Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 Jenna Spinelle class of 2008 is a writer, podcaster, and speaker in higher education. She hosts and produces the Democracy Works podcast and the narrative series when the people decide both productions of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts. She teaches courses on freelancing and the Creator economy at Penn State's. Donald P. Bellisaro College of Communications, from which she earned her BA in Journalism with Honors in 2008. She also finds time to freelance for various firms and publications. She previously worked in marketing and public relations positions at Penn State Ïand in traditional newspaper settings. Her writing has appeared in outlets including Be Collective Inside Higher Ed and Current. You can find her on Twitter at jenna spinelli, or visit her [email protected]
. You can check out a more detailed breakdown of the episode topics in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's dive into our conversation with Jenna following the gong.
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Jenna, thank you so much for joining us here on Following the Gong. I'm very excited to have a fellow Penn State podcaster on the show, and I'm, I'm looking forward to what feedback you can give me afterwards as a professional. And we're gonna talk a lot about podcasting here on the podcast today. But if you've listened to any of our episodes before, you know, we like to go back to the beginning. And Jenna, I'd love to hear about how you came first to Penn State and then to the Schreyer Honors College.
Jenna Spinelle 00:02:18 Sure. Uh, well, thanks for having me, Sean. Hopefully we won't get too meta here talking about podcasts, on a podcast about podcasting <laugh>. Um, but, uh, also happy to, to share, uh, my journey into Schreyer. So, um, I came to Penn State in the fall of 2004 as a journalism major. Um, I grew up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which is a, a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. Um, and I knew I wanted to major in journalism that became a, a passion of mine and in high school and really what I gravitated toward. Uh, and so I applied to journalism schools across the country and was actually, actually committed to go somewhere else, but, uh, at the last minute kind of decided that I wanted to stay closer to home for a variety of reasons. And, uh, luckily Penn State, uh, has, with the largest accredited communication program in the country, a vibrant student media landscape. So, um, I even though, you know, I didn't get the kind of maybe bright lights big city that I thought I had wanted at one point, but State College was really the, the perfect community for me, as evidenced by the fact that I'm still here, which we can also talk about.
Sean 00:03:34 There’s a lot there that I do wanna unpack the, the first part and is how you actually came to pick journalism and what was it about that field particularly, you said you always kind of wanted to pursue that and you were looking at some, I know there's some other notable programs out there that come to mind, like one of our Big 10 colleagues at Northwestern and some other, so what drew you to journalism as a, as a trade?
Jenna 00:03:54 Yeah, so I was, um, pretty shy and introverted, uh, in, in high school and was kind of looking for a way to break out of that. And I think I heard an announcement like over the school announcements in the morning that the student newspaper was holding tryouts and, um, walked into the <laugh>, the newspaper office and talked to the advisor and, uh, went through the process and, and joined the staff and really, really fell in love with it pretty quickly. I, I had a, a great advisor. I, I should say, shout out to Mrs. Weibel at Pottsville Area High School. She really instilled the, the love of journalism in me and got to do some interesting stories. The, the, um, administration at my high school was very open to talking about kind of thorny issues maybe, or things that might be a little controversial, like underage drinking.
Jenna 00:04:45 We did this big story about that, that pretty much ensured I would like never be part of the Cool Kids Club <laugh> that, you know, because I wrote about these parties that happened. And so I just love talking to people and that I could still have interactions with people, but not put myself in the spotlight. And that's sort of one of the hallmarks of journalism and certainly continued through my experience at Penn State. That was the, the mode that my faculty that I studied with here sort of brought to, or, you know, their view of, of the profession. Something that, that is changing and we can talk more about that. But, um, I just have, I've always had the sense of curiosity and I love to read and write. And so journalism allowed me to combine all of those things.
Sean 00:05:28 You were involved in the campus media scene and I've been at some other universities and other cities, and I think that is really one of the special things about Penn State that maybe doesn't get quite the notoriety that other special parts of our university does. And that is that we have so many opportunities for students who are interested in media to flex their muscles as a student. Obviously none of these are sponsored or asking me to share these, but there's the Daily Collegiate, onward State Valley Magazine and just so many others that come to mind. What were you involved in and how have you seen that evolve over time?
Jenna 00:05:59 Yeah, so I was on staff at the Daily Collegiate, uh, which was really one of my pivotal experiences at Penn State. I, I loved it and am still in touch with, with a lot of the people that I, I worked with on the staff. And we got to do some really important work and were an integral part of, of the media scene. It wasn't like, you know, I had a press pass and I went to news conferences and there was a, a pretty major story that happened, um, during the spring semester of my freshman year. A guy named Ray Kar, who was the district attorney at the time, went missing. And it was this national story and like, you know, I remember going to, uh, a press conference at the State College police office and seeing like reporters that I recognized from the Cable News channel sitting there next to me.
