Community Podcast Lab Tells Stories of Boston’s Underrepresented

Applications are now open for the Community Podcast Lab, “a new project in Boston to elevate stories of people of color, by people of color,” according to a press release. The project was developed by Futuro Media Group, an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010. The press release describes Futuro’s commitment to “producing ethical multimedia journalism from a POC perspective, reflecting diversity within a new American mainstream.”

The Community Podcast Lab will focus on the Boston neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan for its pilot program. The 15-week program will commence in October and will “train participants of color who have no formal experience in public media to create podcasts that will be distributed both locally and nationally,” according to the press release. Selected participants will be paid hourly and will be counseled by Futuro founder Maria Hinojosa and digital media director Julio Ricardo Varela.

Futuro is working in partnership with MassCreative, a Boston-based community arts program,  and WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, to create the podcasts, which will be hosted at the PRX Podcast Garage. Futuro Media’s executive director and Dorchester native Erika Dilday emphasized the importance of local partnerships to the project.

“You can’t just try and pull people out of their environment, bring them over to where you are, and have them create an authentic experience,” she said. “You have to meet them where they are, literally and figuratively.”

The press release highlighted two such local partners who have already committed to the project: Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, a social justice organization in Roxbury, and Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a nonprofit that addresses the displacement of low-income families due to urban development. All local partners will receive a stipend in exchange for their expertise and support.

“Our goal is that if this becomes something that is organic within a community that it is something that can be taught and spread,” Dilday said.

According to the press release, selected participants will receive hands-on training in audio storytelling. They will learn to use audio equipment, digital editing software, and the fundamental techniques of long-form. In addition to skills in writing, interviewing, and storytelling, the certificate program instructs its participants on marketing, audience engagement, and the podcast industry as a whole.

Project creators decided to make podcasts the storytelling medium for two primary reasons: their rapid growth in the industry and their relative ease to execute. According to Dilday, podcasts do not require a lot of equipment and can be done “fairly easily.” This enables the Community Podcast Lab to engage underserved and underrepresented communities.

“We purposefully wanted to find people and stories that otherwise might not get told,” Dilday said.

Both the immediate neighborhoods of the participants and the broader nation form the target audience, in the hopes that “people can have a greater understanding of each other and other communities from the point of view of the people who are really there,” according to Dilday. She hopes to capture and preserve the stories of underserved communities through the podcasts of the very people who live in these areas. Dilday emphasized how communities such as Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan are typically only represented in the media when disaster strikes, an inclination the Community Podcast Lab strives to change.

“You tend to have someone helicopter in, report about something—usually something awful—and then helicopter out. And that’s the representation [the communities] get,” she said.

The Community Podcast Lab differs from similar programs in that it is longer and does not require prior experience. Dilday said many of the applicants have kept journals or other forms of informal written media, but are people who “never felt they would have the opportunity to do something like this.”

Dilday hopes the Community Podcast Lab will be repeated for years to come and spread to other cities, but emphasized the need for a strong alumni network to make that goal a reality. All alumni of the program will receive memberships to PRX and WBUR, and Futuro will license their podcast software for at least a year.

“We’re thrilled to kick off this project and elevate the voices of the underserved and underrepresented communities in Boston,” said Dilday in the press release. “Our hope is to expand this program to other cities across the country in the future and give the necessary access, skills, and tools to empower a new and diverse journalistic talent that can speak their truths and share their stories.”

Featured Image by Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography