometimes I’m gripped and then subscribe. Once I’m hooked, I’ll go on walks just to listen (it helps me get lost in the podcast) or listen while I’m cooking or baking (that’s tougher with a kid interrupting me). Total listening time per week is 5 hours or roughly ten 30-minute episodes. I watch more than 5 hours of TV a week. I wonder if the day will come where my podcast listening per week outpaces my TV watching, but it hasn’t yet.
When I listen: I run to get sunshine in the winter, to keep depression at bay and to just get out of the house because I work from home. I usually listen to a podcast as I log miles. I listen while I’m doing errands if I’m trying out a podcast that I’m iffy about to see if it grabs me but if I space out I don’t worry about it. There are some breakthroughs, though. Like Relative Unknown. No one had recommended it to me but I liked the tile art (with a motorcycle and the back of a woman’s head featuring kick-ass wavy hair). I started listening while on a trip out to L.A. to see Neon Hum colleagues and I suddenly stopped Ubering and starting walking places just to listen to that podcast and experience L.A. On Sundays, I like to listen to podcasts that are less about story and more about content I need like Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s Therapy for Black Girls and The Homecoming Podcast with Dr. Thema.
How I discover: I ask friends and colleagues who make podcast what they are digging lately and why they like it. I love talking about what works and what doesn’t. There are a few podcast critics who I listen to what they recommend. There are a few producers who I really dig and anything they make I’m likely to tune in for. Ditto with hosts and story editors. I do read Best of the Year lists and sometimes will listen to a podcast that was notable years ago to see if it still holds up or if it feels like a message in a bottle from another time. Podcast storytelling is evolving quickly, I think.
Anything else? We just got funding for a second year of the Editors’ Bootcamp I helped start. It’s an online training that’s free for people from underrepresented groups a chance to learn the tools they need to work as a story editor: outlining a limited run season, structuring episodes, perfecting line-editing and figuring out how to make a podcast that does the 3 E’s: entertains, educates and enrages. Applications will be open for the second year very soon (mid-December with deadlines by mid-January). Sign up to be notified when applications open by signing up for Neon Hum’s newsletter at neonhum.com or follow me on Twitter @cslwrites where I’ll tweet once applications open! Last year, 250 people applied for 8 spots. If you want to get a spot, show me you listen to podcasts in your application, make it clear what you like and what you don’t, and show that you’re thinking about what makes stories work and other stories tired, cliched or boring.
The Sellout is out now. All 9 episodes will be out by Dec. 14th so you can binge it over the holidays. It’s a podcast about a politician dogged by allegations of corruption, harassment and pathological pettiness. It’s about the residents who fought gentrification even as their neighborhoods were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Made by Neon Hum Media and LA TACO.
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👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
How did you get introduced to the audio space?
For me, tales told are tales remembered. I find storytelling most enjoyable in the audio form. This is why I've been into podcasts for a while. The first one I fell in love with was "Let's Talk About Myths, Baby." My conversations (read obsessions) around podcasts pervade ALL my spheres. In 2020, when, as a freelancer I found myself looking for new projects, I was pulled into a marketing strategy project for a finance podcast. From there on, I got one project after the other, with writing and curating Inside's Podcasting being the most impactful one.
How do you decide which shows you're going to cover?
While I like to inform my readers on newly launched shows, I prefer to focus on indie podcasts. The decision to cover them is impacted by several factors including – the stories of the creators, how interesting the shows are, the ease of getting into them (like are they super episodic and you need to have started 5 years ago), and the cause, if any, that the shows support.
I get my podcast news from you. How do you get your podcast news?
From industry sources including Podnews, Sounds Profitable, Podcast Pontifications, PodMov Daily, Hot Pod, among others. I also spend an hour or so on Reddit and Twitter every day to learn what the community is talking about.
What are three podcast subjects that always get you interested?
1. Mythology, fairy tales
2. Disney and Musicals
You just mentioned that you reached a subscriber goal. What's the best way to grow a newsletter?
James Cridland asked me for a tip and this is what I said to him. Jokes aside, in addition to what a Google search will yield for this (consistency, content, etc.) what works is being honest about the mistakes you make. Also, respond to the readers when they write in! Earlier this year, I suffered a loss in my family and had to unexpectedly take a week off from Inside. Readers wrote in sharing their stories and condolences with me; I responded to each of them and it made me feel less alone.
What's a podcast prediction you have for 2022?
I believe (and hope) that we will see more women in the audio space. With the efforts like those of Elsie Escobar at SHE Podcasts Live to Twila Dang's pitch to get more women in podcasting adtech, the leaders in the space are making some noise to make this change happen.