Jenna 00:06:46 And, you know, we were just like anybody else. The, the editor at the time I think even went on some of the TV news shows to talk about what was happening from the student perspective. So that was my really pivotal media experience. But as you said, it really has expanded so much things like Valley Magazine or on and, and Onward States and, um, happy Valley Communications, the Center County Report, like they, at least to my knowledge, were not around when I was a student. So I, you know, now I teach in the Bellisario College of Communications, and I always encourage my students to get involved in media of some sort, whether as, as a writer, photographer, designer on the advertising or business side, um, I thought is really the best way to hone your professional skills, uh, and also also network and get the experience that you need to supplement an internship or something along those lines. So yes, I, I, I agree with you that, that the student media environment at Penn State does make it special and, and maybe set it apart from some of the other journalism programs in the country.
Sean 00:07:55 So if you're thinking about this, and I know we've had some folks on who've also been collegiate writers, and Onward State was founded in Atherton Hall by Scholars, uh, my first year, uh, circuit 2008, I believe. And you don't have to be a journalism major to or in, even in the Donald p Berio college to pursue any of these opportunities. So, you know, if this is somewhere where you want to flex your writing muscles or those kind of things, or, you know, there's even, uh, 46 live during thaw and other opportunities. So you should check those out if that's even, you know, you could be a biology major and still pursue these, which I think is a pretty special opportunity for students. And Jenna's here nodding <laugh>.
Jenna 00:08:32 Yeah, no, I'm, I'm just thinking that, um, my co-writer on a lot of those Ray Greek car stories was actually an engineering major, I believe.
Sean 00:08:41 My point proven. Uh, so thank you, Jenna. Now one thing we haven't mentioned yet is that, so you got involved with the Daily Collegiate pretty early on, and we're covering these, and obviously that's a fascinating story that still hasn't been resolved to my knowledge, you know, 15, 18 years later, but we haven't shared how you actually came to be in the Honors College. Can you share that? 'cause I think there may be some students who are listening who could relate to that or maybe want to pursue that if they're a prospective student.
Jenna 00:09:05 Uh, the Honors College was not on my radar when I was applying out of high school. I think for, for a variety of reasons. One, maybe that, you know, I was applying to so many different programs and I am a first generation college student, so I was kind of new to the whole process and, and doing the applications largely on my own. So it was just a lot to keep track of and manage for, you know, and a 17 or 18 year old. But my first year, I believe it was like the end of the fall semester, I remember getting a letter in my campus mailbox, uh, inviting me to apply to enter the honors college for my sophomore year. And maybe it came the beginning of spring semester based on my fall semester grades. I don't know, somewhere in that timeframe I got a letter in my, uh, on-campus mailbox in tenor hall and, um, thought, oh, this sounds great. Like I would love to do this. Uh, and so I, I did and, um, ended up being accepted and, uh, getting to do some really interesting work in media law and, and the first amendment that, uh, ultimately led to my thesis.
Sean 00:10:16 It's almost like you knew exactly what I was gonna ask next. And just a quick plug, you know, if you're a prospective scholar, get to know your faculty 'cause they're gonna be a huge part of helping you get into the college in that same process that Jenna went through. So we've had plenty of other guests who've, who've come in as a current Penn State student, just like Jenna and I did. So go back and listen to those episodes if you want some additional advice. But I wanna hear about your thesis, 'cause I think it's probably still very relevant today, but what it sounds like, yeah,
Jenna 00:10:43 So my, uh, thesis examined the impact of lawsuits on news coverage at family owned newspapers. And the, the key there being family owned newspapers, it, it's actually sadly not as relevant today as it was even back then because there are fewer of them. So these are not news outlets that are owned by large corporations, uh, that have, uh, or at least my, my presumption or, or what I was testing was that, you know, these papers that were owned by individuals or by families did not have the, the funding, the corporate apparatus, the access to, to attorneys and all of these resources to be able to help push back or fight back against lawsuits claiming libel or defamation or, or other types of things. And so as a result, I wanted to find out whether that lack of, of resources or perceived lack of resources would make them more cautious in the, in the stories that they chose to cover or not, or how they did the, the reporting and the editing and everything else that goes into producing news coverage.
Jenna 00:11:52 Um, so I got to, to travel, uh, I went and interviewed, um, newspaper editors throughout Pennsylvania. I went down to Washington dc uh, to interview someone from the, um, it was like the National Media Law Center or, or some, some umbrella organization that provided support to journalists to, to talk about sort of the 10,000 foot view of like, are there differences that you see in your work between, you know, newspapers depending on who owns them. And what I found was that the, the threat of lawsuits was not, at least at that time, and, and something that the, the staff and the editors really thought much about. They were just committed to doing the best work that they could and getting the truth out there to their readers. And, you know, if you are doing truthful and honest and accurate work, the law, the First Amendment and subsequent case law is going to be on your side. So you, those lawsuits really are not a threat as long as your reporting is is solid.
