I spent some quality time this past semester mentoring different groups of students at UNC in Chapel Hill through the process of making a podcast or short audio piece. The students were part of a Native American History class, a Feminist History class or they were interns at The Southern Oral History Project. They varied in age, year in school, race, gender identity, socioeconomic class, motivation and skill. But it was not a challenge for me, it was a pleasure. Here’s why:
1. Fearlessness. These kids (and even the older students are kids compared to me) will eagerly take up a virtual razor blade and swipe away at virtual tape without self consciousness. Manipulating anything digital is their birthright. They need no coaxing to dive in.
2. They, mostly, believe in their ability to tell a story. Even though few of them were avid podcast or public radio listeners, they grew up with narrative everywhere — in comic books, in video games, in Disney and Nick TV shows. They can hear drama and conflict, the beginning, middle and end. They are deft with story.
3. Teamwork. They are natural collaborators, with each other — maybe all those years of soccer league — and with their teachers. Working as a team wasn’t hard to organize. They quickly sorted themselves by interest and ability. They speak the language of Google Docs and don’t need to be micromanaged. They were not afraid to approach me with questions or comments. They asked for my input and help with respect and interest.
4. Receptivity. Mostly what the students needed from me was honesty. They needed to hear me say, “that’s boring,” and then ask them “WHY is it boring?” Or, “that’s too long,” “that’s repetitive,” I asked a lot of questions, “what are you missing?” “If he mentions a song, what should happen next?” “Does anyone care how old she is?” “Should they care? How can you make them care?” “What’s your part in this story?” “Does that sound honest?” “Do you think the listener understands the context?”
Their final products were smart, funny, texturally rich and insightful, even when they were sloppy, immature, dopey or wrong. Several of them told me that they started listening to podcasts — of course my mantra was, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN — and others told me they were going to explore audio as a possible profession. So, not only have I heard the future, but, as I said, it sounds amazing.