FTG 0030 – Professional Podcasting with Content Creator Jenna Spinelle ’08

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Overview:

Jenna Spinelle (she/her) ’08 Communications is a writer, podcaster, and speaker in higher education. She hosts and produces the Democracy Works podcast and the narrative series When the People Decide, both productions of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. Jenna hops over from her host chair to the interview chair on Following the Gongfor this episode to discuss the current media landscape – on campus and at large – working in podcasting and content creation, and other topics like the value of continued participation in music. You can read Jenna’s full bio and a breakdown of the episode topics below.

Guest Bio:

Jenna Spinelle (she/her) ’08 Communications is a writer, podcaster, and speaker in higher education. She hosts and produces the Democracy Works podcast and the narrative series When the People Decide, both productions of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. She teaches courses on freelancing and the creator economy at Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, from which she earned her BA in Journalism with Honors in 2008. She also finds time to freelance for various firms and publications. She previously worked in marketing and public relations positions at Penn State and in traditional newspaper settings. Her writing has appeared in outlets including Bello Collective, Inside Higher Ed, and Current. You can find her on Twitter @JennaSpinelle or visit her website at jennaspinelle.com.

Episode Specifics:

In this episode, Jenna shares her insights on:

· Choosing Penn State over “big city” schools for its academic reputation and being close to home

· Aspects of journalism that can help you identify it as a field for you

· Making the most of Penn State’s student media culture – even if you are not a journalism major or in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications

· Joining the College as a current Penn State student

· The evolving media landscape of the mid-2000s through to 2022

· Getting into professional podcasting without previous on-air experiences

· Translating dense topics for listeners on the Democracy Workspodcast

· Creating a narrative-based podcast – like Serial – in When the People Decide

· The different types of podcasts and Jenna’s (and Sean’s) inspirations

· The how of podcasting, and advice on building up your skills to be a content creator

· The value in freelancing and pursuing side-hustles

· Continuing playing a musical instrument through college and into post-college life

· Pushing yourself out of your professional comfort zone and initial discipline

· Thoughts on mentorship

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Credits & Notes:

This content is available in text form here.

This show is hosted, produced, and edited by Sean Goheen ‘11 Lib (Schreyer).

The artwork was created by Tom Harrington, the College’s Web Developer.

The sound effect is “Chinese Gong,” accessed via SoundBible used under Creative Commons License.

The theme music is “Conquest” by Geovane Bruno, accessed via Pixabay and used under Creative Commons License.

Greeting scholars and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast of the Shire Honors College at Penn State. Following the gone takes you inside conversations with our scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career in life advice and it spanned your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how scholar alumni have gone on to shape the world after they ran the gone and graduated with honors, and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is probably sponsored by the scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Shawan Jheen, class of two thousand eleven, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back. Jennis Finelli, class of two thousand eight, is a writer, podcaster and speed Kurt in higher education. She hosts and produces the democracy works podcast and the narrative series when the people decide, both productions of the McCartney Institute for Democracy at Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts. She teaches courses on freelancing and the Creator Economy at Penn State's Donald P Bellisario College of Communications, from which she earned her being in journalism with honors in two thousand and eight. She also finds time to freelance for various firms and publications. She previously worked in marketing and public relations positions at Penn State and in traditional newspaper settings. Her writing has appeared in outlets including below, collective, inside higher Ed and current. You can find her on twitter at Jennie Banelli or visit her website at Jennispanelli Dot Com. You can check out a more detailed breakdown of the episode topics and the show notes on your podcast APP. With that, let's dive into our conversation with Jenna following the Gong. Jenna, thank you so much for joining us here on following the gone. I'm very excited to have a fellow Penn state podcaster on the show and I'm looking forward to with feedback you can give me afterwards as a professional and we're going to talk a lot about podcasting here on the podcast today. But if you've listened to any of our episodes before, you know we like to go back to the beginning and Jenna, I'd love to hear about how you came first to Penn state and then to the Shreier Honors College. Sure. Well, thanks for having me, Sean. Hopefully we won't get too Meta here talking about podcasts on a podcast about podcasting. Um. But UH also happy to to share my journey into shreier. So, Um, I came to penn state in the fall of two thousand four as a journalism major. Um. I grew up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which is a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. Um, and I knew I wanted to major in journalism. That became a passion of mine in high school and really what I gravitated toward. Uh. And so I applied to journalism schools across the country and was actually committed to go some where else, but at the last minute kind of decided that I wanted to stay closer to home for a variety of reasons. and Luckily Penn State has, with the largest accredited communication program in the country, a vibrant student media landscape. So Um, even though, you know, I didn't get the kind of maybe bright lights, Big City that I thought I had wanted at one point, but day college was really the perfect community for me, as evidenced by the fact that I'm still here, which we can also talk about. There's a lot there that I do want to unpack. The first part and is how you actually came to pick journalism and what was it about that field particularly? So you always trying to wanted to pursue that and you were looking at some I know there's some other notable programs out there that come to mind, like one of our big ten colleagues at northwestern and some other. So what drew you to journalism as a as a trade? Yeah, so I was, um, pretty shy and introverted, uh in high...

