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Category: Telling stories

Metabolizing culture and history through storytelling

Kerning Cultures is a podcast whose mission is to dissect the more complex narratives of the Middle East through stories. I spoke with one of the show’s co-founders, Hebah Fisher, about podcasting in the Middle East — how listening behaviors vary, the different types of stories that get told, and the role of the Western perspective. This interview has been edited and condensed.


Why did you and your co-founder, Razan Alzayani, decide to focus your show on narratives of the Middle East?

Audio storytelling pulls on the long tradition of oral history that we have in the Middle East. Many years ago, storytellers (called hakawaty) would gather people in a circle in the streets and tell long narrative, often historical  stories of heroes and legends to entertain and educate them. That tradition hasn’t been completely lost, per se, but it’s no longer common. We wanted to modernize it and bring it to the current day to explore topics like society, culture, history, entrepreneurship, and current affairs through personal stories.

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Building your podcast’s online community

Podcasters take on so many roles to get our shows made: writer, researcher, editor, interviewer, host, social media manager, web developer, designer, marketer. But one job that I don’t often see discussed is community management.

Community managers turn people with something in common into real communities and keep those communities healthy. They are what make tight-knit subreddits on Reddit different from diffuse hashtags on Twitter, creating the conditions for participants to organize, interact, contribute, and feel invested in their community. I don’t think any podcast active today has a dedicated community manager, and I suspect a lot of producers don’t even think about hiring one—but every single one of us could use one. Community, specificity, and strength of engagement are what make podcasts so special. We must devote time to our shows’ communities to help them grow.

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People over tape

We’re 90 minutes into a two-hour recording session and I’m guessing I only have about 30 seconds of usable material.

I’m glancing back and forth from the clients to my phone, pretending to read along with the script, but I’m really just checking the clock. I’m not sure if it’s the grey weather, my choice of cookies over pretzels for snacks, or the way I’m folding my arms, but I can’t seem to find the right strategy to get the tape I need from them. I’ve re-written the script, used up all of my best dad jokes, and even held an impromptu jumping jacks session, but it’s all been for naught.

I need two minutes of solid, natural conversation between two clients about the history of an upcoming holiday, and we have 30 minutes to nail it before our allotted studio time is up. Simple, right?

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Hail and well met, listeners! Storytelling structure in audio drama

On a sticky night near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY, Third Coast brought five head honchos of the audio world together on one stage. To the delight of the audio nerds in the crowd (read: Brooklynites. Read: me), the moderator Johanna Zorn asked the panel what they wanted to see next in podcasting. Gimlet’s Alex Blumberg said he wanted to see fiction pieces that sounded less like the theater and more like television. The panel nodded their heads and agreed, and everyone drank an artisanal beer.

Alex, I love Reply All and Matt Lieber, but I gotta disagree with you. I want audio fiction that sounds less like a TV show and more like a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

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