Other: Mixed Race in America, the Washington Post podcast that explores mixed-race identity in America, concludes its purposely limited, five-day run today. “The idea of a limited run was always the way we conceived it,” said Jessica Stahl, Washington Post’s editor for social, search and communities, who oversees WaPo’s podcasts. “I think it allowed us to have the freedom to conceptualize what we wanted the arc of it to be and just execute on that.”
That arc was informed by the months that host Alex Laughlin spent on research before working on the episodes themselves, with editing help from senior national correspondent Terence Samuel. “I definitely had an idea of the kinds of things I wanted to cover because so much of this has been informed by my personal experience as well, but after doing the research, it really helped me to ground the reporting,” says Laughlin.
For Laughlin, the experience is personal because she herself is mixed-race, identifying as half-white and half-Korean. But while that was a driver for the series, it wasn’t always a given that Laughlin would share her own story in the podcast, which she does at the onset as she sets up the first episode’s focus on dating as a mixed-race person.
Initially, Laughlin says, “I really thought of this more as a reportorial project. But as I was writing the episodes it felt like some of my own experiences just worked too well to not include them in some of the episodes.”
It makes sense for a podcast in which personal experience, described in the voices of those who have lived it, gives the discussion an emotional resonance. “I think that it probably will help to humanize me as the host, especially coming from a publication like the Washington Post,” says Laughlin. “I think it makes it feel more personal and more familiar to have these stories not only coming from the Washington Post, but to have them coming from a person whose voice you know, and you’re hearing her–me–every episode day after day, and you really get to know me and my story–I hope that that makes people feel more interested in the other stories as well, because they feel like they have some kind of affinity.”
Podcasts, by virtue of being an audio form, are an intimate medium, and intimacy isn’t a national news publication’s natural inclination. But according to Stahl, the publication is being very deliberate in its editorial choices about the types of podcasts it will be making in the future, and this podcast’s narrative flow provides an opportunity to experiment in a very public way.
“When Alex pitched this idea it was really clear that it felt sort of right down the direction of where we want to be going with podcasts,” says Stahl. “We really want to be creating things that feel like they fill a niche in the industry that no one else is talking about right now or cover issues that are important that aren’t getting the attention that they deserve or take on questions in a way that people aren’t seeing elsewhere.”
Other, says Stahl, gave WaPo’s audio department a chance to develop a podcast that “talked to a community that’s not always talked to in the mainstream” and well as an “opportunity to explore some new things around format and some new things around timing and all that kind of stuff was just really exciting for us.”
The podcast has very much been about speaking to a specific community, those that identify as mixed race. “I wanted to let them know that their world views were significant and that they mattered and that the weird feelings that they were feeling were not anomalies, that many people feel those things,” says Laughlin.
But she did provide an important caveat. “I’ve always tried to make it very clear that this podcast isn’t meant to be a prescriptive story about what it means to be mixed race in America. It’s just a selection of stories of what it could mean and I really hope that it’s the beginning of a larger conversation geared toward empathy and understanding each other’s stories.”
You can check out all five episodes here.