...school and was kind of looking for a way to break out of that and I think I heard an announcement, like over the school announcements in the morning that the student newspaper was holding tryouts and I'm walked into the newspaper office and talked to the advisor and went through the process and and joined the staff and really really fell in love with it pretty quickly. I had a great advisor. I I should say shout out to Mrs Wibul at hot spell area high school. She really instilled the love of journalism in me and got to do some interesting stories. The the administration at my high school was very open to talking about kind of thorny issues maybe, or things that might be a little controversial, like underage drinking. We did this big story about that. That pretty much ensured I would never be part of the cool kids club that you know, because I wrote about these parties that happened. And so I just love talking to people and then I could still have interactions with people but not put myself in the spotlight, and that's sort of one of the hallmarks of journalism and certainly continue through my experience at Penn State. That was the mode that my faculty that I studied with here sort of brought to our you know, their view of the profession something that that is changing and we can talk more about that. But, Um, I just have, I've always had a sense of curiosity and I love to read and write, and so journalism allowed me to combine all of those things. You were involved in the campus media scene and I've been at some other universities and other cities and I think that is really one of the special things about Penn state that maybe doesn't get quite the notoriety that other special parts of our university does, and that is that we have so many opportunities for students who are interested in media to flex their muscles as a student. Obviously none of these are sponsored or asking me to share these, but there's the daily Collegion, onward, State Valley magazine and just so many others that come to mind. What were you involved in and how have you seen that evolve over time? So I was on staff at the daily Collegian, which was really one of my pivotal experiences at Penn State. I I loved it and I'm still in touch with with a lot of the people that I worked with on the staff and we got to do some really important work and we're an integral part of the media scene. It wasn't like you know, I had a press pass and I went to news conferences and there was a pretty major story that happened Um during the spring semester of my freshman year. A guy named Ray Greek car, who was the district attorney at the time, went missing and it was this national story and, like you know, I remember going to a press conference at the State College Police Office and seeing like reporters that I recognized from the cable news channel sitting there next to me and you know, we were just like anybody else. The the editor at the time, I think, even went on some of the TV news shows to talk about what was happening from the student perspective. So that was my really pivotal media experience. But, as you said, it really has expanded so much. Things like Valley magazine or on an an onward states and Um Happy Value Communications, the Center County report like they at least to my knowledge. We're not around when I was a student. So I you know, now I teach in the Belisario College of Communications and I always encourage my students to get involved in media of some sort, whether as as a writer, photographer, designer on the advertising or business side. Um, I thought is really the best way to hone your professional skills, uh, and also also network and get the experience that you need to supplement an internship or something along those lines. So yes, I I agree with you that the student media environment at Penn State does make it special and and maybe set it apart from some of the other journalism programs in the country. So if you're thinking about this, and I know we've had some faults on who've also been collegion right ers and onward state was founded in Atherton Hall by...

...scholars my first year, circuit two thousand and eight, I believe. And you don't have to be a journalism major to or even in the Donald p Bel Serio college to pursue any of these opportunities. So you know if this is somewhere where you want to Fletch your writing muscles or those kind of things, where you know there's even uh forty six live during thon and other opportunities, so you should check those out. If that's even you know, you could be a biology major and still pursue these, which I think is a pretty special opportunity for students. And Jenna is here. Not even. Yeah, no, I'm just thinking. That's Um, my co writer on a lot of those Ray Greek car stories was actually an engineering major. I believe my point proven. So thank you, Jenna. Now one thing we haven't mentioned yet is that so you got involved with the daily Collegian pretty early on and recovering these and obviously that's a fascinating story that still hasn't been resolved to my knowledge. You know, fifteen eighteen years later, but we haven't shared how you actually came to be in the Honors College. Can you share that, because I think maybe some students who were listening who could relate to that, or maybe you want to pursue that if they're a prospective students? Uh, the Honors College was not on my radar when I was applying out of high school, I think for for a variety of reasons. One maybe that, you know, I was applying to so many different programs and I'm a first generation college students, so I was kind of new to the whole process and and doing the applications largely on my own. So it's just a lot to keep track of and manage for, you know, and a seventeen or eighteen year old. But my first year, I believe it was like the end of the fall semester. I remember getting a letter in my campus mailbox inviting me to apply to enter the Honors College for my sophomore year and maybe it came the beginning of spring semester based on my fall semester grades. I don't know. Somewhere in that time frame I got a letter in my on campus mailbox in tenor hall and M not. Oh this, it's great, like, I would love to do this. Uh, and so I I did and um ended up being accepted and getting to do some really interesting work in Media Law and in the First Amendment that ultimately led to my thesis. It's almost like you knew exactly what I was going to ask next, and just a quick plug. You know, if your prospective scholar, get to know your faculty because they're going to be a huge part of helping you get into the college in that same process that Jenna went through. So we've had plenty of other guests who have who have come in as a current Penn state student, just like Jenna and I did. So go back and listen to those episodes if you want some additional advice. But I want to hear about your thesis because I think it's probably still very relevant today. But what it sounds like. Yeah, so my thesis examined the impact of lawsuits on news coverage at family owned newspapers and the key there being family owned newspapers. It's it's actually sadly not as relevant today as it is even back then because there are fewer of them. So these are not news outlets that are owned by large corporations that have or at least my my presumption, or or what I was testing, was that, you know, these papers that were owned by individuals or by families did not have the funding, the corporate apparatus, the access to two attorneys and all of these resources to be able to help push back or fight back against lawsuits claiming libel or defamation or other types of things. And so, as a result, I wanted to find out whether that lack of resources, or perceived lack of resources, would make them more cautious in the in the stories that they chose to cover or not, or how they did the reporting and the editing and everything else that goes into producing news coverage. Um. So I got to to travel. I went and interviewed Um newspaper editors throughout Pennsylvania. I down to Washington D C to interview someone...

