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Kasia Mychajlowycz is senior producer of The Globe and Mail’s new podcast, The Decibel.
In the world of audio journalism, we like to get up close. A professional recording studio often has no windows, poor ventilation and barely room for one or two people and a table between its padded walls. We audio producers measure the distance from a microphone to a mouth in inches – two, maybe six if they’re a loud talker.
In the past, when I’ve recorded someone outside the studio, I’ve gotten as close as possible to hold the mic at the perfect angle – just below and to the side of their mouth. I’ve sat on the cold ground between cots in a tent as my colleague interviewed a water protector at Standing Rock in North Dakota. I’ve sat on plush carpet by the feet of Scarlett Johansson to record her raspy voice perfectly. I’ve stood in the middle of marches, protestors streaming by me, as I hold the mic in the air to capture their chants.
This is all to create a bit of an illusion – that you’re really there, that you’re just sitting quietly and listening to great friends talk, that an expert is speaking directly to you. All the work that goes into editing every second and decibel is imperceptible – if it’s good.
These days, as I – alongside co-producer Madeleine White, audio editor David Crosbie and host Tamara Khandaker – work on The Globe’s new daily podcast, The Decibel, capturing audio looks different. What has usually been my last resort as a producer – recording a Skype call or a Zoom meeting, digital glitches and all – has become our only option. We’ve been teaching our guests (who range from Globe reporters to industry insiders to people at the centre of the news) to record themselves on their phones. And we’ve been zipping together multiple guests separately recording themselves in the depths of their quietest closets to sound like they’re in the same room.
The Decibel, which debuted on Monday, joins some two million podcast episodes out there. While it’s harder than ever to do the work of audio journalism, it also feels critically important to connect with people who are missing the family and friends that would normally be part of their lives.
On that note, here are some of my favourite podcasts, largely by women and about women. In fact, the world of audio producing tends to be dominated by women. When I walked into my first radio station in New York, my unscientific survey counted mostly women producers – and mostly men hosting. (Both roles were overwhelmingly held by white people.)
These podcasts all linger in my mind because they’ve brought me up close to a person or subject that would normally be far outside my own world.
- Connie Walker’s latest podcast Stolen: The Search for Jermain (available only on Spotify for now) combs through the case of a missing Indigenous woman in Montana, tracing Jermain’s often difficult life, back to the trauma of colonization and lack of resources.
- The recent limited-run podcast Suave, hosted by veteran radio journalist Maria Hinojosa of the long-running podcast Latino USA, tells the story of a man in his fifties released from the prison he’d lived in since he was a teenager – and his 20-year friendship with Maria. He started as a source and became a friend, and so Maria became part of his story.
- Kerning Cultures Network was founded by two women as a podcast network for the Middle East. Kerning Cultures has a cast of hosts and reporters and features beautifully-produced stories from the perspective of people in the Middle East and North Africa that will teach you about history, politics and culture – in a very human way.
- Born & Raised was a podcast exploring the experiences of Canadian children of immigrants. Non-binary journalist and producer Al Donato co-hosted all three seasons with different women of colour (the final season was cut short when HuffPost Canada closed shop).
- I think of Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, aka The Kitchen Sisters, the way a lot of people think of Ira Glass from This American Life. They’ve been making radio stories together since the 1970s, at one time focusing on the ways food is made in different communities. Their podcast The Kitchen Sisters Present repackages some of those stories, along with new ones. They also head a non-profit production company to help a new generation of diverse audio storytellers.
As much as I miss getting up close with people (professionally and personally), it’s a huge comfort to listen to the work of these hosts and producers. I hope you’ll find inspiration in these picks – and that you’ll tune in to The Decibel.
What else we’re thinking about:
Like everyone else, I was transfixed by Nomadland, a movie about a woman who has to leave her home and lives out of her van, surviving off seasonal work. Its portrayal of humanity is nuanced, which isn’t always the case in films about older women. I’ve spent months in the American Southwest and its different deserts, where the film takes place, and I felt like I could travel back to those campgrounds watching this movie. It was recently released for Canadian at-home viewing on Disney+, and it deserves your time – and the three Oscars it won, including Best Actress for Frances McDormand.
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