Podcasts are thriving like never before. After a summer of heat domes and raging forest fires, two years of a pandemic, an overdose crisis and the ongoing reckoning around police violence and systemic racism, many people have turned to podcasts as a source of information, community and comfort.
On Nov. 20, the Vancouver Podcast Festival returns with a day-long series of events for podcasters and fans with an emphasis on making media in tumultuous times.
Highlighting the lineup is a masterclass with Media Girlfriends, called “Why We Started a Podcast Company in a Pandemic.” Co-founded in Toronto by Garvia Bailey, Nana aba Duncan and Hannah Sung, Media Girlfriends came together to create The Strong and Free, a Black history podcast and video series for Historica Canada. It was the summer of 2020, during the first COVID-19 lockdown and the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As Duncan explains, the decision to form Media Girlfriends wasn’t precipitated by the events of that summer.
“Black lives will always matter, but there’s actually no connection between the protests and why we started! Hannah, Garvia and I had been talking about starting a business for quite some time. A friend of ours saw that Historica Canada was looking for a podcast production company… and we saw that as the perfect opportunity to finally come together as a small business. It was like we were granted a wish.”
But if the timing wasn’t the reason, the events of 2020 made forming a company and making podcasts together more meaningful.
“I felt that I really needed this to happen during that time,” Bailey explains, “I was feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged — to start a company with the friends that had been supporting me and get to create something so deeply meaningful... that was huge. We didn’t plan to start during this time, but the work found us when I think we all needed it. We took it as a sign to keep going.”
Their masterclass will focus on what Media Girlfriends has accomplished over the past year and a half and how the trio has managed to thrive in these times. “It’s hard work and serious work and sometimes so very difficult, but we’re in this together, so expect a lot of joy to come out of our session,” Bailey adds.
Resiliency and collective power will also be a theme of “Podcasting Climate Change,” a free roundtable moderated by Am Johal, host of Below the Radar and director of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.
“We will touch on the heat dome and the really traumatic situation that happened in Lytton this summer as a way to think through the near future here in B.C.,” says Johal. “We will discuss the different ways that people can still have agency in participating in and creating the change that people want.”
Podcasting can be a big part of that change, explains Johal. “It is a decentralized form of media production that doesn’t require large budgets or the constraints of other forms of mass media. With relatively few people, we can have a listenership in over 50 countries on a regular basis. At its best, [podcasting] can break down the concentrations and hegemonies of mainstream media and showcase voices that are on the margins and the periphery and give them a proper place in public discourse.”
In times of crisis, podcasting offers information, but also a crucial sense of community and connection. “It’s a way to connect with humanity in a deeper way than a short news story,” says Bailey. “We all crave connection, and what is more connected than a voice in your ear telling you a story, giving you a perspective and adding nuance to what can be complex issues?”
For a full schedule of events and to buy passes, visit the Vancouver Podcast Festival website.
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