by Payton Bruni
In November 2016, Tri-State Public Media (WNIN) launched the bilingual podcast ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? Headed by producer Paola Marizán, ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? was established with the hopes of telling the stories of Latino community members living in the Midwest. Now with listeners both in and outside of the U.S., people tune in to podcast episodes recorded in a combination of Spanish and English. Audience members are able to contribute to the podcast’s production by suggesting their story ideas and guest-starring in podcast episodes.
Project Goals: Noticing a lack of journalistic content geared towards Latinos living in the Midwest, ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? producer and WNIN staff member Paola Marizán says the podcast’s primary goal is to create a sense of community. Marizán said, “We definitely like to think we are serving the community, specifically that Latino community.”
Tools and Technology: As a WNIN project, ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? utilizes the Tri-State Public Media website in addition to a dedicated Squarespace page to house the podcast. Audience engagement is done with in-person surveys and online through Twitter/Facebook. Additional studio and recording equipment was purchased solely for the podcast using grant funding received from Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Public Radio Exchange (PRX).
Impact: The ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? project team accomplished their goal in reaching out to the Latino communities of the Midwest. Initially starting with approximately 200 followers on Facebook, ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? now has 11,213 concurrent followers. Additionally, 80% of audience members listening through Apple Podcast are subscribed to ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest?, and there have been over 6,000 podcast downloads on the PRX Publish app. Marizán said, “We realized that we weren’t only being heard in the Midwest; our episodes were being played in South America and Central America as well,” and added that “our biggest audience is actually in Venezuela.” Marizán explained that with some of the crisis in Venezuela, people often look for content that informs them on what’s happening in the US. “…I’m sure we’ve popped up in their social media feed,” said Marizán. Evident through listener metrics and the significant number of audience letters received, the bilingual podcast is popular with both Spanish and English speakers. Marizán said, “We have comments and emails all the time like: hey, my kid is studying Spanish and your episodes are great because he can just listen to Spanish and the English and he can still follow the storyline.” For their Spanish speaking audience, Marizán said, “…many talk about how they loved the story, how they connected with it and how refreshing it is to hear both languages in a show.”
Organization Background: ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? is hosted by WNIN Tri-State Public Media. WNIN is an NPR affiliate through its radio broadcasting, and a PBS affiliate through its TV station. For the 2017 year, WNIN had total revenues of $4.5 million with $2.7 million of those revenues stemming from grants and donations.
Project Resources: ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? was able to kick-start its production with funding from PRX’s podcast training: Project Catapult. As a participant of Project Catapult, the ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? team received a little over $70,000 from PRX. Marizan said that this funding was more than enough to get the podcast started, and the funding has even carried over to the production of season two. Marizan said there are four main staff members solely working on the ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? team, as well as five or six podcast contributors.
Here’s how it happened
Marizán, the WNIN staff member who initially sought to create ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest?, discussed how the idea of a bilingual podcast came to fruition. Marizán said that after she came to Evansville, Indiana, from Puerto Rico, she noticed a lack of journalistic stories covering the Latino communities of the Midwest. Marizán said, “I kept looking for stories about Latinos because I wanted to feel like I could relate, but I kept listening to stories from Latinos in California and the big issues in New York and things like that.” She went on to add, “I always wondered: so what about Latinos here in the Midwest?” Marizán said that after she noticed this lack of coverage in the media, she was inspired to create a sense of community for Latinos through the ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? podcast. After running the idea of a bilingual podcast with her boss, Steve Burger, Marizán was able to get the ball rolling on her project idea. Later, the ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? team was selected to be part of a $1 million grant given to PRX from CPB. For six months, the podcast team received training from PRX as members of Project Catapult. The ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? team flew to the PRX headquarters in Boston twice a month where they learned about podcast production, monetization, and more.