Sean 00:12:53 You know, it's interesting, you couldn't have predicted when you wrote this in 2008 that later on, you know, just as example, the Washington Post was bought by Jeff Bezos, who was obviously the founder, um, and long time leader of Amazon. So kind of interesting how the media landscape has shifted just in that timeframe. Now, what you entered into as a new grad and have kinda worked your through your career has obviously changed and evolved. And currently a large part of your, your role now is doing podcasting, which was just in its infancy at that time, really even just kind of the term was starting to be born. But I'd love if you could walk us through your career and the different experiences that you had prior to coming back to Penn State and joining the McCourtney Institute over in the College of the Liberal Arts.
Jenna 00:13:38 Sure. Uh, so my first job out of college was working at a newspaper in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is where I had done an internship previously. Uh, it was called the Lancaster New Era. And I say was because it unfortunately no longer exists, it was an evening newspaper, um, which was, uh, even in 2008 that was very much a rarity. So I worked 6:30 AM to 2:30 PM schedule, which has forever made me an early riser <laugh>. Uh, yeah, I, I really loved it. But, uh, there were three newspapers all owned by the same family and they consolidated them. So I, I was a new hire, you know, first in, first out kind of thing. So I thought, okay, well I'll go back to Penn State for a little bit, see, you know, what's going on. And, uh, that was like 12 years ago, <laugh>. And here I still am. Um, I started off working in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, uh, and then moved to undergraduate admissions and then joined the McCourtney Institute at the end of 2017.
Sean 00:14:45 So obviously knowing the age demographic of our target audience, which are our 17 to 22 year old students, could you elaborate a little bit on the concept of the twice a day newspaper? 'cause I think that <laugh> might just be a good quick history lesson, 'cause I know you teach that, so if you can just the quick two minute version <laugh> of that.
Jenna 00:15:05 Sure. Yeah. I mean, so in the, in the days before the internet, the only way to get news was either by reading it in the newspaper or, you know, later on watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio. So the evening newspaper, I guess goes back to even the, the days before tv. 'cause you know, it makes sense if you think about, you know, hopefully students have some familiarity with, with TV news, but there's like a morning broadcast, an evening broadcast. So that was, I think, modeled after the newspaper. The idea that, you know, when you wake up in the morning, you kind of want to see what's going on as you start your day. And then the evening newspaper kind of caught you up on everything that had happened since the morning. So in today's terms, you know, maybe it's like you check your news app feed, whatever way you get your news. Maybe you do that still once in the morning and then again once at the end of your day. So even though the, the technology has changed, I think maybe the, the habits are still there about wanting to kind of get updates periodically throughout the day.
Sean 00:16:11 I've actually recently adopted that myself, going back to I check once in the morning, maybe at lunch, and then once in the evening. And instead of just trying of what they say, doom strolling. So <laugh>, yeah.
Jenna 00:16:20 Yeah. And it's, and it's, it's a, it's still a part of that, of the, the business model for news organizations. So there's a, an outlet called Axios, for example, where they send a morning briefing and an evening briefing. And that's common among, I think that the New York Times does something similar. They have a newsletter called the Morning and one that they send at the end of the day. Yeah, the, the, as I said, even though the, the delivery method has changed, the formula is, is still the same.
Sean 00:16:49 Speaking of those different formulas and different kind of modes that very different is podcasting. And there's no right or wrong way to do it. Now there's some things you can do wrong, certainly, but there's no prescriptive way. When you look into how do I start a podcast, there's a lot of questions. And one of them is that format, is this daily? Is it weekly, biweekly, monthly? Is it episodic? Is it narrative? There's so many questions. So how did you get into doing this professionally? Walk us through that background and tell us about the, the first podcast that you work on over at the McCourtney Institute. So,
Jenna 00:17:27 I, I should say just at the top that I, while a lot of podcasters come from public radio, for example, or broadcast journalism, that is not me, <laugh>, I did not have that experience in my time at Penn State or in any of my experiences after. So I, I joined the McCourtney Institute, as I said at the end of 2017. And my bosses, who are also my co-hosts on our podcast, democracy Works, they had wanted to start a podcast for a while there. They, we all are avid podcast listeners, but they had no idea how to do it. And, and frankly, I didn't either, but I had the time to sort of figure it out. And I, I reached out to W P SS U, which is the public radio station in central Pennsylvania, and they were also looking to get into podcasting and I think are very much aligned with the mission of the McCourtney Institute about education around democracy and civics and all of these sorts of things.
Jenna 00:18:27 So they agreed to come on board with us and, and help us produce the show. So their team edits the episodes for us and really helped me think through in the early days, okay, like, what is that structure going to be? You know, how I, you know, you need things like music, you need credits, you need, you know, just really, really imagining the holistic experience of the li the listener. What's the first thing they're going to hear, what's the last thing they're going to hear, and what does everything in between sound like? So I kept to give a, a, a huge shout out and kudos to them. And so we launched Democracy Works in the spring of 2018 and have been doing it weekly, pretty much ever since, with the exception of, of taking breaks during the holidays and over the summer. But we're at over 200 episodes now, which is wild to think about that We've done that. Many of them.
