🦏 The world of poachers, a real podcast rom-com, #Girlboss culture, Holyfield's missing ear 👂
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
Today is Monday, July 12. There are 317 days until I go on my next Disney cruise. This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Catherine de Medici Jaffee (Cat,) the founder of House of Pod, a community podcast hub and production company based out of Denver, Colorado. She is also the acting director and founder of AMPED, a non-profit that amplifies marginalized voices in media. Cat wrote and directed Guardians of the River, winner of Tribeca selects best non-fiction podcast. She is an ultra endurance bikepacker and recent cancer thriver.
The app I use: I have four listening apps on my phone, but I listen most to Pocket Casts because the filters and organizing system is super handy.
Listening time per week: Because I spend almost every weekend solo biking from 8am Saturday until 8pm Sunday (I'm training for the Silk Road Mountain Race which takes place in Kyrgyzstan in August), I listen to 10 hours worth of audio driving to and from my bike routes, and about 5-10 more hours while I'm out riding (I'm very cautious of dipping into my battery reserves). All told, I average 15-20 hours of listening a week. A good chunk of that time is listening to productions coming out of House of Pod and reviewing our work, but I also love disappearing into fiction, and being transported into other places in our world through great narrative work.
When I listen: On the weekends, at work, in the car, and on my bike.
How I discover: Newsletters are where it's at! I subscribe to every recommendation list (like this one!) and seek out independent shows wherever I can. I also love the House of Pod community. We pay close attention to hyper local stories and producers here in Denver and Colorado, and it's a thrill to be part of a community of passionate creative people and to listen to what they make. We've got a great scene, and Jeanette Harris-Courts who runs the social media at House of Pod does a stellar job highlighting new productions every week.
Anything else? It's discouraging at times to be a small independent podcast creator, for so many reasons that I'm not going to waste space getting into, but I see it and feel it. And if you love the work, if you love what you make, don't give up. Even when it seems like people don't care, or they're not listening, if you're proud of your work, it's worth it. And the good people at House of Pod can't wait to hear what you make. So send it our way.
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👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
What have you learned about doctors and health care workers making the show?
So much! Generally, doctors are incredibly intelligent, multi-talented, hardworking, gritty, passionate, and caring. They're rule followers who don't rock the boat, and don't advocate for themselves as much as they should. They're very shame-prone and self-sacrificing, and often have trouble disentangling their identity from their role and their achievements. They are linear, logical, rational, and favor certainty over spontaneity and improvisation. They pour themselves into their work and care deeply about their patients. They're overworked, undervalued, and burned out as hell. I love doctors so much. The imperfection of them.
Can you talk about your work with the Library of Congress and what that means?
Our pandemic audio diaries — real time testimony from healthcare workers — have been permanently archived at the U.S. Library of Congress, where they will be preserved along with other cultural artifacts like the testimonials from the 9/11 first responders. We're incredibly proud of that. I'm also serving as a senior advisor to the Covid Commission Planning Group, which plans to create an authoritative narrative of our nation's response to Covid-19. We can't let people re-write a false history.
How do you prep storytellers to tell good stories? (Any advice for storytellers?)
For our live shows, we pair our storytellers with a coach, who works with them 1:1 for around 10 hours leading up to the live performances. We encourage people to strip away explanation and exposition, and ground their stories in detail, character, scene. We help them craft a beginning, middle, and end. Some healthcare workers cling to a word-for-word script and we have to coax them to let go.
Can you share a story that has always stuck with you?
So many. "Compassionate Release" always stays with me. Michele DiTomas is a physician who works in palliative care in a man's prison, and tells the story of a young man who was terminally ill. She raced against the clock and slashed through tons of beaurocratic red tape to get him released from prison to die at home.
The artwork for The Nocturnists is beautiful. What conversations happen to create those? What's the process?
We're very intentional about curating The Nocturnists experience, whether it's choosing a theater for the live show, choosing the playlist for the music playing in the lobby, or choosing the colors for our website or the style of illustrations. Often medicine is portrayed as cold, white, blue, sterile, metal. But we deliberately push against that stereotype by cultivating a warm, organic, human vibe in our website and art. We've had the privilege of working with several talented illustrators over the years, and each has a unique and beautiful interpretation.