Here’s what worked
1. Finding a balance in bilingual storytelling
Marizán explained that although one of the main goals was to create a sense of community for Latinos, ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? needed to appeal to a multitude of demographics. With this in mind, the podcasts incorporated a balance of Spanish and English that could appeal to any listener regardless of their first language. She said at first it was “a little bit of a concern to put mostly Spanish on the air when people weren’t necessarily ready for that,” but added that listeners slowly became more welcoming to a combination of language usage. Marizán said they “started dropping a little bit of Spanish here and there,” then gradually increased the amount of Spanish use once the podcasts proved to be well-received.
2. Crowd-sourcing stories & creating relevant content
If ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? was going to create a sense of community for Latinos, it was clear to the production team that their stories would have to reflect that community’s interests. Marizán said she spent a significant amount of time surveying the Latino community of Evansville in person and online in order to find the right stories to tell. Marizán said, “We went to festivals and asked people what do you think we should talk about,” and added “with surveys on social media we were really paying attention.” Marizán said some of the survey questions included “What do you see represented in the Midwest?” and “What stories do you want to hear about for your community on the air?”
3. Promoting key podcast episodes
For ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest?, promotion was key to the podcast’s success. Marizán said that for important episodes, such as their story about New Years celebrations in the Americas, there was a significant amount of time and effort spent on getting the word out. Marizán said, “We did a lot more promotion for that one (episode) and we made sure we were in the radar of everybody.” Marizán said she tried to send the message of “Hey, I know this is a time where you think about your family and your country so here’s that little bit we want to share with you.” She said the message was well received, and “a lot of people gravitated towards the podcast once we did that.”
Here’s what could work have worked better
1. Preparing multiple audio stories in advance
Marizán said, “Something that we’re doing right now for season two that we didn’t really prioritize for season one was having multiple episodes already produced before we launched.” Marizán explained that without a backlog of episodes already produced, season one was “a little overwhelming.” Moving forward, Marizán said “we’re definitely putting a lot of audio in the can and producing it and having it ready to air before the actual deadline.”
2. Inviting more podcast contributors
For the future, Marizán said she wants to invite more guest speakers to participate in podcast episodes. “Maybe something that I haven’t gone through, someone else had gone through that they could share with the rest of us and make that story relatable,” said Marizán. Marizán said, “I think having more contributors on our episodes shows that a lot of people really enjoy listening to other voices, not just mine.”
3. Refining the production process
“I think one of the goals is that we definitely want to produce at a higher quality,” Marizán explained. She talked about how when the production team began season one, there was an initial learning curve to creating podcast episodes. Marizán said, “We want to tweak and tune some of our audio production because we were beginners; so sometimes we got something slipped into an episode or two.” She added that for season two: improved production quality will be a priority.
Here’s what else you should know
- Knowing your audience: The ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? team knew who their target audience was, and tried to focus on a platform that would be accessible to that community. Marizán said the Latino community of the Midwest is a working community, “so they’re usually doing longer shifts and when they come home it’s around eight or 10 at night.” Marizán said one of the main reasons they decided on podcast episodes was so their listeners could tune in on their own time.
- Funding wasn’t an issue; promotion was: Marizán said, “In the beginning it was kind of a challenge to get the Latino community to know about the program…with the Latino community here in the Midwest, word of mouth is kind of the best way to get things out there.” Marizán explained “it wasn’t so much as funding, but just reaching the Latino community was very different from reaching the other communities that maybe we do over the air here in our station.” She went on to add that “I think being present at events and telling people about the podcast was the best avenue.”
- Advice for others: “If it’s about replicating what we’re doing, don’t be scared to be adventurous when it comes to language,” said Marizán. She recommended that anyone who might be interested in producing bilingual stories should have confidence in their audience. Marizán said, “Don’t be scared to challenge the audience because sometimes we underestimate them.”
To learn more about ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest?, don’t hesitate to contact Paola Marizán through Twitter or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in checking out more content from ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest?, stop by their Twitter and Facebook pages.