Sean 00:19:21 That is, especially when you consider kind of a, an informal benchmark in podcasting is if you can get to 10, uh, successfully is pretty big milestone. Many folks will give up after three. So, and, and 10 is kind of a cutoff. So if you've hit triple digits, then kudos to you now. Can you tell us what exactly that show is about and who your co-hosts are and, and kind of what the, the themes and the, the purpose and who are your listeners?
Jenna 00:19:46 So, uh, democracy Works looks at, we say what it means to live in a democracy, which, which I know is very broad. Um, but that gives us a lot of latitude to go in a lot of different directions. So we look at structural issues and, and ways that people are trying to reform democracy, like changing the way we vote, like things like ranked choice voting or universal voting like a k a requiring everyone to vote. And we look at work that people are doing to address political divides and, and bring people closer together, finding a sense of, of common ground or common cause. We look at some of the, the ways that the media and democracy intersect, how to make quality and, and, and credible information more accessible both to produce and to consume. That's another big thread of the show. We look at social media and how that has changed our relationship to democracy.
Jenna 00:20:42 We look at what, what elected officials are doing or not doing, and how that impacts the rest of us. So it's, it's really designed to give people a deeper understanding of maybe some of the things that you might hear about in the news and wonder like, okay, why is it this way? Or what can we do to change it? Um, the thing I hear most often is that the show gives people a sense of hope, which can be difficult to come by, it seems in, in politics these days. Um, it just seems like the the deck is stacked against you no matter what your political persuasion is. I think people across the spectrum feel that way. So, um, we aim to, to show people how they can push back against some of those forces and, and find their own sense of, of agency and the things that we as citizens can do to make our democracy stronger.
Jenna 00:21:30 And I just, uh, quickly, I should say that I, I co-host it with Michael Berkman, who is the director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and a professor of Political Science. Some of you might have had him for your honors political science courses. I know he also teaches in Trier. And, uh, the other co-hosts are Chris Beam, who is the managing director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, and Candace Watt Smith, who is a professor of political science at Duke University. Uh, she used to be at Penn State, but uh, left to go to Duke and thankfully, uh, wanted to continue doing the show. So the four of us hosted in different, uh, combinations every week.
Sean 00:22:09 I remember some of the, the readings that Dr. Berkman would assign and, you know, political science articles, 'cause there's whole studies, you know, even just the simplest thing of what order do people appear in on a ballot can, can influence outcomes. So it sounds like you all are doing a great job of taking what can be very heady and often very statistics laid in political science articles and hopefully, you know, translating them to a consumable format. That
Jenna 00:22:34 Is absolutely the goal. And I, I would love to know from your listeners that they have a chance to listen if we're hitting that mark. Um, I, I feel like in some ways I have gotten a PhD in political science over the course of doing 200 and some odd interviews about democracy. So I, I feel like I'm kind of out of touch with like your average listener, so to speak. So I, yeah, I'm always eager to hear feedback or suggestions for how we can improve.
Sean 00:22:59 Well, obviously, as soon as you're done catching up on following the Gong episodes, you should go on whatever your podcast app of choice is and check out Democracy Works. But you can also check out Jenna's new project that debuted earlier this year in 2022, depending on when you're listening to this. Can you tell us about what this new side project that you have at the McCourtney Institute is?
Jenna 00:23:22 So this is a narrative podcast series called When the People Decide, and this really gets back to what we were starting to talk about earlier, Sean, with the change in the way that we do journalism or the way that some people do journalism these days. I, I think that social media and the change in, in, in business models has required or given opportunity, perhaps for journalists to be a more part of the story than they were in in previous media eras. And that is definitely true in podcasting. I mean, if you think about something like Serial, for example, like Sarah Koenig was very much a part of that story. She was the one who reported it. Um, but you heard her voice, you heard her reactions to things. And so there are hundreds, if not thousands of other examples of that about how the intimacy of podcasting as a, as a medium and a platform for sharing stories just opens it up to people putting more of themselves in the story.
