With the rise of smartphones, over half of the U.S. population have listened to a podcast. In fact, many households have become loyal listeners of audio stories. In the spring of 2019, Denison’s Narrative Journalism concentration brought together radio journalists and faculty to help students learn to become better storytellers through this increasingly popular medium.

During the “3 Days of Story: Podcast-a-thon,” students from seven Denison courses created in-depth audio stories. More than 125 students worked alongside seven radio journalists, eight faculty members, and staff from Denison’s Educational Technology Services (ETS). 

Looking back on the event, WBEZ radio producer and event mentor Jesse Dukes says, “Within the world of journalism, there is a recognition that podcasting is now a literary craft. We want to create an intensive boot camp-like experience for students to get the basics down and have exposure to the amount of skill involved in creating good audio stories.”

Denison Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Jessica Hendry Nelson adds, “They learn the ropes and start getting the fundamentals down. And they now have a whole new burgeoning skill and can think about writing in a new way.”

Varied and diverse classes were represented, with stories about rocks, bones and legends from geosciences; ancient Rome from classics; self-regulation from psychology: a senior seminar from queer studies; the rhetoric of citizenship from communication; the art of listening from a writing class; and a creative nonfiction writing class.

“We wanted to create an intensive boot camp-like experience for students to get the basics down and have exposure to the amount of skill involved in creating good audio stories.”

Each class was assigned a mentor — an experienced professional radio journalist who worked with them on their assignments leading up to and during the event, while Denison’s ETS team supported students’ software and technology needs. Over three days, journalists and ETS staff offered short workshops covering writing a radio script, recording narration, mixing in Adobe Audition, and more.

The event gave students an opportunity to interview a person they might not normally talk to, but at the heart of it all was the quest for a good story and a great interview. Dukes notes, “Getting good, usable audio is a powerful, even life-changing, experience that takes a lot of training and structure.”

The workshop culminated with Pod-a-palooza, a showcase of the top seven podcasts, music, food, prizes, and celebrity judges, including Denison President Adam Weinberg, Athletic Director Nan Carney-DeBord, and Chair of the Faculty Fred Porcheddu.

“I especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear all the different winning podcasts from each class. It was so interesting to listen to the different ways that podcasts can be used to not only give information, but to draw in the audience so that they all feel connected,” says Sarah Hume ‘22. Her team’s Grand Champion award-winning podcast examines the connection between the mythical Flowing Sands Demon in the ancient Chinese epic “Journey to the West,” and the real-life geological phenomena of sheet flows.

The entire effort was made possible by the Mellon “Writing in Place” grant which supports “place-based” narratives across Denison’s curriculum. Plans are underway for future storytelling events on and off Denison’s campus.

May 1, 2019