...from the Um. It's like the National Media Law Center or some some umbrella organization that provided support to journalists to to talk about sort of the ten thousand foot view of like are there differences that you see in your work between, you know, newspapers depending on who owns them? And what I found was that the threat of lawsuits was not, at least at that time, and something that the staff and the editors really thought much about. They were just committed to doing the best work that they could and getting the truth out there to their readers. And you know, if you are doing truthful and honest and accurate work, the law, the First Amendment and subsequent case law, is going to be on your side. So you those lawsuits really are not a threat as long as you're reporting is is solid. You know, it's interesting. You couldn't have predicted when you wrote this in two thousand and eight that later on, you know just as enabled, the Washington Post was bought by Jeff Bezos, who was obviously the founder Um longtime leader of Amazon. So kind of interesting how the Media Land State has shifted Justin in that time frame. Now, what you entered into as a new Grad and have kind of worked your through your career has obviously changed and evolved and currently a large part of your your role now is doing podcasting, which was just in its infancy at that time, really even just turning of the term was starting to be born. But I'd love if you could walk us through your career in the different experiences that you had prior to coming back to Penn State and joining the McCartney Institute over in the College of the Liberal Arts? Sure, so, my first job out of college was working at a newspaper in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is where I had done an internship previously. It's called the Lancaster New Era, and I say was because it unfortunately no longer exists. It was an evening newspaper, Um, which was even in two thousand and eight that was very much a rarity. So I worked six thirty am to two thirty PM schedule, which has forever made me an early riser. UH, yeah, I I really loved it. But there were three newspapers, all owned by the same family and they consolidated them. So I was a new hire, you know, first in, first out, kind of thing. So I thought, okay, well, I'll go back to penn state for a little bit see you know what's going on. And Uh, that was like twelve years ago and here I still am. Um, I started off working in the College of Information Sciences and technology and then moved to undergraduate admissions and then joined the mccourtney institute at the end of so obviously, knowing the age demographic of our target audience, which are our seventeen to twenty two year old students. Could you elaborate a little bit on the concept of the twice a day newspaper, because I think that a good quick history lesson, because I know you teach that. So if you can do the quick two minute version of that, sure, yeah, I mean, so in the in the days before the Internet, the only way to get news was either by reading it in the newspaper or, you know, later on watching it on TV, you're listening to it on the radio. So the evening newspaper I guess goes back to even the days before TV, because, you know, it makes sense if you think about you know, hopefully students have some familiarity with with TV news, but there's like a morning broadcast and evening broadcast. So that was modeled after the newspaper the idea that you know, when you wake up in the morning you kind of want to see what's going on as you start your day and then the evening newspaper kind of caught you up on everything that had happened since the morning. So in today's terms, you know, maybe it's like you check your news APP feed. Whatever way you get your news, maybe you do that still once in the morning and then again once at the end of your day. So even though the technology has...

