By offering more people a platform to freely express themselves, podcasts have blurred cultural borders and created like-minded communities. The fourth day of Listen Up: The Power of Podcasting, Bulgaria’s first podcast festival, saw speakers from seven countries talk about the ways in which audio storytelling has reshaped the contemporary media industry.
“When we started out, we didn’t really know that there was that much of an interest in topics coming out of the Western Balkans,” said Alexander Brezar, co-host of Sarajevo Calling, a podcast about current affairs in Southeast Europe. “What we try to do is have our listeners feel as if they sat down with us and we’re just having a conversation over a cup of coffee.”
Brezar joined three other journalists from Central and Eastern Europe to discuss the rise of podcasting in this region. Lithuanian reporter Karolis Vysniauskas, host and producer of NARA, shared how his show contributed to the #MeToo movement by giving a voice to two women who accused a Lithuanian director of sexual misconduct. Vysniauskas highlighted that this format has enabled NARA’s team to cover sensitive topics such as social inequality and mental health.
“Podcasting let’s you go into these taboo topics that you wouldn’t speak [about] publicly on radio, you wouldn’t speak publicly on television,” he said. Vysniauskas also showed how his media organization used an audiovisual exhibition to promote its podcast to new audiences.
Another show, which has used physical spaces to bring people together and create shared experiences is the award-winning narrative podcast Radio Ambulante. For nearly a decade, the podcast has been telling hundreds of uniquely Latin American stories and building a loyal following. Radio Ambulante encourages its listeners to connect by joining listening clubs where they can enjoy episodes together and discuss them afterwards. According to Jorge Caraballo Cordovez, the show’s growth editor, its fans often say that Radio Ambulante expands their universe and identity. This happens thanks to well-crafted audio journalism reporting on the lives of real people in Latin America.
“As a listener, you want to be engaged. You want to be transformed by it,” Cordovez said, adding that for him it doesn’t matter where exactly a good story is taking place. “If it’s human, it’s universal.”
Cordovez’ talk was followed by a conversation about the importance of female voices and women’s issues in podcasting. Journalists Maeve McClenaghan and Nikola Bajanova noted that investigative reporting should not be viewed as a predominantly male venture and advocated for women to receive more acknowledgment in the media industry. In the same panel, Amira al Madami who co-hosts Oh, Yes!, a podcast for sex education and pleasure, talked about the inspiration behind her project.
“There was no outlet in Bulgarian that discussed the topics that we wanted to discuss,” said Madami who produces the show together with three other women. She admits that it can be difficult to be unanimous on divisive topics such as sexuality, which makes pluralism even more important. “We have a variety of opinions and showing in real time how they can coexist when they don’t cause harm. A lot of people have responded positively to this.”
Tune in today for more engaging discussions on the final day of Bulgaria’s first podcast festival. First, Katy Lee and Karolis Vysniauskas will talk about creating a sustainable business model for podcasts and raising funds on Patreon in their workshop about monetizing strategies. In another workshop, Jorge Caraballo Cordovez will present the different approaches Radio Ambulante has used to build a loyal listenership. Finally, podcasters Elenko Elenkov and Georgi Nenov, joined by journalist Polina Paunova, will consider the future of audio storytelling in Bulgaria.
You can still register for the event here.
The event is supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and America for Bulgaria Foundation.