HEY PODCAST LOVERS, WE'VE GOT SOME EXCITING NEWS
Today we dropped a new episode of the Inside Podcasting podcast, in which I interview Ear Hustle hosts (and Pulitzer Prize finalists!!) Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods. If you're just joining us, Ear Hustle tells stories about daily life in San Quentin Prison. It's hosted by visual artist and San Quentin volunteer Nigel Poor and former prison inmate Earlonne Woods (Antwan Williams, who also helped found the podcast, is the show's sound designer). In an incredible turn of events, former Governor Jerry Brown commuted Earlonne's sentence in 2018, crediting Earlonne's work on the podcast as a factor in the decision. Since Earlonne's release, the Ear Hustle team has brought on new producers to tell stories from the inside, while exploring new narratives on the outside.
Here are a couple of brief excerpts from my interview with Nigel and Earlonne (edited for clarity):
On Earlonne's Release
Skye: While it was obviously amazing and euphoric when Earlonne was released, did either of you have any concerns or anxiety about like, this is a new show, we have to find a new rhythm?
Nigel: Of course I wanted Earlonne to get out but I had a ton of anxiety about it. He’d been in prison for 21 years! So it's like, when he gets out, this might not be what he wants to do. He's got a lot of life to catch up on. I also had a creative concern, which was the stories we do on the inside are so interesting. It's a closed world that most people can't get into. And we had a way to tell stories that other people couldn't tell on the outside. Anybody can do a re-entry story. I wondered if it was going to be as interesting and as creatively challenging to do stories on the outside. And the biggest thing was mourning the loss of going in there and seeing Earlonne. But I really want to make it clear that that didn't stop me from wanting — in every fiber of my body — for Earlonne to get out of prison.
Earlonne: When it was looking good for me to [leave prison]— or just in case it happened — we already had a system in place. We started interviewing guys. We sent out job applications, with descriptions of what we were looking for and looking to hire guys for, to replace me. We put an application out to everybody in the prison. We had a gang of people that sent stuff in and we went through and picked like maybe the top six or something and started doing interviews with them — we did to them what we had to do with [Radiotopia podcast competition] Podquest!
Nigel: [laughter] That’s true! There have been challenges, but we always say to each other, we're going to figure it out. Like whatever happens, we are going to figure it out. And it was just another thing to figure out.
On Finding New Narratives
Skye: This past season you focused on some really heavy stuff — addiction, stories about death row, violent crime. Can you talk about how you made the decision to tackle these kinds of stories this season?
Earlonne: Before every season, while we're still in the prior season, we all have production meetings with everybody who's involved. We throw out ideas on the whiteboard. We start eliminating ones that don't work or whatever the case may be. We'll have maybe ten to thirteen that may work.
Nigel: And for season four, I wanted to have people that everyone wasn't going to be like, oh, I love that guy, I love that person. I wanted it to be more complex and tell stories that made people think differently about issues that they may have a knee-jerk reaction to. That's one of our challenges for the coming seasons, too — to have stories that are maybe a little bit harder to process. So there's never one emotional tone to a story. I love that challenge.
Skye: You also did something wonderful that I loved, which is that you featured a lot of women's voices — or more than you had before, and I loved hearing their voices and their stories. I have to think that that was an intentional move.
Earlonne: Definitely. That's the one thing that we've been lacking and we've always tried to implement it in some way. And that's what we're currently actually doing — getting out and trying to get the women involved.
Nigel: When Earlonne got out [of prison], that's when we knew we could start bringing more women's voices into the show in a meaningful way.
The full interview is here. Next week we'll drop a post-show episode, in which a special guest will speak with me about what it was like to interview Earlonne and Nigel. (Hint: he also writes a newsletter about podcasts.)
In today's newsletter, I'm handing the proverbial mic over to power podcast listener Kavein Thran. He'll share what it's like to consume podcasts as a blind person, and what podcasters and organizations can do to make their audio content more inclusive.
This week's prompt:
- How are you holding up (it's been ten weeks!), AND what podcast has [helped you survive/distracted you from/entertained you during] the global pandemic?
Please help a sister out by hitting reply on this email (right now, do it now) and sharing your story. I need an update on how things are going, friends.
Stay safe and healthy,