Ultimate Frisbee. Discuss.
My day job is being a Marketing Director (Overlord) at Elevate Ultimate, a youth ultimate frisbee organization in Canada. I get to be a part of a team that impacts kids' lives, on and off the field. As our team is incredibly young (I think I am the second oldest person), I also have the privilege to mentor young professionals on their growth paths. Couldn't be more grateful for it!
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
This episode of Snap Judgment stopped me so many times it took me more than an hour to listen to it. It tells the story of the men living in Muskegon prison who planned an extravagant feast in honor of George Floyd that involved a cinnamon raisin bagel sandwich. Hearing about how the guys came together to plan a meal and actual make it with such limited resources is reason enough to listen, but hearing about how the feast went down is powerful. But the story doesn’t stop there. One of the organizers, Silk, dies unexpectedly by the end of the episode, probably from receiving poor medical treatment in prison. You hear audio from his funeral, the moment where he is finally free from his prison cell. This is one of the best prison stories I’ve ever heard.
🎙️Non podcast related: my story was featured in the New York Times’ Metropolitan Diary and I would love for you to read it. (It’s the first one called Pizza Toast.)
🎙️I started my podcast advent calendar, which means I’ll be tweeting one holiday podcast episode every day until Christmas.
🎙️iHeart has announced the finalists for The Next Great Podcast, and one of them is Devin Andrade’s Crimes Against Food, which aims to solve food history’s greatest mysteries. (Hear a bit of it here.) It’s a perfect show that simply must be made. I love Devin and urge you to vote for her now. She’s on to something great and needs our help!
🎙️I made a podcast wreath featuring some of my favorite shows:
🎙️Reveal’s Mississippi Goddam ended intensely. Al Letson has finished his investigation into the death of Billey Joe Johnson Jr., a Black high school football player who was stopped by a cop and ended up dead. Was it murder or suicide? On the last two episodes, Al brings kind of bulldozes the fourth wall, bringing himself into the story, reporting on what it’s been like to cover the death of a kid who looks like he could be his son. Is it pointless to have any optimism in telling this story? Al isn’t telling this story to inspire us, he wants to infuriate us. He doesn’t get the answers he’d been hoping to have, but realizes something about Billey Joe’s family that kind of helps him come to peace with the result. This series was well-reported and written, and is full of pain and heart. I didn’t hear enough people talking about this podcast, and it was one of the best true-crime stories I’ve ever heard. This is a great series for anyone who likes chef’s-kiss true crime, or anyone who is interested in journalism and the emotional toll it takes to tell this kind of story.
🎙️On The 12 Gays of Christmas, Brian Moylan is interviewing other members of the queer community about their favorite holiday movies and I am downing every single one. Dan Savage talks about his own gay Christmases and It’s a Wonderful Life, R. Eric Thomas discusses why as a young gay Black kid he was drawn to White Christmas, Adam Rippon talks about the gayness of Elf. It’s fascinating to me, a straight cis straight person who grew up truly identifying with these shitty movies. I have no idea what it is like to watch them through any other lens. This is my chance. And listening to podcasts about Christmas movies is better than watching Christmas movies, especially podcasts about the Christmas movies you’ve already seen 12,000 times.
🎙️I found it! The audio version of Lifetime (and I mean that in the best way:) a podcast called Crazy in Love, which “digs into the complex and contentious real-life stories of when beautiful love takes a gruesome turn.” Each episode could be a Lifetime movie (and some of them are,) containing wild motives, startling twists, unusual trials, and often even stranger stories about what happens when the criminal goes behind bars. I blew through three episodes immediately, it’s perfect if you don’t feel like stretching a story out over months and months. It’s like being a juror in a grand jury case vs a regular one. The cases come in and out so fast there is no way you can possibly grow tired of them.
🎙️New York Magazine has launched its first-ever investigative series podcast, Cover Story, a show that explores abuse within the psychedelic community. Season one, Power Trip, is hosted by iO Tillet Wright (The Ballad of Billy Balls.) iO guides us through the story of Lily Kay Ross, a feminist scholar and educator, who suffered deception and abuse when she became a part of the psychedelic movement, and was then discouraged from speaking about it. The psychedelic community is made up of vulnerable people looking for answers, and Cover Story is shedding light on the practitioners who have mislead people into a web of sexual and psychological abuse. And it goes deep. It’s a sensitive show that isn’t totally anti-drug, it’s a personal story that surfaces huge problems in a movement that’s growing. I would listen to anything hosted by iO, and this seems like the scam story that nobody else is talking about.
