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Milwaukee PBS' 'Speaking Of...' podcast aims makes public media personal

Speaking Of... podcast art
Milwaukee PBS
'Speaking Of...' hosts and producers (from left to right) Scottie Lee Meyers, Alexandria Mack and Mariano Avila.

Journalists in public media mainly help tell the stories of other people in the community. But we’re also a part of the same neighborhoods we report on. A new podcast from Milwaukee PBS called Speaking Of... wants to make public media personal.

Three Milwaukee PBS multimedia producers, Mariano Avila, Alexandria Mack and Scottie Lee Meyers, put the series together. From Black homeownership to conversations on racism and systemic racism in a predominately white suburb, each episode unpacks the producers' relationships to Milwaukee.

Avila says, "Having a personal relationship with your audience is really important. We are no longer in a space where we can pretend that what we put out there is going to be received as fact. Having a way to develop that relationship with your audience, with your viewers, with your readers, whoever it is ... is very, very important."

He recounts when he stated working at Milwaukee PBS, he was still in Michigan and couldn't produce television segments like he wanted, so he made a pilot for this series. It wasn't long before Mack and Meyers were added to the team and now a year later, the trio was ready for their podcast to be heard.

For Mack, it was somewhat challenging sharing a personal element. As a producer, she says she's not used to being in the story. Still, Mack says she's enjoyed the process of seeing her story as part of Milwaukee's narrative — it helps people get to know her and follow the other stories she tells.

"People should listen to Speaking Of... because we all bring such different perspectives, it's not really common that you have people from different generations, of different races, different ethnic backgrounds," Mack shares.

Meyers points out that young journalists are taught that reporters aren't supposed to be a part of the story. And while for some stories that may be true, he says it's OK to share parts of yourselves as well.

"You know, we call it 'Small-waukee' for a reason is because this community is big, but also small enough that you have a relationship with with just about everything and everyone and there's constant intersections," says Meyers.

Sharing a bit of herself, Mack says, has helped built trust between her and interviewees, but also helped her process her own feelings. When she was a graduate student at the University of Southern California, Mack worked on a story about the impact of incarceration has on families. At the time, she had a loved one who was also incarcerated.

"As journalists, we know how high the stakes are. We are very particular with our own words and our own image, because we know the power of the media and how things can be manipulated and taken out of context," she says. "So I think when we put ourselves out there, it can give our listeners, our viewers, some sort of relief like, 'OK, I'm not alone out there.'"

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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