Jenna 00:24:25 So that's what I did on, when the people decide, it tells the stories of grassroots political campaigns, uh, using something called a ballot initiative, which you may remember, Sean, from your Political Science days. But it's a, it's a tool that lets people bring issues they care about directly to their fellow voters, bypassing the legislature and other kind of political processes. And really, it's a, it's a way to drive change and action and forward momentum on issues and topics where there can sometimes be gridlock or hesitation from legislators to act. The one that's probably most familiar to your audience, uh, are are things like marijuana legalization that was passed through ballot initiative in, in many, many states and still more to come. Um, there's also been campaigns to increase the minimum wage and expand voting rights in, you know, just increase people's access to government services or the say that they have in their government. And so I tell the stories of the people who have fought and, and led these campaigns, but I also interject it with some of my own reflections on politics and the role of people versus the people that we elect, we elect to represent us. Um, how those things do interplay, how they could maybe work better together. And how ballot initiatives enable those relationships to become stronger. Well,
Sean 00:25:54 I'm gonna have to check that out. That's not as common of a tactic in the East coast. Um, unfortunately if my political science classes, uh, and the memory of those serves me well, um, I had a colleague at a previous institution who had moved from Seattle to Kentucky, and she asked, uh, the first election that we had after she moved there, she asked about where she found out about ballot initiatives. And I just kind of chuckled and said, yeah, you're east of the Mississippi now. We don't really do that on this side of the country, unfortunately. And so I think that'd be great for, for students to listen to that and learn about some things because there are 50 states and often 50 different ways of doing the same exact thing.
Jenna 00:26:33 Yeah, that's right. Uh, laboratories of democracy as Supreme Court, justice Brandeis said, and, and you're right, we don't even have them here in Pennsylvania. So, um, this is all, I'm sort of like observing this from afar in some ways. Um, but it is, I think, inspiring to think about what could be possible. And even if we, a a state doesn't have this one particular mechanism at the state level, there are often at this city or town or municipal level, citizens can, can go through the initiative process that way. Um, so that's something else we cover in the series as well.
Sean 00:27:10 I was relating to what you were saying, Jenna, I think early on in doing this program, I'm not a journalist by any sense, and that's really not the goal of this show, but I decided, you know, I'm a part of it. I, I've put this together and I tend to editorialize, if you've listened to more than one episode of the show, you probably know, I'll interject my opinions and share anecdotes from my time I work in the college so I can point towards resources and different things that relate to the conversation that I'm be having with the alum or alumni that I'm speaking with. But I wanted to ask, because you said it's a narrative show. People think podcasts are this monolithic thing, but there's a lot of different types. You have short, you have long, you have fiction, you have news, you have comedy, you have so many different types of podcasts out there. I would describe this one as episodic. You can listen to one following the gong, get what you need for career advice and move on. It sounds like yours is probably best served where you go back to episode one and listen from the beginning. Is that correct?
Jenna 00:28:05 That's right, yeah. And, and by narrative I mean two things. One, that there is a storyteller in this case me, who is guiding you through the different characters and setting scenes for you. Um, sort of like an audio documentary perhaps, where there's like one central figure that that's, that's taking you through it. And so yeah, there is an arc to the story that starts with episode one. We explain what initiatives are and then sort of go chronologically in history through some of the campaigns and end with talking about the the present day landscape and what's to come in the future. And that is different than this show or Democracy Works, which is an interview show. It's, you know, the, the guest is different every week and it's just more of a, of a back and forth conversation as opposed to something that's heavily produced with a lot of of music and transitions. And, you know, hearing from one narrator with other voices interjected,
Sean 00:29:06 Are there any podcasts that you look to as inspiration for how you approach these two different formats?
Jenna 00:29:14 Oh my God, so many. Um, on the, the interview side, I think way back in the beginning of, of Democracy Works, um, I think it, I think Michael and Chris and Candace would, would agree with me that Ezra Kleins, uh, podcast, the, the Ezra Klein show is sort of our gold standard or our high watermark for what a good interview is. Now Ezra also has a, a much deeper background in political science than I do, and, you know, has, I think a team of researchers that work for him with him. So, um, he can maybe, maybe prepare in different ways than I can as an interviewer. But, um, I think, you know, a lot of just comes down to asking to, to listening and asking really insightful questions and just kind of taking a ride with people. I'm sure you've learned this as well from your time as an interviewer, uh, on the, the narrative side, um, there's a climate change podcast called Drilled that is very good, um, that sort of tells climate stories and again, has this also this like boots on the ground, like we're gonna take you to the front lines of organizing around climate.
Jenna 00:30:21 That was, that's one that that comes to mind, um, as, as an example. And I would recommend it, I'd recommend both of those shows to people who are interested in, in politics or in, um, democracy or, or climate or just generally how to create positive change in the world.
Sean 00:30:38 So you have some things to add to your play Next list, once you're done listening to following the Gong episodes and one that I kind of modeled this show after if, or they'd asked, you know, tell me about following the Gong. I would say it's essentially how I built this with Dry Roz, but for Schreyer scholars, that's very much, uh, kind of the inspiration for this show and how I've, I've modeled it. So thinking about the kind of the, the journey of the, of the individual person or two or three people, uh, in small groups and, and diving a little bit deeper in this mentoring format. So another one for you to check out in addition to all of the great recommendations that the Jenna has shared or actually produces, which is a tee up for my next question. You know, you talked about research and there's producing and music, and obviously if you've listened to this, you've heard the Gong ringing sound effect that you hear a couple times throughout the show.
