‘Running your own show’ – An Interview with Law Faculty Sara dePasquale on Being a Podcast Host
Mobile technologies provide learning opportunities anytime and anywhere. Students can learn when and how it is convenient for them. Audio podcasts in particular seem to be made for mobile learning, as they do not require to follow visual cues or using a keyboard. Instead, learners can listen to the content while commuting, jogging, walking the dog, watching the kids or washing dishes. While there is plenty of material to choose from (The Atlantic reports more than 300.000 podcasts at the end of 2015), faculty podcasts are still relatively scarce.
Podcasting does not come with high technical hurdles or insurmountable equipment and infrastructure costs. The barriers are on the editorial side: Creating content that is substantive, engaging, and relevant to specific teaching and learning goals takes time – a resource that not all faculty are willing to invest.
This interview explores the faculty perspective of podcasting by talking to the host of a newly minted podcast: Sara DePasquale is a faculty member at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government. She is currently hosting season 2 of ‘Beyond the Bench’, a podcast by the NC Judicial College at the UNC School of Government. In the interview, we talk about quality podcasting and explore the question if this type of scholarship receives enough recognition and support in academia. To learn more about the production process of Beyond the Bench or podcasting in general, read our post ‘Let’s play it by ear’.
Sara, please explain how you got started in the world of podcasting.
The Beyond the Bench podcast was originally started by Danielle Rivenbark, a program manager, and Jeff Welty, a faculty member at the School of Government and Director of the UNC Judicial College. It was made possible through an internal innovation fund. Jeff Welty, who several years ago started the first and most popular School of Government blog (North Carolina Criminal Law), was the perfect pioneer for podcasting, so he hosted season one. Different faculty members who have expertise in criminal law were responsible for different episodes. When season one ended, the thought was to switch season two to civil issues. I was “nominated” (read that to mean tagged) by fellow civil law faculty to be the host.
Did you have an affinity for the medium podcast before you started recording one yourself?
I had never listened to a podcast before. I googled law podcasts and found others that were single episode that focused on a legal issue listened to them to get ideas of what I wanted to do and didn’t want to do. I talked to colleagues who do listen to podcasts to get their feedback on what they liked or didn’t like about podcasts, and I was reminded that a podcast is very similar to a radio story/interview show, like This American Life. Once I realized that similarity, I knew I could do the interviews and make the story.
Your podcast covers a tough topic: How the child welfare system in North Carolina deals with homeless families. What gave you the idea for your show?
For the podcast, I wanted to focus on issues related to my subject area, which relates to children and the law. I talked to people who I knew listened to podcasts and asked them what they liked. Everyone said Serial or something like that. Based on that feedback, I decided I would make season 2 tell a story over the course of the different episodes. I talked to other people outside of the school about what topics in child welfare were interesting to them, and several mentioned homelessness.
I had also recently attended a legislative subcommittee focused on issues related to foster children and homelessness and heard a medical professional explain in her presentation to the subcommittee members that anytime a homeless child (regardless of whether that child is unaccompanied or with his/her family) is seen by a medical provider, that provider must make a report of neglect because the child was without basic needs. My immediate thought was “that is not the definition of neglect under NC law and a report is not required.” I realized that the podcast was a way to get information out to people about what neglect means, when a report is required, and then what happens after a report is made since most people who make a mandated report of suspected child abuse, neglect, or dependency do not know how the system responds. The story is about the child welfare system in NC as it relates to child neglect with a focus on homelessness and housing instability.
What are the benefits of doing your own podcast show?
There is freedom to determine the content – in every way. I decided the content and how I wanted it to be relayed to the audience. I wanted the various perspectives heard in the different episodes, starting with what does homelessness look like, so I interviewed 14 different people for the season. I decided how to break up the case by episode. I decided I wanted a series versus several one-off episodes.
And the downside? What is the hardest part of podcasting?
What I did required a lot of time, much more than what people realize I’m sure, and a lot of coordination with others. The time was significant because I interviewed so many people and wanted their different perspectives heard in the different episodes as each stage in the story/case was explained. My work involved several different stages:
The first step was getting the right people interviewed. This involved figuring out who to contact, getting agreement from prospective interviewees to participate in the podcast, and preparing for and conducting the interviews.
