In this edition of Inside the Podcast Studio, we chat with Honolulu Civil Beat, a team behind the new Offshore podcast. The show tells stories of Hawaii beyond the paradise it’s normally perceived as. Hear from Patti Epler, Offshore‘s editor, about how the show was conceived and what’s next.
On the Podcast
Tell us about Offshore and what makes it unique
Offshore strives to tell stories from Hawaii that will resonate with listeners not only locally but on the mainland too, and even globally. The idea is that Hawaii is not all paradise, not all beaches and waterfalls and rainbows. There’s a very complex cultural mix here, for one thing, and being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean presents many challenges. Residents are constantly trying to figure out how to get along in this small space. Other places can learn from what Hawaii is going through. The show is built around multi-episode seasons, so each season follows a single theme but is broken into 6-10 episodes that drop weekly. Each episode is about 30 minutes.
How did the podcast come to be?
Civil Beat is a small but ambitious nonprofit news website, and we are always looking to innovate and find creative ways to tells stories and engage readers. We are basically print reporters who have moved into the online space and have graduated to multimedia efforts like video and audio. We started podcasting a few years ago with a basic hosted interview show called Pod Squad. But we wanted to find a way to do in-depth, long-form storytelling in an audio format. So we started developing some ideas, eventually connected with PRX and formed this really cool partnership that has become Offshore.
How is the team at Civil Beat structured?
Our reporter/host/producer is Jessica Terrell. She was our education reporter but got drafted into podcasting after a big series in which she spent three months in a homeless village. We produced a 30-minute podcast to supplement the written package (which has now won numerous national and regional awards, by the way). She was the natural pick for this show, and has a great voice that everyone seems to love!
Our assistant producer is April Estrellon. She’s also our exceptionally talented multimedia producer: she works with video, audio, online graphics, and more. She’s also the producer of Pod Squad and about the only person in the newsroom who knows what to do when something goes wrong with our computers or internet.
Our executive producer is Ben Adair who you probably already know. He’s a very talented, very experienced former NPR editor and producer. He’s working with us on the first couple of seasons and has been coming to Hawaii periodically for training. We essentially had little or no experience with audio storytelling, audio equipment or editing tools when we started this project. Ben has been a great teacher and coach.
I’m the editor so I get involved in the overall concept for the show, the seasons, and the episodes. I mainly give advice.
How did you choose the stories for season 1?
Season 1 is called “A Killing in Waikiki.” It looks at race and power through the lens of two killings, 80 years apart. In each case a Native Hawaiian man was shot and killed by a white person in a position of authority. One story is from 1932, about a Navy officer who killed a native Hawaiian man, at a time when the US military basically ran this place. The second story, from 2011, involves a federal State Department agent in town as diplomatic security, again killing a local man. There have been a lot of police killings of people of color on the mainland. The sense is that racial tensions are on the rise, and why can’t we all just get along? Let’s learn from Hawaii, the most multicultural state, which people view as some sort of post-racial paradise.
It’s where every other state is heading as minority populations grow and become dominant. Hawaii has never had a white majority. There is a lot of animosity between all races here, especially involving Native Hawaiians who have been kind of surpassed by other big ethnic groups—the Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, and whites. It’s very hard to just get along with each other.
What is your thought process behind presenting controversial topics like in season 1?
That’s actually just part of the job, right? As journalists we report on contentious issues and people with problems pretty much every day. And Civil Beat in particular is an investigative and watchdog news outlet. We are very respectful of Hawaiian culture because it is a big part of life here in the islands. We strive to be polite but persistent.
What makes your show ideal for the podcast format?
In-depth audio storytelling works well here. There are so many different voices that you never actually hear—the melting pot is a very real thing with a mix of all sorts of ethnicities and values. The islands have a lot of great stories to tell, whether its the clash of science and culture (coming in Season 2), or being right in the middle of climate change, or trying to become sustainable both in food production and energy. A podcast can be very a powerful medium, especially when examining an issue in depth. It goes beyond what you can do with terrestrial radio or even online written stories.
On the Space
Where do you literally record your work? Can you walk us through the space?
We have a small-ish sound studio called a whisper room that we had shipped over from the mainland. You can never find this stuff in Hawaii so it always has to come from 2,500 miles away. Which is not cheap. Our whisper room arrived in 60 pallets and boxes and our staff put it together over a weekend. Beyond that we work at our desks in the middle of the newsroom.
How do you record your show? What type of equipment does your team use?
We use ProTools for recording and editing in studio, hooked up to an Mbox which hooks to an Apple computer.
We generally use a shotgun mic and a Zoom field recorder.
What can the podcast medium achieve that other media forms like broadcast cannot?
I like the fact that people can listen to podcasts on their own time frame. You don’t have to tune in at a certain time, so the impact is greater. You have people who actually are trying to hear and concentrate on what you’re saying.
What do you think makes a great podcast host? Tell us more about Jessica and what makes her unique
Jessica has a great personality and a great voice for this kind of thing. First and foremost she is an excellent journalist. She has a great interview style and a great way with people, so as a host she comes across as informed friend, someone who is helping you understand what’s going on. Jess has a very interesting backstory too, which is probably what makes her such a good reporter and writer. You can read more about her in the series she did on the homeless called The Harbor. She grew up homeless herself, in a traveling family band. Her dad took them all over the country, all over the world really, in this sort of vagabond lifestyle. She learned a lot about a life that most of us never experience.
How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
I think podcasting will continue to grow as more people discover great shows. Like everything else, the finances will shake out and productions that are obviously putting in effort and energy (and thus resources) will float to the top of the rankings. I think it’s very cool that outfits like RadioPublic are developing the kinds of tools that will enhance the podcast experience for people and make it very useful. That should bring even more listeners and hopefully more revenue potential, so podcast producers can stay in business.
Subscribe to Offshore in iTunes and get a new episode every week.