...changed, I think maybe the the habits are still there about wanting to kind of get updates periodically throughout the day. I've actually recently adopted that myself. Going back to I checked once in the morning, maybe at lunch and once in the evening and instead of just kind of what they say doom strollings, yeah, and it's and it's, it's it's still a part of that of the business model for news organization. So there's an outlook called axiost, for example, where they send a morning briefing and an evening briefing, and that's common among I think that the New York Times does something similar. They have a newsletter called the morning and one that, they said, at the end of the day. Yeah, the as I said, even though the delivery method has changed, the formulas is still the same. Speaking of those different formulas and different kind of modes, that very different is podcasting, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Now there's some things you can do ron certainly, but there's no prescriptive way, when you look into how do I start a podcast, there's a lot of questions and one of them is that format. Is this daily? Is it weekly, Bi weekly, monthly? Is it episodic? Is it narrative? There's so many questions. So how did you get into doing this professionally? Walk us through that background and tell us about the the first podcast that you work on over at the mccourtney institute. So I should say just at the top that I while a lot of podcasters come from public radio, for example, or broadcast journalism, that is not me. I did not have that experience in my time at Penn State or in any of my experiences after. So I joined the MC Courtney Institute, as I said, at the end of seventeen and my bosses, who are also my co hosts on our podcast democracy works, they had wanted to start a podcast for a while there. They we all are avid podcast listeners, but they had no idea how to do it and frankly I didn't either. But I had the time to sort of figure it out and I reached out to W P S U, which is the public radio station in central Pennsylvania, and they were also looking to get into podcasting and I think are very much aligned with the mission of the McCartney Institute about education around democracy and civics and all of these sorts of things. So they agreed to come on board with US and and help us produce the show. So their team edits the episodes for us and really helped me think through in the early days. Okay, like what is that structure going to be? You know how I you know, you need things like music, you need credits, you need you know, just really really imagining the holistic experience of the listener. What's the first thing they're going to hear, what's the last thing they're going to hear, and what is everything in between sound like? So I kept to give a huge shout out out and Kudos to them. And so we launched democracy works in the spring of eighteen and have been doing it weekly pretty much ever since, with the acceptionce of of taking breaks during the holidays and over the summer. But we're at over two hundred episodes now, which is wild to think about that we've done that many of them. That is especially when you consider kind of an informal benchmark in podcasting is if you can get to ten successfully is pretty big milestone. Many folds will give up after three and ten is kind of a cut off. So if you've hit triple digits, then Kudos to you. Now can you tell us what exactly that show was about and who your co hosts are and kind of what the themes and the purpose and who are your listeners? So democracy works looks at, we say, what it means to live in a democracy, which which I know is very broad, but that gives us a lot of latitude to go in a lot of different directions. So we look at structural issues and...

...ways that people are trying to reform democracy, like changing the way we vote, like things like ranked choice voting or universal voting, okay, requiring everyone to vote. And we look at work that people are doing to address political divides and and bring people closer together, finding a sense of common ground or common cause. We look at some of the ways that the media and democracy intersect, how to make quality and incredible information more accessible, both to produce and to consume. That's another big thread of the show. We look at social media and how that has changed our relationship to democracy. We look at what what elected officials are doing or not doing and how that impacts the rest of us. So it's it's really designed to give people a deeper understanding of maybe some of the things that you might hear about in the news and wonder like, okay, why is it this way or what can we do to change it? Um, that ing I hear most often is that the show gives people a sense of hope, which can be difficult to come by, it seems in in politics these days. Um, it just seems like the deck is stacked against you, no matter what your political persuasion is. I think people across the spectrum feel that way. So, Um, we aim to to show people how they can push back against some of those forces and and find their own sense of agency and the things that we as citizens can do to make our democracy stronger. And I just quickly I should say that I co hosted with Michael Berkman, who is the director of the MC Courtney Institute for Democracy and a professor of political science. Some of you might have had him for your honors Political Science Courses. I know he also teaches and Tryer, and the other CO hosts are Chris Beam, who is the managing director of the MC Courtney Institute for Democracy, and Candice Watt Smith, who is a professor of political science at Duke University. She used to be at Penn state but left to go to Duke and thankfully wanted to continue doing the show. So the four of US hosted in different combinations every week. I remember some of the readings that Dr Berkman would have signed and, you know, political science articles, because there's whole studies. You know, even just the simplest thing of what order do people appear in on a ballot can can influence outcomes. So it sounds like you all are doing a great job of taking what can be very heavy and often very statistics late in political science articles and hopefully, you know, translating them to a consumable format. That is absolutely the goal and I would love to know from your listeners that they have a chance to listen, if we're hitting that mark. Um. I I feel like in some ways I have gotten a PhD in political science over the course of doing two odd interviews about democracy. So I feel like I'm kind of out of touch with like your average listener, so to speak. So I yeah, I'm always eager to hear feedback or suggestions for how we can improve. Obviously, as soon as you're done catching up on following the gong episodes, you should go on whatever your podcast APP of choice is and check out democracy works, but you can also check out Jenna's new project that debuted earlier this year in depending on when you're listening to this. Can you tell us about what this new side project that you have at the McCartney Institute is? So this is a narrative podcast series called when the people decide, and this really gets back to what we were starting to talk about earlier sean with the change in the way that we do journalism, or the way that some people do journalism these days. I think that social media and the change in business models has required or given opportunity perhaps for journalists to be a more part of the story than they were in in previous media eras, and that is definitely true in podcasting. I mean, if you think about something like cereal, for example, Sara Kanig was very much a part of that story.