Sean 00:31:27 There's a lot of different stills from the, the story side to the technical that you need to do a podcast. Well, technically you can grab your phone record stuff and post it to the internet, but that's the bare minimum if you wanna do it. Well, there's a lot that goes into it. So how did you go about developing those skills, Jenna, if you were kind of a trained newspaper journalist and there's gonna many parts that you like, there's parts that are less enjoyable. So how do you get through those less enjoyable parts? I'm essentially giving you the opportunity here to tell us about the how of podcasting. Yeah,
Jenna 00:31:57 I mean, for me, uh, um, you know, again, because my background is, is as a writer, like, I had never done an on-air interview before. We sat down to do our first episode of Democracy Work. And so I had this moment where we're in the studio with W P S U, I put my headphones on, the guest is there, and I'm like, oh my God, I've never done this before. What am I gonna do? I had, I had sort of intellectualized it, but I hadn't really, it was just something different entirely to do it. So I'm not gonna lie, those first couple of Democracy Works episodes were pretty rough. We to do a lot of editing, I had to go back and rerecord some questions and, you know, just, I've just grown more comfortable with it over time. I think it's just been practice, uh, that's been, has been the main thing.
Jenna 00:32:39 And working with good people too, who are not afraid to be honest about providing feedback and, and ways for improvement. That was definitely true of Democracy Works. And also the production team that I worked with on when the people decide, I had never been a narrator before either, so they helped me learn how to read the scripts that we wrote and how to work on my vocal delivery. Again, not perfect. I could still do it better if there ends up being a season two of that show, but I, I think just, you know, committing to putting in the time and the effort, it's, it's not unlike, I also play the saxophone. And so just like, you know, I practice my saxophone, I have to practice my narration skills, or I have to practice my vocal delivery, or I have to, you know, practice asking interview questions that are not gonna go on too long or don't, aren't gonna be confusing or all of those sorts of things. So it's just like anything developing those muscles over time. So
Sean 00:33:38 Do you outsource or do you actually edit the shows yourself? Uh, in working with W P S U?
Jenna 00:33:44 No, I do not do any, uh, I shouldn't say I don't do any editing, um, on Democracy Works. W P S U does the bulk of the editing and on when the people decide, uh, L w C studios in Washington DC did all of the editing and mixing and, and sound design for that show. But I know enough audio editing to be dangerous, I'll say I could fill in, in a pinch, but, um, my strong suit is really more in the, the research and the interviewing and, and the promotion too, which is a whole other skillset about how to actually get your podcast out to the people that you want to hear it.
Sean 00:34:18 Absolutely, that's a huge part. You can make a great podcast or have a great YouTube channel, but if nobody knows about it, what good is it? So, uh, definitely an integral part in having those marketing chops. Penn State students, if you're listening, obviously, um, a great resource that we have for Penn Staters. So students, faculty, staff, anybody who's currently, uh, affiliated with the institution, you have access to the full Adobe Creative Suite, uh, creative Cloud. So that includes things like Adobe Audition and Premier and Photoshop. So, uh, make use of those tools while you have them. And you can go on LinkedIn learning as a Penn State student and learn how to use those because they're, they, they, there's a learning curve to them. Um, Jen <laugh> nodding her head now again, I just shared some advice for, for folks if they want, you know, especially for students if they're interested in this, for any alumni or students that actually want to take the time to invest Jenna in, in creating a podcast or a YouTube channel, what advice would you give them?
Jenna 00:35:14 If I could get one more plug in for students, uh, I teach a class, uh, comm 2 97, which is all about the creator economy and being your own content creator news outlet, like doing it all on your own, whether it's podcasts or YouTube or social media or newsletters. So, um, if you are thinking that being a creator might be something that's in your, in your future, the, the class is technically offered under berio, but it is open to anyone. It's, it's a one credit class. So, uh, you can look for that on the schedule and uh, hopefully add it if it fits on the alumni side. You know, there's never been more resources out there about how to podcast. It's probably actually too much information. If you Google how to start a podcast, it's like you just scroll and scroll and scroll all day. Um, I'll recommend a couple of resources that I think are good and are, are made by people that I, I know, know what they're talking about.
Jenna 00:36:14 Um, one is called Podcasting Seriously, uh, which is a webinar and on-demand video series from L w C studios. The, uh, company I work with on when the people decide, they talk about, you know, things like editing and, and all of that, but also about marketing and brand development, which is applicable. Even if you don't wanna do a podcast, it can carry you over to any other medium. You know how to make a brand around yourself and your ideas and your content. So that's one resource. Um, N P R also has some really great resources on like the, the nuts and bolts of how to record interviews and how to set up a studio in your house and how to, you know, microphones and all of those things. So those, those are just a couple of resources, but if anybody wants to talk more about that, they can certainly reach out to me directly and I'm happy to help however I can.