What was the message you felt like healthcare workers were screaming during the pandemic?
We love our work, but it's killing us.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
🎙️I binged The Invisible H last week and am blown away by the top-notch quality in the writing, music, and audio. It feels extremely literary—each title and episode language is taken from the words of writers and poets like Chinua Achebe and J.M. Coetzee. (“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”) Georgina Savage is returning to South Africa to stay with her family in the Kruger National Park, where they are helping to protect the white rhino from poachers. Within the first few minutes you feel like you are seated in the front seat of a jeep bumping through the wildlife, with Georgina in the drivers seat. This podcast will pull you out of wherever you are and into the world of dangerous poachers, endangered animals, and the terrifying beauty of the Krurger National Park. There are intense moments that include graphic audio of a dead rhino being hacked apart for its horns. But between those moments Georgina scales back to report on what this show is really about: colonialism, apartheid, poverty, gender, sexuality, family, feminism, race, religion, homophobia, ethical farming, and legalizing the horn trade in South Africa. The last episode has an interview with a poacher who talks about why he is driven to hunt rhino and how he does it both logistically and emotionally. It’s a rare look into the heroic lives of rangers, which made me wonder—where are our ranger romance novels and spectulative fiction? (Here is where I must say Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a safari ride that pretty authentically invites you into this world.) I’d read it.
Tweet of the week:
🎙️In my favorite episode so far, Truth Hounds seeks to answer the question, “does distance make the heart grow fonder?” In the first few episodes of this new show, we meet Anna and Kyle, we get to know their quirky sense of humor, and we get to see into the depths of their friendship. It is one of those friendships you get envious of. In the new episode, their friendship is tested. Kyle goes out of town and finds a new friend for Anna to temporarily take her place. It’s a very funny adventure, but in the end you get to understand the Truth Hounds show more. Every podcast has that episode that really locks things in, and I feel totally locked in already. Truth Hounds is your invitation to join Anna and Kyle’s ongoing comedy skit.
But it’s a good story! More than a year ago Dana appeared on All Fantasy Everything and fell in love with one of the hosts, Ian Karmel. And now they are getting marrrrrried. I always say that podcasts haven’t quite mastered the art of the rom-com, but Dana’s All Fantasy Everything episode is the next best thing. It also led me to a few other episodes of All Fantasy Everything and I bookmarked many more. Ian Karmel, David Gborie, and Sean Jordan fantasy draft pop culture thing like The Fast and the Furious franchise (with Roxane Gay,) gas station food, voices, and things we miss from the before times. It’s a funny show you can listen to while you are doing other things. Congratulations, Dana and Ian!
🎙️Almost every week, I listen to an episode of Citations Needed, love it, write about it, and then end up cutting it for space. So I’m going to recommend you go subscribe and start listening to everything, particularly a few recent episodes I enjoyed—Kicking the Hollywood Habit: Addiction Morality Tales in Film and TV, Of Meat and Men: How Beef Became Synonymous with Settler-Colonial Domination, and The Casual Soft Eugenics of Self-Help "Friendscaping" Content. Each episode illustrates the power our media has on the world, brings in exciting voices, and takes so many twists and turns that I am in awe of what their research process must be like. The topics always inform the news, but offer much more interesting and critical takes. And Nima and Adam are not one-sided; they are just as likely to take a swipe at democrats as they are republicans.
🎙️A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet that announced that the Toxic trailer was up, and I freaked from excitement and stress-tweeted that I couldn’t find the trailer on Pocket Casts. (The tweet was hardly decipherable—I felt like I was tweeting for my life, and was surprised when I got a reply that it just wasn’t ready in Pocket Casts yet.) Anyway, that is how excited I was. The first two episodes were delivered last week, and I just wanted to throw myself on the floor and roll around listening to it. I have been a fan of Tess and Babs for years—their podcast with Brandie Posey (one of my first Podcast the Newsletter interviews,) Lady To Lady, was one of the first shows I listened to when I was getting into podcasts. So I feel quite at home. There are a lot of people reporting on Britney news, but I want Tess and Babs to be the messengers. They are funny, empathetic, and they deserve to be recognized for really launching the #FreeBritney. movement. The first two episodes get into how everything got started, including how their first Britney podcast, Britney’s Gram, got people paying attention to the conservatorship (with an anonymous voicemail left for Tess and Babs on the Britney’s Gram voicemail.)