The second was listening to all the different interviews to see how they fit together and how you can break up the episodes of the season based on the content you have. Then going back and listening to each interview again and figuring out which segments of the interviews would be good and for what episode it would work in and I charted it out. Because I didn’t know how to cut the segments myself, I had to write up all the different segments with start and stop times and the beginning and ending words for the editing team to create these interview snippets.
The third part was then listening to the snippets for each of the episodes and script it out – how do they fit together, in what order to tell the story, and what do I need to add to make it cohesive and clearly explain the process/story. After writing the script and recording those extra recordings, I handed the material to my IT partners, who then put it together.
Lastly, I listened to it to make sure it told the story in the way I hoped it was told when scripting it out.
The untold story with podcasting is that if you don’t do the audio editing yourself, it takes additional resources and requires teamwork. Thankfully, I had people who helped me learn how to podcast, script, give me feedback on what I had done, and also did the behind the scenes tech stuff.
The other hard part is not really knowing if people are really listening. I hope so.
How much time do you spend on each episode?
I honestly don’t know. At least 12 hours per episode once I had the snippets. Between listening to the snippets, figuring out what was definitely going to be used, organizing it, scripting, recording, and then sending it to IT and listening to what was sent back. Plus, I wrote a very short blog that announced the episode was available, described the content, and identified the featured interviewees for that episode. There were many more hours that were spent before writing the actual episode script with contacting people, conducting the interviews (including travel time), and listening to the interviews to figure out how to use and organize what I had from the various interviews.
How does the podcast fit in with your portfolio of scholarly work?
I have it included on my CV in a category titled “Electronic Scholarship.” I have a section for blog posts, a section for a searchable on-line database of case annotations from the NC appellate courts, and a section for podcast. I explain the season in 2 sentences and then list out the episode number, title, and length.
Are you planning on using the podcast material in your teaching?
Yes, I want to be able to take different segments that are relevant to a topic I’m teaching and play them for the class as part of how I deliver the content. This helps break up the lecture and provides a voice and perspective that is different from mine – bringing the voices of the professionals involved in direct service work to the classroom. I may also require listening to an episode to be a pre-requisite for a certain course or conference.
Are there things you can do in the podcast that would be harder to express or convey in other forms – for instance in a blog post?
To me, the benefit of the podcast was getting various voices involved so that a full picture of how the system works and how different people was the system was presented to listeners.
What do you recommend to others who are thinking about exploring this medium?
Don’t do what I did for your first podcast experience! Don’t take it all on yourself. Don’t include so many interviews. Don’t do a season that is a sequential telling of a story over several episodes. Start with a one episode that addresses a discrete topic; interview at least two people. And see how you like this process and medium after doing a couple of those single episodes.
“Beyond the Bench” is a podcast about the legal system produced by the North Carolina Judicial College at the UNC School of Government. It is interview-based, with guests including judges, lawyers, professors, and citizens who have participated in court proceedings. Listen in via iTunes, Sticher or online.
Sara DePasquale joined the School of Government in 2013. She specializes in child welfare law in North Carolina and teaches and consults with judges, social services attorneys, parent attorneys, and other law professionals. Her publications include Fathers and Paternity: Applying the Law in North Carolina Child Welfare Cases (2016), regular posts to the School’s On the Civil Side blog, and other School of Government publications. Her primer Stages of Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency Cases in North Carolina: From Report to Final Disposition earned the School’s Margaret Taylor Writing Award in 2016.
Prior to joining the School of Government, she practiced for 17 years at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the statewide civil legal services provider in Maine. She started at Pine Tree as a Skadden Fellow and spent her last nine years there as the directing attorney of KIDS LEGAL, Maine’s first and only children’s law program. She is a member of the North Carolina and Maine state bars. DePasquale received a BA with honors in history and sociology from Binghamton University, is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Buffalo School of Law, and also earned a dual degree with an MSW in child welfare/family systems from the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.