Stony Brook Southampton announced a first-of-its-kind Audio Podcast Fellows Program on Dec. 18. Two months later, the one-year course set to start in September has already sparked an unexpected amount of interest.
The program will be split into two semesters and will encompass every aspect of podcasting – from hosting and editing to producing and marketing. There are no prerequisites or education requirements for applying. Instead, the website asks potential applicants to simply “understand the potential of this new medium.”
“This is definitely our experiment year, but I think from the response that we’re getting now, that there’s a real niche for it,” Kathleen Russo, the program’s director, said. “We’ve got a lot of applications and lots of people on a daily basis emailing to get more information. So we feel like we hit upon something.”
The inspiration for the program came from Russo’s second job as a producer for actor Alec Baldwin’s podcast, “Here’s the Thing.” Russo brought in interns from her day job in the Stony Brook Southampton Master of Fine Arts program and saw how applicable the medium could be to storytelling.
“Robert Reeves – who is the provost of our department, MFA and Creative Writing – the two of us kind of came up with it together,” Russo said. “Bob and I were sort of like, ‘Well, maybe this is another career opportunity for our students who are actually in the MFA writing courses because they can use their writing skills as another way to make a living in podcasting while they’re writing their novel.’”
Then, they realized that podcasting remains an unexplored medium in academia.
“Then it developed into, ‘Wait, no one else in the country is doing a complete, comprehensive program in podcasting,’” Russo said. “We’d be the first ones to do it.”
While other universities may have podcast classes or incorporate the medium into broader classes, this will be the first program solely focused on podcasting. At Stony Brook, the only undergraduate course with a focus on audio storytelling in any form is a one-credit class titled “Audio Journalism Lab.”
The sizable interest in Russo’s program aligns with the booming growth of the podcast industry. Based on data collected in January 2017, the Pew Research Center estimated that 40 percent of Americans over the age of 12 listened to a podcast before and 24 percent listened to one in the last month. Another study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, revealed that podcast ad revenues increased by 72 percent between 2015 and 2016 among the top 20 podcast producers. PwC estimated another 85 percent increase between 2016 and 2017.
While the podcast industry is lucrative and there is growing interest, there is still one problem: no one knows how to make one.
“There’s a lot of people who have ideas for shows but not ideas for how to staff them,” Russo said. “Most producers I know are working on more than one show.”
Throughout the course, students will work both at an internship with a professional podcast producer and on their personal podcast. Guest faculty will include “The Moth” host and artistic director, Catherine Burns, WNYC’s vice president for on-demand content, Emily Botein and others who have found success in the industry.
“The goal is that when you graduate after the year, you’ll know how to edit, you’ll know how to write, you’ll know how to host or produce behind the scenes,” Russo said. “You’ll know all aspects of podcasting plus you’ll have something that you created on your own.”
Russo said applicants they received so far ranged in age from 18 to 70, and they hope the inaugural class will have a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.
“One of our very first applicants, she’s interested in the food industry, she’s interested in doing a food podcast and she’s a chef,” Russo said. “You’re going to get people from all walks of life I think.”
Applications for the program will be considered on a rolling basis until June, but Russo intends to start informing accepted applicants beginning on March 1.