🎙️I don’t think enough people are talking about #Girlboss culture. It’s so funny and fucked up and fascinating. It kind of started with Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean In but got really carried away with Sophia Amorusa and her book, podcast, and TV show. And don’t forget Jamie Loftus’ hilarious spoof Boss Whom Is Girl. The B-Sides is talking about it, and they are the perfect people to do it. They study pop music and culture, and are able to take an academic look at how we got the girl boss and what she really means. (And then, how it may have screwed some of us up.) Their argument is that #Girlboss culture couldn’t possibly be less subversive and more antithetical to feminism. And they talk about how pop music addresses it. (Playing to it, or being played BY it.)
🎙️Speaking of #Girlbosses: The Cut published an interview with Leandra Medine, the founder of Man Repeller, a blog turned media company that operated from 2010 - 2020. (In 2020 she stepped down from her company after she and the company were criticized for their performative solidarity with black lives.) This must be why Amanda Mull recently tweeted, “a thing about the fashion industry is that as long as you're skinny and very rich (gotta be both) it does not matter if you have an interesting thought in your head bc you too can find a job and potentially some level of fame at which point people will say you're interesting.” This whole thing is complicated and gross, and another interview with Leandra on The Cutting Room Floor is one of those moments so raw and open you can’t believe what you’re listening to. Leandra talks about her privilege and her failings, how she can believe she was “cancelled” but not why. (She’s not racist, just a bad leader.) The Cutting Room Floor host Recho Omondi explains how this is the third interview she conducted with Leandra, but she didn’t publish the others because Leandra was being so rude. And the interview makes her—and us—uncomfortable. (Recho almost didn’t run the episode and a producer comes on the show to air his grievances with having to work on it.) It’s interesting to hear why Leandra felt like everything fell apart, and her lack of ownership in what happened. h/t Courtney E. Smith!
🎙️The Lead is my favorite Wondery podcast (it’s in partnership with The Athletic) and I think I like it because it always dives into the people and stories behind sports. (I always say I am not a sports fan but love the drama surrounding it, and loved sports content the most during Covid, when there were no stats, just people.) Whoever is writing the headlines (tell me if you know) is doing a great job—they hook me every time. I didn’t know I cared about hockey but was obsessed with hearing about Tom Wilson, the most dangerous player in the NHL and goon culture, and I felt so caught up on the Italian National Soccer league with this episode about Roberto Mancini. The thing that shocks me is that my husband loves this podcast, too, and he is a sports nut. So somehow this podcast is able to bridge the gap between people who loves sports and people who are mildly interested in them. Last week’s episode was about the Scripps Spelling Bee, which illustrates the range of sports topics this show is willing to cover. It’s a sports podcast for all of us.
🎙️Another story-driven sports podcast I have been enjoying is Lost in Sports, Ben Baskin’s attempt to unravel sports mysteries. A recent episode tells the story of my #1 problematic fave Mike Tyson (please tell me you’ve seen Mike Tyson Mysteries, my favorite TV show of all time) and 1997’s Evander Holyfield vs. Tyson match, in which Tyson bit off a piece of Holyfield’s ear. There is an unsolved mystery here that I didn’t know existed—what happened to the ear? Ben finds the guy who is rumored to have it, talks about how the rumor impacted his career, and breaks down the night in question.
🎙️This episode of AsapSCIENCE’s Side Note (Dinosaurs: did they have penises?) made me laugh so hard. I sent it to my husband and he was like “who are these guys?” These guys are Mitch and Greg, very funny science YouTubers who delight in weird science facts and are able to bring personality to anything from farting to the science of less. They are smart enough to ask experts the questions we are all thinking about, and then add funny commentary that makes their interviews sound like stand-up.
