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Pilot program is paying locals to podcast

Catherine McGloin
Pilot program is paying locals to podcast
Futuro Media wants to hear untold stories from Boston's communities of color. Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov.

Communities in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan will have the chance to share neighborhood stories and personal experiences with a national audience this fall, following the launch of the Community Podcast Lab in Allston.

The 15-week pilot program will provide technical resources and a $10 hourly wage to six chosen residents who, with little to no podcasting knowledge, will create episodes that focus on under-reported stories from Boston’s communities of color. These are the narratives that Erika Dilday, executive director of Futuro Media, the nonprofit behind the lab, said often go untold.

“Public media is still fairly elite. Listeners, donors, participants, they’re still privileged, educated and mostly white,” said Dilday, a seasoned journalist and Bostonian, who grew up in the neighborhoods that the podcast lab will serve. “This is an opportunity to give a voice to people who don’t see themselves in public media.”

With the support of WBUR and MASSCreative, the lab will be based at the PRX Podcast Garage in Allston, but local centers will be set up in Roxbury and the South End to save successful candidates the commute.

“Boston is rich in culture, diversity and creativity, but often resources and attention are given to a select few,” said Matthew Wilson, executive director of MASSCreative, a state-wide advocacy organization helping Futuro Media find local groups to participate in the project. “The lab is going to make it possible to hear stories from all different communities, to share them respectfully … and connect these neighborhoods with others across the city.”

Futuro Media, a nationwide organization based in Harlem, produces “Latino USA,” National Public Radio’s only English-language national Latino news program. Dilday said they chose Boston as the location for the lab because “it was the perfect storm — the right place, the right time and the right message.”

People of color make up about 52 percent of the city’s population, according to the 2010 census, yet many of the stories told in the media about this majority are negative, skewed or simply ignored, said Dilday.

“[The media] helicopters in, tells a woeful story, then helicopters out, and that’s it, they don’t let them tell their own stories,” said Dilday.

Although this treatment by the media is not unique to Boston, Dilday said that the city has lacked a focus on unity and equity in recent years, describing it as “tribalistic.” She hopes the lab will encourage those who would like to see change come together to share experiences and ideas.

“Local institutions don’t often have the resources or training, but the lab coming to Boston is a great boon,” said Wilson. He noted that many of the groups MASSCreative has already contacted, including Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción in the South End, are excited to have the resources they need to preserve their oral histories.

These resources are often denied to these groups, said Wilson, because public funding is limited and the majority of it goes to older, established cultural institutions. The lab will help redress inequalities in funding, as well as racial and gender disparities in the boardrooms of many U.S. media companies.

A disproportionate number of public media managers are white men, said Dilday, which makes it hard for people of color to engage with and direct the stories that are told about them. By giving production control to underrepresented communities, she hopes a diverse range of stories can be explored in each 10-minute podcast.

The episodes will touch on a wide range of issues, to be defined by those who are brought into the lab, but listeners can expect stories that are filled with alternative perspectives and nuanced interpretations. An example that Dilday shared with the Banner came from the lab’s first finalist, a 30-year-old legal clerk, raised in Boston by parents she referred to in her interview as “bad immigrants.” With criminal records, it might be assumed they were also bad parents, but, Dilday said, they acted out of love and the need to survive.

“The real goal is to get these stories into the neighborhoods,” said Dilday. To achieve this, WBUR will host a graduation ceremony once the finished podcasts are released in January, inviting participants and community members to gather and discuss their work. Plans are afoot for Boston Public Library to organize similar events, and for the lab’s media host, PRX, to distribute the recordings.

Wilson hopes the pilot will attract more support, be it funding, staff or technology, to arts and culture in Massachusetts and to “invisible neighborhoods” across the state.

After the pilot concludes, Dilday would like to see participants carry on with their projects and develop their newfound public voices.

“It’s time we bring public media to communities,” said Dilday, “instead of expecting communities to come to public media.”

media, podcasts, storytelling