Like millions of other twenty and thirty-somethings from Eastern Europe, Irinka Hromotska got into podcasts a few years ago. She discovered they were a pleasant distraction and way to pass the time on public transport in her native Lviv, Ukraine. A documentary photographer and journalism student interested in environmental issues and women’s rights, Irinka is now developing her own podcast in which she wants to have the kind of authentic conversations about shared human experience that got her through all of those long commutes.
Irinka was one of nearly thirty participants at the Prague Civil Society Centre’s first podcasting school February 7-10 in Tbilisi, Georgia, opened in response to overwhelming demand from civil society activists and journalists from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia for coaching to help them get onto one of the fastest growing media platforms in the world. The course was massively over-subscribed, prompting the Centre to open a concurrent online version to include more applicants.
The would-be podcasters who attended the Tbilisi school spent four days with mentors, themselves hosts of some of the most popular podcasts in the region, to learn the ins and outs of the craft. Among those leading the seminars was the BBC Russian Service’s Vsevolod Boyko, who explores how people lived in one of the most volatile decades of Russia’s history in his podcast “Eight Stories from the Nineties”, and speaks with journalists about their experience reporting from the conflict zone in Ukraine in his podcast “Business Trip to Donetsk”. Sessions were also lead by Kyrylo Beskorovayny, creator of a podcast popularising science in Ukraine, as well as Katerina Azhgirey, co-creator of the most popular Belarusian podcast about mental health, “We Didn’t Finish Talking!”.
The workshop covered every step of developing a podcast, from conception, storytelling, visual identity, sound design, recording equipment, editing, audience building and marketing. Participants’ ideas were put through the ringer over the course of the four-day workshop and they all left with a ready-to-publish teaser for their podcast. Their concepts brought a fresh take on topics like ecology, women’s rights, animal rights, mental health and more. One participant is working on a clever podcast that will have a more breezy approach in discussing ways to live green, a departure from the preachy, moralising tone some conversations on the eco-friendly lifestyle can take. Another is developing a sex-ed podcast that will be both humorous and informative, removing the awkwardness that prevents a frank discussion of the topic.
For her podcast, Irinka wants to do a series of interviews with successful people that focuses not on their successes, but rather their failures, rejections and embarrassing moments. “I want to make people laugh, and hopefully help them to understand that none of us is perfect and that is ok,” she said.
Unlike traditional radio stories, podcasts usually feature more narration and rely more heavily on the subjective feelings of the host, making for a more intimate listening experience. Combined with the low cost and relative ease of production compared to other multimedia platforms, podcasts seem an ideal medium for civil society activists and journalists to connect with their audience.
Podcasts surged in popularity in the U.S. and Europe beginning in 2018, and are set to follow this trend in the Russian language sphere this year. Russian language podcasts had an average monthly audience of 5.1 million in 2019, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a New York-based marketing research company, and that number is set to double in 2020.