Sean 00:37:03 And you talked about kind of that content creator economy, and there's ups and downs to that. It's a kind of unique thing. You actually have some side gigs. I know you're working with the Honors College on something at the moment. Can you talk about how you as a full-time professional work in those side hustles or side gigs, whatever you want to call them, and why you pursue those besides obviously an extra paycheck? I think that's probably pretty obvious, but why you pursue those, how you pursue those and what the benefit to that, um, again, besides obviously an additional paycheck, how those are beneficial to your career?
Jenna 00:37:37 Yeah, so I've always been a, a freelance writer. Um, ever since I left that the newspaper job, I always wanted to keep my foot in that world of, even though I'm doing a lot of other different things now, I wanted to keep my, you know, one toe in news and, and reporting because it is something that I'm interested in and passionate about. And now I'm lucky enough I get to do it on the podcast, but I still like the writing element of it too. So, and I've sort of developed a bit of a, a niche writing about podcasts. Uh, so there's trade publications and other outlets that, that cover podcasts, much like they might cover TV or books or, or other types of media. So that's been helpful. Um, also like from a networking perspective, just meeting other podcasters, getting to pick their brains or share stories and ideas or ways that we might collaborate or help promote each other's work. So yeah, that, you know, checks a couple of boxes for me. One, I still get to keep my foot in, in writing and in journalism, but it's also at this added networking piece of it, um, which I didn't anticipate when I started writing about podcasts
Sean 00:38:44 A little deeper into the episode, the normal. But there is our, how we get networking into this. That's some, that's a key takeaway on, I think on every episode of this is no matter what field you're in, no matter what you major you're in, it's really important to build up a network of faults that can help you along the way, and you can also help along the way. Now, Jenna, I wanna take a quick veer off the road here from where we were on talking about writing and podcasting. We're gonna go into the arts for just a minute here. You mentioned that you play the saxophone and you still practice it, which means you still play it. Can you talk about that?
Jenna 00:39:17 So maybe like some of the students listening, I played in my high school band and actually started playing back in middle school and wanted to keep that going. So I, I played, when I got to Penn State, I was in the blue band. Uh, and then later some of the concert ensembles that are on campus, those are great resources. Um, some of them don't even require auditions, so they're just open to anyone. And now, uh, since I've graduated and come back to the area, I play in a community band, uh, which I often say is like a high school band for grownups. Um, but we, uh, we play a lot of the same music that I'm sure your high school band played, uh, you know, John Phillips, Sousa marches and jazz songs and all those sorts of things. But it's a really wonderful cross section of the community.
Jenna 00:40:08 We have retirees all the way down to middle and high school students, and you get to, um, be around people that you might not engage with otherwise. It, our group is, is based in Beon, which is just outside of State College, but we have people from all over Center County. And that's something that, you know, in my work in democracy to bring this all the way back around, getting involved in these kinds of community organizations is really key to having a strong civic culture. Um, there's so much talk about disagreements and, and divides and, you know, groups like this that bring people together who might have different views, but share a common interest or, or common goal. That is really the first step to bridging some of those divides is just getting people together in a space that's not explicitly about politics, but you can sort of get to know people as people and find that shared sense of, of humanity that our democracy really needs to, to thrive.
Sean 00:41:09 It's amazing what happens when you can be in person with faults or face-to-face and you remove the keyboard and the microphone as I sit here behind my laptop behind a microphone recording this with you, Jenna. But when you take those two things away, it's amazing how people can actually, their ears will far more open up than for those civil conversations. Now I do wanna pivot to our last third, for those of you who are regular listeners, you know, this is kind of kind of where we will reflect with Jenna here on her career to date. Big picture. What would you say, Jenna, do you think is your biggest success so far?
Jenna 00:41:39 Personally, making an eight part narrative podcast was a pretty big thing. It's the longest duration project I've I've ever worked on. And it was just like, it was hard <laugh>, it was a lot of, uh, new things, new styles that I had never done before. And the, the team that I worked with really pushed me pretty hard, which i, i, I am grateful for. So yeah, I think that has been one of my, my big successes. I'm sure there are others, but we'll leave it there. And on the
Sean 00:42:08 Flip side, what would you say is the biggest learning moment that you've had and what you took away from that experience? Well,
Jenna 00:42:14 So I guess I'll, I'll go all the way back to getting laid off from the newspaper. I was devastated. Uh, I thought that I just had one idea in mind of what my career was going to be, and then that just sort of like the rug was pulled out from under me, and this was 2009. So there were not a lot of other prospects for media jobs at that point in the midst of the, the Great Recession. And so I had to sort of change my idea of what my professional life would look like. And so I ended up going into more of a, a, a marketing role, but still keeping, you know, one foot in journalism and trying to do all of these other things. And, um, that I think in some ways prepared me to, to move and more easily adapt to something like podcasting. I was already primed that, okay, I'm not just gonna stay on this one career path. And so it just made me more open and more receptive to new things and new challenges and new opportunities as they came my way.