🎙️Future Ecologies is a show about nature, but these aren’t quick-hit science lessons, these are rich deep dives that tackle more subtle and complex topics—there is a bit of philosophy, a bit of design, mixed in. The episodes are all like nothing you’ve heard, but I cannot over-state how amazing it sounds. (The music!) At one point in Nature by Design?: Taking the Neo-Eoscenic Route, which is about nature as a concrete thing or an idea, I was in awe of the music, barely listening to what was being said so I had to go back and re-listen, only to hear a subtle mention that it was provided by the Legion of Flying Monkeys, a group of musicians who play on instruments made from locally grown plants. The very first episode, Decolonize This Podcast, dives deep into why podcasts often open with the words “this podcast was recorded on the unceded territories of the _______ Nations,” to acknowledge ownership of land that was stolen from Indigenous people. Future Ecologies offers an episode that explains exactly what this means and why it’s a practice podcasts should pick up. It's a must-listen for every podcast listener/maker. h/t Ashley Lusk!
🎙️On Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out, Mike works on material with other comics. It’s a totally new way to get to know your favorite comedians. And Neal Brennan is…not my favorite comedian. I both love and hate him—am appreciative of so much work that he’s done (Nickelodeon, The Champs, Three Mics) but do not exactly dig his own podcast, How Neal Feel. (Which, by the way, is on hiatus as of this week.) But this episode of Working It Out made me like Neal again—he really has a creative mind and getting to listen to him walk through jokes felt magical. He was able to punch up one of Mike’s jokes in seconds. And he gets a little vulnerable. I think I like hearing Neal talk about what I think he is good at—making people laugh. But I could pass on hearing his takes on transgender athletes and why women never find him attractive, which appears to be a mystery to him.
🎙️Helen Zaltzman invited Queersplaining’s Callie Wright onto The Allusionist to talk about the word “dude” and it is not just a history, but it is that, too. Callie talks about word is so often gendered, and what it means for nonbinary people to hear it. This demonstrates one of the many reasons I love this show—Helen spends time providing us with the history lesson we don’t see in text books. But including voices of trans, nonbinary, and queer people, she’s opening wide our cultural understanding for the words we use every day. (If you like it, check out Telling Our Twisted Histories.) I will follow Helen anywhere—she is one of my favorite voices in podcasts. She always inserts these tiny bursts of sly humor (sometimes they are very subtle) that makes me slap my knee and adore whatever she is saying. I have said this before and I’ll say it again: if I were to choose one person to read an ad for my product I would choose Helen. She does the best ad reads.
🎙️The lucky thing for Helen Zaltzman fans is that you can find her hosting The Allusionist, Answer Me This (which will be ending after 400 episodes—The British Podcast Awards just gave it a Gold Award—congrats, Helen!) and her Veronica Mars recap podcast Veronica Mars Investigations. But any podcast listener can catch her voice on other shows. This week I was delighted to hear her on an episode of Science Diction (about whacky gene names) and FOGO, where Helen steps in as a hilarious nature commentator as Ivy purchases expensive outdoor equipment. (I interviewed FOGO’s Ivy Le last week! )
🎙️Elna Baker is the narrator of my favorite story ever told on Risk!, For The Love of Nubbins (listen to it now if you want a laugh) but I did not know that she used to be 100 pounds heavier. On A Slight Change of Plans, Elna tells the story of losing the weight in five months, and how it made her feel like a terrible person. This is a conversation about weight loss you don’t often hear. Elna is honest about the hard stuff that comes with extreme weight loss and what she learned about herself and her values in doing it.
🎙️One-of-my-favorite-people-to-talk-podcasts-with Arielle Nissenblatt let me go on and on about the Donner party, my beloved little newsletter, and Aack Cast on Feedback with EarBuds.
🎙️I was included in the Creator Spotlight section of the Podcasting, Seriously newsletter, which was a huge honor. This is one of the best podcasting newsletters there is—in fact I think it’s the best. Each issue oozing with the news and resources that are important for people in the space to know. Sign up here.
🎙️I love you!