She was the one who reported it um, but you heard her voice, you heard her reactions to things, and so there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples of that about how the intimacy of podcasting as a as a medium and a platform for sharing stories just opens it up to people putting more of themselves in the story. So that's what I did on when the people decide. It tells the stories of grassroots political campaigns using something called a ballot initiative, which you may remember, Sean, from your political science days, but it's a it's a tool that lets people bring issues they care about directly to their fellow voters bypassing the legislature and other kind of political processes, and really it's a it's a way to drive change and action and forward momentum on issues and topics where there can sometimes be gridlock or hesitation from legislators to act. The one that's probably most familiar to your audience are things like marijuana legalization. That was passed through ballot initiative in in many, many states, and still more to come. Um. There's also been campaigns to increase the minimum wage and expand voting rights in you know, just increase people's access to government services or to say that they have in their government. And so I tell the stories of the people who have fought and lead these campaigns. But I also interjected with some of my own reflections on politics and the role of people versus the people that we left we elect to represent us. Um, how those things do inderplay, how they could maybe work better together and how ballot initiatives enable those relationships to become stronger. Well, I'M gonna have to check that out. That's not as common of a tactic in the east coast, unfortunately, if my political science classes, Um, and the memory of those serves me well. Um, I had a colleague at a previous institution who had moved from Seattle to Kentucky and she asked the first election that we had after she moved there. She asked about where she found out about ballot initiatives and I just trying to chuckled and said Yeah, you're east of the Mississippi. Now, we don't really do that on this side of the country, unfortunately, and so I think that'd be great for for students to listen to that and learn about some things, because there are fifty states and often fifty different ways of doing the same exact thing. Yeah, that's right. Laboratories of democracy, as Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said, and you're right, we don't even have them here in Pennsylvania. So, Um, this is all. I'm sort of like observing this from afar in some ways. Um, but it is, I think, inspiring to think about what could be possible. And even if we a state doesn't have this one particular mechanism at the state level, there are often at the city or town or municipal level, citizens can can go through the initiative process that way. Um. So that's something else we cover in the series as well. I was relating to what you were saying, Jenna, I think early on in doing this program or not a journalist by any sense, and that's really not the goal of this show, but I decided, you know, I'm a part of it. I've put this together and I tend to editorialize. If you've listened to more than one episode of the show, you probably know I'll interject my opinions and share and adults for my time, I work in the college, so I can point towards resources and different things that relate to the conversation that I'm be having with the alarm or alumni that I'm speaking with. But I wanted to ask because you said it's a narrative show. People think podcasts are this monolithic thing, but there's a lot of different types. You have short you have law and you have fiction, you have news, you have comedy, you have so many different types of podcasts out there. I would describe this one as episodic. You can listen to one following the Gong, get what you need for career advice and move on. It sounds like yours is...

...probably best served where you go back to episode one and listen from the beginning. Is that correct? That's right. Yeah, and and by narrative I mean two things. One, that there is a storyteller, in this case me, who is guiding you through the different characters and setting scenes for you, Um, sort of like an audio documentary perhaps, where there's like one central figure that that's that's taking you through it. And so yeah, there is an arc to the story. That starts with episode one. We explained what initiatives are and then sort of go chronologically in history through some of the campaigns and end with talking about the present day landscape and what's to come in the future. And that is different than this show, or democracy works, which is an interview show. It's you know, the the guest is different every week and it's just more of a of a back and forth conversation as opposed to something that's heavily produced with a lot of music and transitions and, you know, hearing from one narrator with other voices interjected. Are there any podcast that you look to as inspiration for how you approach these two different formats? Oh my God, so many. Um. On the interview side, I think way back in the beginning of democracy works. Um, I think, I think Michael and Chris and Candice would would agree with me that as reclines podcast, the the as re client show, is sort of our gold standard or our high watermark for what a good interview is. Now, Ezra also has a much deeper background in political science than I do and, you know, has, I think, a team of researchers that work for him with him. So, UM, he can may be prepared in different ways than I can as an interviewer, but I think, you know, a lot of just comes down to asking, to listening and asking really insightful questions and just kind of taking a ride with people. I'm sure you've learned this as well from your time as an interviewer. On the narrative side, Um, there's a climate change podcast called drilled. That is very good. Um that sort of tells climate stories and again has this also this like boots on the ground, like we're going to take you to the front line, so organizing around climate. So that was that's one that that comes to mind Um as as an example and I would recommend it. I'd recommend both of those shows to people who are interested in in politics or in Um democracy or or climate or just generally how to create positive change in the world. So you have some things to add to your play next list once you're done listening to following the gone episodes and one that I kind of modeled this show after. If they had asked, you know, tell me about following the gone, I would say it's essentially how I built this with dry Ros but for shryer scholars. That's very much kind of the inspiration for this show and how I've I've modeled it. So thinking about the kind of the journey, any of the of the individual person or two or three people and small groups and diving a little bit deeper than this mentoring format. So another one for you to check out, in addition to all of the great recommendations that the Jenna has shared or actually produces, which is a tea up for my next question. You know, you talked about research and there's producing in music and obviously, if you've listened to this, you've heard the Gong ringing sound effect that you hear a couple of times throughout the show. There's a lot of different skills, from the story side to the technical that you need to do a podcast well. Technically, you can grab your phone, record stuff and post it to the Internet, but that's the bare minimum if you want to do it well. There's a lot that goes into it. So how did you go about developing those skills, Jenna, if you were kind of a trained newspaper journalist, and there's a many parts that you like, there's parts that are less enjoyable. So how do you get through those less enjoyable parts? Essentially giving you the opportunity here to tell us about the how of podcasting. Yeah, I mean for me, Um, you know, again be as my...

