On the latest edition of Inside the Podcast Studio, we sit down with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR)—the team behind the Reveal podcast and broadcast show. Reveal is an investigative journalism show that uncovers hidden stories, reveals injustice and holds the powerful accountable. Kevin Sullivan, the show’s executive producer, walks us through how and where Reveal is created.
Tell us about your show and what makes it unique.
Reveal combines gritty investigative reporting with on-the-edge-of-your-seat storytelling. Our stories expose wrongs and bring about real change. We report on stories that matter and give people a reason to care.
Why are you so passionate about your subject matter?
I’m passionate about our show because we are uncovering stories that no one is following. Our stories touch people’s lives around the country and around the world. We call out people in the wrong and shine a light on those who are fighting to make things better.
What makes your show ideal for the podcast format?
I love podcasts because the stories are just the length that they need to be, and you can listen to them on your own schedule. Those are both great reasons why Reveal is ideal for the podcast format.
How does your remote team work collaboratively?
Video conferencing is huge in our office. We have team members located around the country and it’s important to stay connected. We use video conferencing for meetings big and small, and stay in constant contact. We also use tools to collaborate on scripts, which allows us to have a running conversation on all the work we do.
How do digital teams work in the context of a radio show?
We have a dedicated digital producer, who heads all of our digital content. She works with producers to come up with the best online features for our stories—from photos and illustrations, to interactive quizzes and embedded videos. Our digital content is a huge part of the planning process and we see it as an extension of the podcast.
What is your relationship with fellow news organizations? What is the value of those relationships in producing your episodes? Any interesting stories there?
We have strong relationships with dozens of news organizations, so we are able to break stories with them. These relationships are extremely valuable and have led to some of our best shows. Last year, we worked with several partners, including Frontline, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, KQED and Univision to produce an investigation into sexual assault against female janitors. We called it Rape on the Night Shift. Since that show first aired, a grassroots movement has sprung up to change the laws in California to ensure better security for women who clean offices at night.
We also collaborated with New Hampshire Public Radio to produce a one-hour show investigating allegations of abuse and neglect at a neurorehabilitation center. As part of the show, we uncovered the roots of the company, and discovered a disturbing cycle: these types of facilities would get in trouble, shut down and then re-open under new names. The show was a finalist for a Scripps Howard award and brought to light a problem most people never even knew existed.
On the Space
Where do you literally do your work? Can you walk us through that space and how it is laid out? Why is it designed the way it is?
I work in a beautiful office with high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows. It’s open, bright and invigorating. The office is about half a city block and is a combination of cubicle space, an audio/video studio, open conference rooms, and offices. The kitchen area is the center of the space, and is affectionately known as “cozy town.” People break out of their offices and cubicles to work together in cozy town and in other nooks around the office. It’s a great space to work.
Do you have a thinking or reflection space—somewhere you go outside the studio to gather creative inspiration?
I’ll take a walk around the block and soak in the California sunshine!
How do you record your show? What type of equipment does your team use for in-studio recording vs. in the field?
Reveal is fortunate to have a built-out studio and separate control room at CIR that accommodates recording of up to four people on individual mics. Our host Al uses a Shure SM7B partnered with a CL-1 Cloudlifter to help get this low-gain, excellent broadcast dynamic microphone to a more useable level for our audio interface. We also use Electro-Voice RE20s for our other broadcast voice mics. In the studio, we record 2-ways with Al onsite, and guests in-studio or over ISDN. At times, we will record a guest over the phone, and sync up tracks recorded at the remote studio. Sometimes Al will be at his home in Jacksonville where we record over the phone, and he’ll share his tracks with us via Dropbox.
For remote situations, we have a blend of reporters/producers who favor their own kits (the pricey Sound Devices’ 722 and 744T recorders are our favorites) and some of our own, mostly Tascam DR-100mkii’s. We are also phasing in Zoom’s H6 over time. We have a selection of field microphones from Sennheiser (ME-66 and ME-67 shotguns with K6 capsule, MKH40 cardioid), Audio Technica (AT897 shotgun), Electrovoice (RE50 dynamic omni) and Beyerynamic (M58 dynamic omni).
We mix in Pro Tools with plugins from Waves, Soundtoys, iZotope (RX5 Advanced—an invaluable tool), on Adam A7 monitors. We do sound design in Pro Tools and Ableton Live.
What can the podcast medium achieve that other media forms like broadcasts cannot?
I feel that both platforms are incredibly important. With broadcast, you reach the masses. With podcasts, the masses reach for you. This gives you the opportunity to form a stronger connection to the audience, because you know the people listening really want to hear your show.
What do you think makes a great podcast host? What makes your host unique?
We have the best podcast host ever! Al Letson has a unique way of speaking right to listeners. He helps break down really complicated stories in a way that makes them instantly relatable to people everywhere. He’s also super handsome (I am contractually obligated to say that whenever I refer to our host).
How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
Wow—big question. I see the landscape getting more and more niche. Just like blogging, everyone can find their passion in a podcast. Whether it’s gardening, 16th century literature, or investigative news, podcasting is a medium that’s growing by reaching new, and increasingly more targeted, audiences. It’s a great time to be in podcasting—the competition is intense, but also incredibly inspiring!