This story will open your eyes to themes that “are particularly resonant in today’s world,” according to Morgenstern. “The story Josh tells is one of racism, classism, and trauma,” which he reveals through “deeply–reported journalism."
Emma Morgenstern, Liz Heit, Riane Puono, Sophie Beren, and Suzanne Kahn Weinberg, are just a few former Quakers making waves in audio–entertainment. They have tremendous insights on what it takes to make it in the podcast world, and are passionate about conversations that are being pushed forward in this industry.
Emma Morgenstern—Producer of The Queen
Emma Morgenstern (C ‘10) has worked to produce a variety of popular podcasts for ESPN, Slate, and Stitcher Media. After graduating from Penn, Morgenstern worked in the non–profit sector, but craved a change after a few years. “During that time, a friend told me about a cool podcast I should check out: This American Life. Seems quaint now, right? I started listening to it, and all of a sudden I was hooked on audio storytelling.”
Morgenstern took action on her passion and went to study at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. “It's one of only a few places where you can learn radio/podcast storytelling,” she explains. “From there I started freelancing, and eventually got more solid footing in the industry.”
Her most recent project, which aired in May and June last year, was a podcast called The Queen, based on the book The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth by Josh Levin. Levin hosts the podcast and digs into the origins of the “welfare queen” epithet through looking at the life of Linda Taylor. “Reagan used her as a stand–in for people who were cheating the welfare system; but in reality, she was not representative of people on welfare at all. Many of the crimes she committed over her lifetime were much more sinister than bilking the government out of thousands of dollars.” Morgenstern explains.
This story will open your eyes to themes that “are particularly resonant in today’s world,” according to Morgenstern. “The story Josh tells is one of racism, classism, and trauma,” which he reveals through “deeply–reported journalism." Josh reveals inside information about his reporting on the podcast, "and for journalism junkies, those peeks will keep you coming back for more,” she details.
As for the future of the podcast world, “there's been a lot of innovation in the industry over the five or six years I've been a producer,” Morgenstern explains, “which means that the medium feels less walled–off and more expansive.”
Look out for her future projects, one of which, she hints, will be a collaboration with Sports Illustrated.
Liz Heit—Host of It’s Fine I’m Fine
Liz Heit (C ‘18) records her podcast with Syracuse alumna Sarah Sasson in addition to working a full–time job as a paralegal for a corporate law firm. “We’re not doing it to get paid, we’re doing it because we like it and we’re passionate about it,” she says.
“The mission of our podcast is to destigmatize, start a conversation, and sort of help people feel a little bit less alone in their own brain,” Heit explains. Her podcast, It’s Fine I’m Fine, is set up as an intimate discussion about mental health. “Sarah and I are millennials living in New York City, trying to have conversations about mental health. We’re also relatable people, we’re not clinicians, so we feel like we have a unique take on this, and that a lot of audience members can relate to the fact that there are other people like them who might be struggling through anxiety and depression.”
So far, Heit and Sasson have discussed topics such as happiness, body image, and medication. However, they are relatively new to the podcast world, having only started recording a little over two months ago. “We were both a little hesitant to do something like this on our own, but because we both have such a unique perspective on mental health, we thought this would be a really great showcase for talking about something that a lot of people don’t like talking about.”
Heit extends the openness of her podcast to her other social media pages. While she showcases stylish outfits and a New York City lifestyle on her pages, she wants her followers to understand the struggles that occur beneath a polished surface. “I have a kind of diverse page in terms of the content I put out…I am trying to create a social media space that’s not totally aspirational, but is a little bit more relatable.”
For Heit, destigmatizing mental health through conversation is a source of happiness, but also takes a lot of work. “This is something that fills me up more with joy. I think Sarah and I share a similar goal which is that we really want to get a conversation going, but of course it takes a lot of time; it’s not just a conversation, it’s something that takes a lot of editing [and] marketing.”
It’s Fine I’m Fine launches at midnight every Tuesday, and you can listen “anywhere you can find a podcast.”
Riane Puono—Host of Alma Matters
Riane Puono (C ‘18) studied Communications and Consumer Psychology at Penn, and started her podcast, Alma Matters, after being discontent with her first job. “I realized that it was an awful fit for me. I wasn’t happy. It seemed so weird because so many people from Penn had gone down the same road, but when you’re recruited you don’t actually get a real sense of the job.”
Puono wanted to enter the podcast world to help young people get an accurate sense of the professional world, and avoid the negative experience she had. “I felt like no podcast was really talking about the school experience and how integral that is to forming a career. Basic things like networking, how to approach your first job, and how to ask for a raise—people who have achieved all these things know all of the answers.”
In Alma Matters, Puono speaks with professionals working in a variety of industries—those who operate at the highest level in their respective fields—and focuses on how the college experience shapes successful people. When the podcast first aired, Puono spoke exclusively with Penn alumni, but she now features those from a variety of institutions. “From Penn especially, there are so many people with such a wealth of experience in so many different industries,” she says. “I wanted to have a way for that to be accessible for students and for young people struggling with their career paths and what they want to do.”
