In this age of links, texts and blue light, the dialogue central to Georgetown University’s community has found a new home online — through podcasts. As with many aspects of the college experience during the pandemic, new modes of technology have emerged to play an integral role in providing creative outlets.
At Georgetown, podcasting has become a prominent medium for discussion in personal, academic and extracurricular contexts, allowing students and community members to foster discourse without face-to-face interaction. With podcasting, students take on the challenges of recording, editing and advertising, building a versatile skill set that makes them stand out.
Expressing Student Voices Through Podcasting
Podcasting provides a flexible vessel through which students can express their thoughts. Whether covering serious political issues or delving into more casual, lighthearted subjects, Georgetown students have utilized the malleable podcasting space to project their voices.
Asher Bykov (COL ’23) co-hosts “The Debate Without Debate” podcast with his younger brother Joey Bykov. In the podcast, the brothers explore myriad popular topics related to Generation Z politics, culture and society.
The podcast focuses on fostering well-mediated political conversations. The brothers invite guests who aim to inspire their audience and promote healthy debate on the show, and Bykov feels that the value of podcasting lies in its ability to use conversation to bridge political gaps.
“If we were talking more, we might be able to solve many of our problems,” Bykov said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for emerging podcasters, according to Bykov, because with virtual conferencing, he has been able to interview high-profile individuals such as Black Lives Matter activist Nupol Kiazolu, entrepreneurial influencer Gary Vaynerchuk and Vanderbilt University professor Jonathan Metzl. With these guests, Bykov has been able to cover topics from life as part of Gen Z to polarization by asking carefully crafted questions.
The ease of connection through virtual platforms has allowed Bykov to pursue broader social objectives, such as initiating dialogues that he hopes will fix larger societal issues.
“Our main focus, it’s something even bigger than just the podcast itself. We’re going through the process of revamping everything, and we want to use this as the starting point to end polarization through conversation,” Bykov said.
Bykov realized his potential for enacting real-world effects after seeing the impact of his content on his followers through contact with his community and personal messages.
“I even got a fantastic message from someone at Georgetown currently that I speak with more frequently now, where she had mentioned to me that her debate team was in the Philippines and her team was listening to our show to use it as a bit of practice to talk about different issues. It was a great honor because we were just starting,” Bykov said.
Unlike Bykov, Sanjay Gospodinov (MSB ’23) started podcasting through his involvement with the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition, a club for encouraging mutual understanding. As the founder and editor of the club’s podcast, “The Consensus,” Gospodinov interviews policy experts and students from a wide range of political ideologies to discuss governmental topics.
Gospodinov took advantage of his role in the club to explore a new medium of communication, despite having no previous experience.
“I had no idea how to do this. Four months ago, I literally was the last person you’d go to to talk about starting a podcast. But yeah, I figured out that, basically, it’s fairly simple,” Gospodinov said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
In the virtual environment, Gospodinov found that podcasting provided the opportunity to bridge political divides through dialogue. Give-and-take is key when interlocutors of varying ideological backgrounds, like members of the club or professors, discuss pressing legislation or pertinent political news, such as the introduction of gun control laws in Chicago.
Gospodinov’s goal with “The Consensus” is to allow for productive political discussion each week between two guests who have disparate opinions on a particular topic. He feels that providing this space for guests to hash out their differences is the basis of his podcast.
Another club-based political podcast, the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service’s “Fly on the Wall,” highlights bipartisanship and employs conversation to inspire meaningful change by talking to guests from all across the political spectrum involved in various fields surrounding politics — from journalists to elected officials to even Hoyas involved in political campaigns.
“Our goal is to pull back the curtain. We just want to be really honest with our guests and have them explain what it’s like working in politics and what they find exciting about how they got into politics,” Managing Director Grace Xu (SFS ’23) said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
According to Xu, while podcasting in a remote setting, where the hosts cannot arrange the microphone quality or shake hands with guests, can be daunting at first, it has also provided “Fly on the Wall” with opportunities to speak to guests that would not otherwise have been available, like former congressperson Joe Crowley (D-N.Y) and son of Eric Trump (MSB ’06).
“Fly on the Wall” has been around since February 2017 and is still being produced even after the students who started the podcast have graduated. But transitioning from in person club meetings to online has been an arduous process.
“Obviously it’s harder at the start when we had to make that transition and figure it all out. But it also gives us that access to speak to people who otherwise wouldn’t have the time to come to Georgetown’s campus and sit down with us and talk,” Xu said.
Just as Bykov, Gospodinov and Xu have utilized the online space to promote their podcasts, Veronica Williams (COL ’23), host of “Tea With V,” has found more free time to pursue her creative interests.
“Being in a virtual setting has made it easier for me to podcast because before I always wanted to start the podcast, but I put it off because other things were happening,” Williams said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
On “Tea With V,” Williams draws back the curtain to her life as a Gen Z student, discussing topics ranging from analysis of how the United States has handled the pandemic to her experience watching her first-ever season of “The Bachelor.”