...background is as a writer. Like I had never done an on air interview before we sat down to do our first episode of Democracy Works, and so I had this moment where we're in the studio at W P S U. I put my headphones on, the guest is there. I'm like, Oh my God, I've never done this before. What am I gonna do? I I had sort of intellectualized that, but I hadn't really. It was just something different entirely to do it. So I'M NOT gonna lie. Those first couple of democracy works episodes were pretty rough. We to do a lot of editing, I had to go back and re record some questions and, you know, just I've just grown more comfortable with it over time. I think it's just been practice. That's been has been the main thing, and working with good people to who are not afraid to be honest about providing feedback and ways for improvement. That was definitely true of democracy works and also the production team that I worked with on when the people decide. I had never been a narrator before either, so they helped me learn how to read the script that we wrote and how to work on my vocal delivery. Again, not perfect. I could still do it better if there ends up being a season two of that show, but I think just, you know, committing to putting in the time and the effort, it's it's not unlike I also play the saxophone, and so just like you know, I practice my saxophone, I have to practice my narration skills. So I have to practice my vocal delivery or I have to, you know, practice asking interview questions that are not going to go on too long or don't aren't going to be confusing or all those sorts of things. So it's just like anything, developing those muscles over time. So do you outsource or do you actually edit the shows yourself and working with W P S U? No, I do not do any. I shouldn't say I don't do any editing. Um on democracy works. W PSU does the bulk of the editing and on when the people decide. L W C studios in Washington D C Did all of the editing and mixing and sound design for that show. But I know enough audio editing to be dangerous. I'll say I could fill in in a pinch. But my strong suit is really more in the research and the interviewing and and the promotion, to which is a whole other skill set about how to actually get your podcasts out to the people that you want to hear it. Absolutely that's a huge part. You can make a great podcast or have a great youtube channel, but if nobody knows about it, what good is it? So definitely an integral part and having those marketing chops. Penn state students, if you're listening, obviously, um a great resource that we have for Penn staters. So Students, faculty, staff, anybody WHO's currently affiliated with the institution. You have access to the full adobe creative suite, creative cloud, so that includes things like adobe audition and premier and photoshops. So, uh, make use of those tools while you have them and you can go on linkedin learning as a Penn state student and learn how to use those because they're they there's a learning curve to them. On Jenny's nodding her head now again. I just shared some advice for for folks that they want, you know, especially for students if they're interested in this. For any alumni or students that actually want to take the time to invest, Jenna in in creating a podcast or youtube channel, what advice would you give them? If I could get one more plug in for students. I teach a class Colm to which is all about the creator economy and being your own content, creator, news outlet. Like doing it all on your own, whether it's podcast or youtube or social media or newsletters. So, Um, if you are thinking that being a creator might be something that's in your in your future, the classes technically offered under Bell Sario, but it is open to anyone. It's it's a one credit class, so you can look for that on the schedule and UH, hopefully at it if it fits on the alumni side. You know, there's never been more resources out there about how to podcast. It's probably actually too...