Puono now creates her podcast in addition to working a full–time job as a marketing associate—and she is clearly passionate about the podcast world. “Podcasts are so accessible. They are a pretty passive medium…they can accompany whatever activity you’re doing. They insert you into another person’s world in a very intimate way.”
Stay tuned for a new season, which should be out this month. Future episodes of Alma Matters, which Puono reveals will feature big names such as the Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, and Four Weddings and a Funeral actress Rebecca Rittenhouse.
Sophie Beren—Creator of The Conversationalist
Sophie Beren (C ‘17) always had an affinity for uniting different perspectives. During her time at Penn, she started the Table Talk club, which she designed to “bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise meet through creative programming and different avenues for conversation.” After graduating with a Masters in Non–profit Leadership only one semester after her undergraduate studies, she pursued Table Talk full time. “I was able to scale Table Talk from my time at Penn until this past year to over 80 campuses,” she says proudly.
Her newest venture, The Conversationalist, which launched on October 7, is a take on the same ideas as Table Talk. “The Conversationalist is a new content platform designed to empower young people everywhere to have conversations that matter. We are going to be putting out weekly podcasts, videos, and articles all related to topics that young adults struggle with day–to–day.”
While a podcast is only one form of content out of the many produced by The Conversationalist, it is nevertheless a very important part of Beren’s vision. “I thought a podcast was really the best way to start including multiple voices in the conversation,” she says. “We’re starting this Conversationalist podcast to really have these conversations in–depth with the people, and mostly people of influence who experience them firsthand.”
The podcast begins by showing different perspectives on a controversial current event as collected from ordinary people on the street and in communities. Guests on the show then provide their opinion, and finally Beren speaks with an expert. The idea is “to start with personal experience, introduce the current event, and then discuss the context and future implications with an expert or a thought leader.”
“I really hope that the listener is able to listen to the episode, and really be able to formulate where they stand on these issues, and solidify one’s own beliefs as it relates to the topic.” Beren says. The openness to different perspectives that characterizes The Conversationalist, and makes it different from many existing platforms. "Instead of just having a one–on–one podcast, we make sure we have at least two guests on every episode so they can connect, and also so we can provide our audience with multiple points of view. … I hope the listener can take what’s being said on the episode and have these discussions with everyone around them in their day–to–day lives. “
The Conversationalist's content is geared towards young people, in the hopes that it will “get us out of our echo chambers and allow us to voice our opinions without fear of judgement.” Beren believes that this “will help us unify the world.”
You can listen on all platforms, and every Tuesday the weekly episode will be released.
Suzanne Kahn Weinberg—Producer of The Big Payoff
Suzanne Kahn Weinberg (C ‘89) worked as a multimedia producer and project manager prior to delving into podcast creation: “I developed a good eye and ear for producing corporate videos and telling stories,” she explains. “When I was ready to get back to work after a few years off to raise my family, I had become very interested in radio and audio stories.”
Kahn Weinberg now produces The Big Payoff, “a great show for women in the workplace who are just starting out, are reaching new plateaus of leadership, or on the precipice of change of any kind.” The podcast is hosted by two women, Suzanne Muchin and Rachel Bellow, who are best friends and business partners. In each episode, they discuss topics pertaining to women's work and personal lives, offering their experience, points of view, and advice. “They are smart and funny—you just wish you could jump into the conversation with them,” Kahn Weinberg explains.
The Big Payoff provides guidance catered to the challenges women face when striving for success. “This show does a really great job of talking about issues, circumstances, and challenges that come up for women in the workplace that are not your typical women in the workplace conversations,” Kahn Weinberg explains.
Kahn Weinberg certainly has a grasp on what it takes to be successful in the podcast space. “There are over 500,000 podcasts, so getting discovered is all about who is distributing your show and advertising…and having tens of thousands of listeners, at least, is the only way to get advertisers to make money with your show. Shows created or hosted by writers, actors, online celebs, public figures who already have a big following can have hundreds of thousands of listeners almost instantly. Shows created in garages might be amazing but it will be very hard to get [a] serious number of listeners and advertisers.”
Despite the difficulties that accompany achieving widespread success in the modern podcast space, Kahn Weinberg encourages us to get involved. "Podcasts are so accessible now to listeners and there is truly a style and topic for everybody. It can be micro–niche.” If you want to enter the podcast space, Kahn Weinberg recommends you “look for internships and entry level production work with local NPR stations and podcast networks already creating lots of work… learn how to use editing software and put together audio stories any chance you get for school projects…listen to a lot of shows with different styles: audio fiction, narrative, documentary, interviews, new shows, discussion/conversation. Explore them all and see which are the ones that excite you.”
The Big Payoff releases a few shows each month, and can be found wherever you usually search for podcasts.