🎙️I white-knuckled my way through the recent episode of Storytime with Seth—it was one of the most frightened I’d been in a long time. (I wish I had been taking screen shots of my face, it was squished up the whole time and I had to close my eyes through the worst parts—which, by the way, does nothing when you’re listening to a podcast.) Seth’s friend tells the gruesome story of being attacked by a grizzly bear, and he goes into so much detail that listening to it is kind of the equivalent of having a vivid dream of a bear attack. You know the whole time that he survives, he is the narrator, but it doesn’t make this story any less scary. In the end, this story is about what it’s like to feel love from the people who thought they were going to lose you. And it’s also about connecting with your roots and where you came from.
🎙️Miriam Rivera was the kind of woman that made you stop in your tracks when you saw her—she was a stunning beauty. As her star was rising, she opted to become the subject of a spicy dating show called Something About Miriam. It seemed typical in almost every way (men compete in physical events to win a date with her) except for one thing—Miriam was trans. Harsh Reality is about the way, in 2005, a reality TV show exploited a trans woman to create television people couldn’t pry themselves away from, and the devastating results of this social experiment. (Keep in mind—this was 2005 when we were somehow even less sensitive to trans experiences.) Hosted by Trace Lysette and produced along with TransLash Media, Harsh Reality is the heartbreaking story of the life and death of a woman in a reality TV prison, the manipulation of reality TV, and our history with trans acceptance.
🎙️You may not know The Gregory Brothers, but you’re probably familiar with their work. They turn audio clips (like thing from the news) into auto-tuned songs that they upload to YouTube. (Here’s one.) The videos pick up millions of views, but as Endless Thread points out, that might not be a good thing. These videos, which often feature poor Black people, feed into the white imagination of what poor, Black people’s lives are like. Is it okay to laugh? Are we laughing with them or at them? Amory and Ben talked to Charles, the subject of a popular video of Dead Giveaway, to find out what the subjects of these videos receive, if anything, and what it feels like to be the butt of the joke on the internet. Endless Thread’s meme series is worth checking out, and this episode exposes the icky side of those viral vidoes, and explains in detail why we need to think about them in a different way.
🎙️Carlyle Wisel has kicked off Shrekcember on Very Amusing, a month-long celebration of Shrek, one of Disney’s only canonically Jewish characters. Carlye celebrates Shrek to make a point about how we Christianize everything in media. Shrek is Jewish, but we often see him depicted wearing a Santa costume. Carly recognizes Shrek in a way Disney will not. (I recommend revisiting Jamie Loftus’ episode about the wild execution of Shrek Retold.) This episode dives into the world of Shrekbox. Carlye also talks about how Jewish people get the short end of the stick when it comes to Disney holiday merchandise. There are thousands of Christmas items to buy, but only a few (and pretty lame) products for Jews. This series seems silly on its surface, but is actual opening up an important discussion about Judaism in pop culture.
🎙️In 1995, high school seniors across the world were receiving college acceptance letters to a school in England called Warnborough that was billed as one of Oxford’s schools. Some of them gave up opportunities at places like Harvard to attend, or passed up scholarships at great schools in the US. When they arrived for their first day, it became clear that Warnborough wasn’t part of Oxford at all, and it wasn’t even an accredited college. Some of the students were refunded, some of them chose to stay. It’s interesting to, years later, see how the lives of these people panned out, and the story begs the question: do we place all of the blame on the school, for wildly misleading prospective students? Or should the students have done their homework? (Remember this is 1995, when the internet was just picking up speed.) This is the story behind an episode of One Year, and it’s a thought-provoking trip around the world that seems almost too strange to be true.
🎙️Call Your Girlfriend’s Aminatou Sow is the host of the new When Diana Met…, where she recalls Diana’s meetings and connections with not only public figures and politicians, but the people closest to her. Episode one tells the story of a juicy lunch meeting between Diana and Camilla, one that adds depth to the Diana story, as does the story about her relationship with William and Harry. An episode called The People talks about why the whole world felt Diana’s humanity efforts felt genuine, and covers her 1989 trip to New York. I just finished watching the Diana series of The Crown, and this podcast is fleshing out all of those stories, painting an intimate portrait of the Princess of Whales by taking a different route than one we’re used to.
🎙️Osiris’ My Own Worst Enemy is somehow getting better. The third episode dives into what made the song a hit—the exact musical reasons the simple chords infiltrate our brains each time the song starts, why the story has made us all go, “hell yeah,” why the writing is actual so punk itself. In a way, it’s a lesson on how to write a hit. This was a joyful episode, remembering this silly song that united all sorts of people and inspired musicians from all genres to remake it for themselves, giving it their own twist.
🎙️ I love you!