Williams sees her podcast as an opportunity to casually share her ideas with followers, like a highly produced private story on Snapchat. The Instagram account for “Tea With V” has less than 100 followers, and Williams seeks out a laid-back persona in her podcasting.
Process of the Podcast
There is no textbook on how to start a podcast. Georgetown students are lucky, however, to have the option to either strike out on their own or seek guidance in their podcasting endeavors.
The class “Podcasting,” taught by Georgetown professor David Schulman, predates the pandemic and teaches students about podcasting procedure.
With podcasting, the whole body of information is shared through audio, so high sound quality is of the utmost importance. The first step for podcasting is, therefore, setting up a microphone and gathering equipment, according to Schulman.
“You can spend a lot of money on microphones or not that much. I think that 75% of having good sound, though, is knowing how to use it and where to put it with respect to the person who’s talking,” Schulman said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
At the Gelardin New Media Center in Lauinger Library, students have been able to use a variety of mics, but at the moment they primarily learn the recording process with the Zoom H4 microphone. When “Podcasting” was taught in person, students met with experts to test different recording tactics.
Once Schulman works with students to obtain their audio, the next step is to enhance the conversation with multiple tracks, composed of students recording and other sounds from audio hosting sites such as FreeSound. Students learn how to edit in industry standard programs like Pro Tools and free programs like Audacity to help them prepare for various environments.
The editing process for Schulman’s podcast assignments is different from a formal paper, both in process and objective.
“Editing has a different flavor with audio than it does with words because of how it can be manipulated or layered, Schulman said. “Maybe you decide for your podcast everything is going to be over a music track or, at least, at the beginning. So all that stuff can be layered and moved around according to what you’re trying to make it in the end.”
Miles Aceves-Lewis (COL ’22) took Schulman’s course in the fall 2019 and discovered his love for the process of creating a podcast.
“There are all sorts of things you can do to doctor the audio that’s really fantastic. You can add that intro music; you can add that outro music, and fade the audio in and out from those to create a smooth transition. There’s so much you can do, and eventually that huge block of raw audio gets cut down to a nice finished product,” Aceves-Lewis said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
In addition to the recording process, students have to grapple with promotion. Social media outlets like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook allow podcasters to share their work with a wider audience. These instruments can be difficult to navigate without experience, because social media algorithms are constantly evolving, so content creators need to adapt to these changes in order to continue gaining an audience.
“The most difficult part is social media marketing, because algorithms on social media can be very arbitrary, but I’ve been doing lots of research to try to push it out more and get more people.” Williams said.
For Georgetown students looking to create a podcast, Schulman’s course is a resource to demystify the process of podcasting and show that podcasts are a kind of content anyone with an interesting story and a keen ear can create. Schulman said he attributes the rise of podcasts to how easy they are to make.
“What made podcasting distinctive to begin with was that anybody could do it. You didn’t have to have access to a broadcast platform. You could just do one with your friend and your laptop if you were enthusiastic about something,” Schulman said. “It also helped people who would never have surfaced in the conventional broadcast arena because their enthusiasm was infectious, and people love to listen.”
Voices of the Future
The implications of the integration of podcasting into the Georgetown community range from creative methods of classroom instruction to pushing for large-scale social discourse.
Professor Sarah Mcnamer has found that incorporating podcasts into the structure of her course, “Premodern Worlds: A History Through Literature and the Arts,” provides a more interactive way for students to complete their final projects.
“The podcast as a research project and process allowed for more interaction between my students and the experts they interviewed, which was a refreshing change from doing a lot of reading,” Mcnamer said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Mcnamer’s students produced podcasts about objects from Medieval Africa inspired by the British Museum’s “A History of The World in 100 Objects” podcast series for their final projects. In terms of the value of the experience, Mcnamer said she found that podcasting made the content her students researched more accessible.
“I think one of the things that podcasting as a form can contribute is that it’s a great vehicle for making research in the humanities more accessible and engaging to the public. The podcast by its nature is a very public form, so there’s a kind of outreach that becomes available to students if they’re able to do their research and present it in a way that moves beyond the university campus environment,” McNamer said.
Aceves-Lewis also emphasizes the medium’s value in its ability to convey emotions that may not be expressed as clearly in other forms of entertainment.
“I think that podcasts can convey things like suffering and need and necessity for action in ways that written form lacks or a movie can lack. A movie has actors, whereas with a podcast, you may be hearing the cries of help directly from the people who need it,” Aceves-Lewis said.
Aceves-Lewis is optimistic about the future of podcasting as a platform for activism because of this emotional dimension.
“As people begin to see the need for social change, they will use podcasts as an avenue by which to accomplish social change, whether that’s for climate justice, racial justice or gender justice,” Aceves-Lewis said. “The more voices that are out there, the more voices are heard, and the more voices can be understood, the more perspectives can be understood.”