...much information. If you Google how to start a podcast, it's like you just scroll and Scroll and Scroll all day. Um. I'll recommend a couple of resources that I think are good and are made by people that I know know what they're talking about. Um. One is called podcasting seriously, which is a Webinar and on demand video series from LWC Studios, the company I work with on when the people decide, they talk about, you know, things like editing and and all that, but also about marketing and brand developments, which is applicable even if you don't want to do a podcast. It can carry you over to any other medium. You know how to make a brand around yourself and your ideas and your content. So that's one resource. Um NPR also has some really great resources on like the nuts and bolts of how to record interviews and how to set up a studio in your house and how to you know, microphones and all those things. So that those are just a couple of resources, but if anybody wants to talk more about that, they can certainly reach out to me directly and I'm happy to help however I can. And you talked about kind of that content creator economy and there's ups and downs to that. It's a kind of unique thing. You actually have some side gigs. I know you're working with the honors college on something at the moment. Can you talk about how you, as a full time professional, work in those side hustles or side gigs, whatever you want to call them, and why you pursue those? Besides, obviously an extra paycheck, I think that's probably pretty obvious. But why you pursue those, how you pursue those and what the benefit to that, again besides obviously an additional paycheck, how those are beneficial to your career? Yeah, so I've always been a freelance writer. Um, ever since I left the newspaper job. I always wanted to keep my foot in that world of even though I'm doing a lot of the other different things now, I wanted to keep my, you know, one toe in news and reporting because it is something that I'm interested in and passionate about, and now I'm lucky enough I get to do it on the podcast. But I still like the writing element of it too, so and I've sort of developed a bit of a niche writing about podcasts. So there's trade publications and other outlets that that cover podcasts much like they might cover TV or books or or other types of media. So that's been helpful. Um, also like from a networking perspective, just meeting other podcasters, getting to pick their brains or share stories and ideas or ways that we might collaborate or help promote each other's work. So yeah, that, you know, checks a couple of boxes for me when I still get to keep my foot in and writing and in journalism. But it's also add this added networking piece of it, Um, which I didn't anticipate when I started writing about podcasts a little deeper into the episode the normal. But there is are how we get networking into this. That's something that's a key takeaway on a thing on every episode of this is no no matter what field you're in, no matter what you made your in, it's really important to build up a network of faults that can help you along the way and you can also help along the way. Now, Jenna, I want to take a quick veer off the road here from where we were on talking about writing and podcasting. We're going to go into the arts for just a minute here. You mentioned that you play the saxophone and you still practice it, which means you still play it. Can you talk about that? So maybe, like some of the students listening, I played in my high school band and actually started playing back in middle school and wanted to keep that going, so I played. When I got to Penn State, I was in the Blue Band, uh, and then later some of the concert ensembles that are on campus. Those are great resources. Um. Some of them don't even require auditions, so they're just open to anyone. And now, since I've graduated and come back to the area, I play in a community band, which I often say is like a high school band for grown ups. Um, but we we play a lot of the same music that I'm sure your high school band played. Uh. You know, John Philip Sousa marches and jazz songs and all...

...those sorts of things, but it's a really wonderful cross section of the community. We have retirees all the way down to middle and high school students and you get to Um be around people that you might not engage with otherwise. That's our group is based in Belfont, which is just outside of State College, but we have people from all over Center County and that's something that you know, in my work in democracy, to bring this all the way back around, getting involved in these kinds of community organizations is really key to having a strong civic culture Um. There's so much talk about disagreements and and divides and you know groups like this that bring people together who might have different views but share common interest or common goal. That is really the first step to bridging some of those divides. It's just getting people together in a space that's not explicitly about politics, but you can sort of get to know people as people and find that shared sense of humanity that our democracy really needs to thrive. It's amazing what happens when you can be in person with faults or face to face and you remove the keyboard and the microphone as I sit here behind my laptop, behind a microphone recording this with you, Jenna. But when you take those two things away, it's amazing how people can actually their ears will far more open up and for those civil conversations. Now I do want to pivot to our last third. For those of you who regular listeners, you know this is kind of where we will reflect with Jenna here on her career to date. Big Picture, what would you say, Jenna, do you think is your biggest success so far? Personally, making an eight part narrative podcast was a pretty big thing. It's the longest duration project I've I've ever worked on and it was just like it was hard. It was a lot of new things, new styles that I had never done before and that the team that I worked with really pushed me pretty hard, which I I'm grateful for. So yeah, I think that has been one of my my big successes. I'm sure there are others, but we'll leave it there. And on the flip side, what would you say is the biggest learning moment that you've had and what you took away from that experience? Well, so I guess I'll go all the way back to getting laid off from the newspaper. I was devastated. I thought that I just had one idea in mind of what my career was going to be, and then that just sort of like the rug was pulled out from under me. And this was two thousand nine so there were not a lot of other prospects for media jobs at that point in the midst of the great recession. So I had to sort of change my idea of what my professional life would look like, and so I ended up going into more of a marketing role, but still keeping, you know, one foot in journalism and trying to do all of these other things. and Um that, I think in some ways prepared me to to move in more easily adapt to something like podcasting. I was already primed. Okay, I'm not just going to stay on this one career path, and so it just made me more open and more receptive to new things and new challenges and new opportunities as they came my way, and I think that is something that I hope you're listening take away that, no matter what industry you're in, it's always good to have that flexibility because, you know, we just survived a global pandemic if you're listening to this, for the past two plus, nearly three years. So you know, things constantly evolved and it's good to be flexible and adaptable. Now, Jenna, I'm sure you've had some mentors along the way in writing and in podcasting and the folks you work with at Mccartney Institute, and you've also, I'm sure, mentored some of your students in the Belisario College. How do you approach both being a mentor and being a mentee that students can pull from your experiences, and how should students look for those opportunities? Yeah, so when I'm mentoring someone, I I tried to resist the year to just come in and like tell them all about what I think all the time. I try to be open so what they're...