Sean 00:43:11 And I think that is something that I hope you listening take away that no matter what industry you're in, it's always good to have that flexibility. 'cause you know, we just survived a global pandemic if you're listening to this for the past two plus nearly three years. So, you know, things constantly evolve and it's good to be flexible and adaptable. Now, Jenna, I'm sure you've had some mentors along the way in writing and in podcasting and, and the folks you work with at McCourtney Institute, and you've also, I'm sure mentored some of your students in the Bellisario College. How do you approach both being a mentor and being a mentee that students can pull from your experiences and how should students look for those opportunities?
Jenna 00:43:48 Yeah, so when I am mentoring someone, I, I try to resist the urge to just come in and like tell them all about what I think all the time. I try to be open to what they're looking for and what their questions are and directing them to other people or, or other resources. If I don't have the answer, I think there's maybe a, a inclination as a mentor to try to, you know, be the one person or the end all be all for the student. But it's, it's really, you know, to, to your point about networking, it really takes a network of people. There is no one perfect mentor for anyone. So I try not to fall into that trap. And I, I would say too, just having been a, a, a, an instructor that I think students maybe think that we, at, at least from my experience, that we get asked to do these types of mentor things and, and have these relationships more often than we do. So there's, you know, don't think that your professor or someone else that you want to be in that mentor role for you, that they're too busy or they're not going to have time. You know, they're definitely not going to do it if you never ask <laugh>. It's, you know, you're, and I think you'll often be pleasantly surprised at what you hear back or how people, how open people are to sharing their time and their knowledge with you. So don't be afraid to ask.
Sean 00:45:09 Speaking of those professors, are there any other ones, I think you mentioned some at the very beginning, but are there any professors or friends from your scholar days or your current colleagues that you wanted to give a shout out to?
Jenna 00:45:19 Oh, um, so I would say, uh, my honors advisor who was Clay Calvert, that I think he was also Dean of the college for a little while, um, as well, but he is, uh, one of the leading scholars on the First Amendment and media law. So he and I worked side by side on my thesis. I helped out with some other research that he was doing. He was the first professor I had for an honors class. And so that was really my formative experience in Tryer, uh, was all thanks to him. So big shout out to Clay. He's at, uh, the University of Florida now, I believe
Sean 00:45:53 As we're wrapping up, uh, you've shared a lot of great advice, but I'm sure there was probably something that you really wanted to share for scholars that just maybe didn't come up with the questions that I asked. And I'm sure you can do some, some debrief afterwards on my interviewing stills. I'd love your feedback, but is there anything that you wanted to leave students off with that didn't come up already? I,
Jenna 00:46:12 I would say, and, and I know that, you know, scholars are, are probably in some respects well, well aware of this, but don't, don't be afraid to get outside of your discipline. I've sort of learned that now on Democracy Works. I've talked to people from all different academic disciplines and yeah, follow your curiosity wherever it leads. I, I wish I would've done more of that as a student. I, I often say that I, I wish I could go back and be a scholar now. I think I would get much more out of it. I don't know if you've heard that from anyone else before, but, uh, you know, I think just, yeah, be open and, and follow your curiosity wherever it leads.
Sean 00:46:48 That is great advice. College flies by, believe us. So, uh, definitely heeded that advice from Jenna. Now, you've mentioned a couple times if folks wanted to connect with you, pick your brain on podcasting or learn more about the podcast that you run. First of all, where can they find both Democracy works and when the people decide, and then how can they get in touch with you personally? Democracy
Jenna 00:47:08 Works [email protected]
. When the people decide is the People Decide show, or you could just search either of those things. Uh, wherever you're listening to this right now, uh, if you wanna reach me directly, my email is [email protected]
. Uh, you can find me on Twitter at Jenna spinelli as well.
Sean 00:47:29 And finally, you know, I'm sure there's some other podcasts to do something like this. I don't know if you're as do Jenna, but we always end with this kind of goofy but fun question after a lot of serious conversations about careers and mentorship and mistakes made and lessons learned. So we always end with a bit of brevity and hopefully a little bit of some fun flavors. If you were a flavor of Burke Creamery ice cream, which would you be? And as a scholar alum, why would you be that flavor? Uh,
Jenna 00:47:53 Well I would have to be W P S U Coffee Break just 'cause I do support public media and I happened to love coffee, and coffee was the thing more than any other that fueled my schreyer experience and continues to fuel all of these different things I do today. So I love coffee in all forms, including and maybe most of all in ice cream form.
Sean 00:48:16 That is a great reason to pick that flavor. Jenna, thank you so much for coming on today. Obviously, she's a writer, professional podcaster, and expert on all things democracy in the College of Liberal Arts McCourtney Institute for Democracy. You heard how to get in touch with her, you heard how to listen to her shows, encourage you to do both of those things. Jenna, thank you so much.
Jenna 00:48:36 Thank you, Sean. It's been fun.
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