...looking for and what their questions are and directing them to other people or other resources if I don't have the answer. I think there's maybe a inclination as a mentor to try to, you know, be the one person or the end all be all for the student, but it's it's really, you know, to to your point about networking, it really takes a network of people. There is no one perfect mentor for anyone so I tried not to fall into that trap and I would say to just having been an instructor, that I think students maybe think that we, at least from my experience, that we get asked to do these types of mentor things and have these relationships more often than we do. So there's you don't think that you're a professor or someone else that you want to be in that mentor role for you that they're too busy or they're not going to have time. You know they're definitely not going to do it. If you never ask, it's you know you're then I think you'll often be pleasantly surprised used at what you hear back or how people how open people are to sharing their time and their knowledge with you. So don't be afraid to ask. Speaking of those professors, are there any other ones? I think you mentioned someone at the very beginning, but are there any professors or friends from your scholar days or your current colleagues that you wanted to give a shout out to? Oh, Um, so I would say my honors advisor, who was Clay Calvert. I think he was also dean of the college for a little while Um as well, but he is one of the leading scholars on the First Amendment and Media Law. So he and I worked side by side on my thesis. I helped out with some other research that he was doing. He was the first professor I had for an honors class and so that was really my formative experience and tryer was all thanks to him. So big shout out to clay. He's at the University of Florida now. I believe, as we're wrapping up, you've shared a lot of great advice, but I'm sure there was probably something that you really wanted to share for scholars that just maybe didn't come up with the questions that I asked and I'm sure you can do some some debrief afterwards on my interviewing steals. I'd love your feedback. But is there anything that you wanted to leave students off with that didn't come up already? I would say, and I know that you know scholars are are probably in some respects well well aware of this, but don't don't be afraid to get outside of your discipline. I've sort of learned that now on democracy works. I've talked to people from all different academic disciplines and yeah, follow your curiosity wherever it leads. I wish I would have done more of that as a student. I often say that I wish I could go back and be a scholar now. I think I would get much more out of it. I don't know if you've heard that from anyone else before, but you know, I think just yeah, be open and follow your curiosity reever it leads. That is great advice. College flies by, believe us. So definitely heed that advice from Jenna. Now you've mentioned a couple of times if folts wanted to connect with you pick your brain on podcasting or learn more about the podcast that you run. First of all, where can they find both democracy works and when the people decide, and then how can they get in touch with you personally? Democracy works is at democracy works PODCAST DOT com. When the people decide is the people decide dot show, or you can just search either of those things wherever you're listening to this right now. If you want to reach me directly, my email is Jenna at p s U Dot e d u. You can find me on twitter at Jenna Spanelli as well. And finally, you know, I'm sure there's some other podcasts to do something like this. I don't know if yours do, Jenna, but we always end with this kind of goofy but fun question after a lot of serious conversations about careers and mentorship and mistakes made and lessons learned. So we always end with a bit of brevity and hopefully a little bit of some fun. Flavors, if you're a flavor of Birkie creamery ice cream, which would you be? And as a stroller alum, why would you be that flavor? UH, well, I would have to be w PS u coffee break because I do support public media and I...

...happened to love coffee and coffee was the thing more than any other that fueled my shreier experience and continues to fuel all of these different things I do today. So I love coffee in all forms, including, and maybe most of all, in ice cream form. That is a great reason to pick that flavor. Jenna, thank you so much for coming on today. Obviously she's a writer, professional podcaster and expert on all things democracy. In the College Liberal Arts McCartney Institute for Democracy. You heard how to get in touch with her. You heard how to listen to her shows. Courage you to do both of those things, Jenna, thank you so much. Thank you, John. It's been fun. Thank you, scholars, for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show probably supports the Shryer Honors College Emergency Fund Benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise DOT P S U, Dot e d U. Forward Slash Schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, twitter, instagram and Linkedin to say up to date on news, events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at P S U Dot d U. Until next time, please stay well and we are.

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