Podcast Storytelling: What is the best format for your podcast?

Ruxandra Guidi recording for “South of Fletcher: Stories from the Bowtie”, a multi-part storytelling project about the Bowtie Parcel along the LA River.

In our forthcoming workshop Find The Right Format & Story Structure For Your Podcast, Ruxandra Guidi will help you find your best podcast format. Guidi is a journalist, teacher and podcast pioneer. She has played an integral role at news outlets and well-known podcasts. We even spent time with her at last year’s BYC retreat. She is a generous resource for women exploring audio narrative formats. We are excited that she’ll be leading this helpful workshop for podcast producers. Guidi is eager to help you shape your podcast storytelling format. Read our interview below to get as inspired as we are to call her your collaborator.

BYC — How did you come to podcast storytelling and audio narratives?

It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I became interested in writing, journalism and current events. Then, I met the Kitchen Sisters while in graduate school at UC Berkeley.

Listening to their broadcast of “Unfinished Business: Ali vs. Frazier VI, Daughters of Destiny,” a 25-minute documentary about the daughters of legendary boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, hooked me right in.

It was the most original piece of sound storytelling I’d ever heard.

–Do you have any influences you draw on?

Besides the Kitchen Sisters in college, I listened to the BBC World Service in Spanish growing up. And during the ’80s and 90s, in America, I was influenced by the long-form radio storytellers on National Public Radio. It’s exciting to listen to character-driven news stories and sounds brought together from all corners of the world. Print doesn’t have the same accessibility as the storytelling podcast.

Radio is everywhere, and now, with podcasts, the form is having a wonderful renaissance.

–What’s the best part of the work you do?

I feel privileged to have a career that allows me to indulge my curiosities time and time again. It’s a privilege to speak with strangers, get to know them and share their worldviews and ideas. I don’t take the responsibility for granted.

–Do you have any specific personal stories you can share?

Here’s an essay I wrote some years ago about witnessing a big protest movement in Caracas in the late ’80s. That really opened my eyes to racial and economic inequality and my own privilege. Much of what I choose to focus on now tries to explain and come to terms with the feelings and observations I had back then.

–Can you talk to us about the roles that region and identity have played in your approach to podcast storytelling?

I see myself as so much more than a Venezuelan living in Tucson or as the daughter of Bolivian and Romanian immigrants. My experience coming to the U.S. as an immigrant plays a role in my work. But I’m also focused on telling other people’s stories about being from “elsewhere.” Especially how being from somewhere else challenges wrong or half-wrong assumptions. I’m fascinated by geographical borders too. It’s why I love being here in Tucson. I’ve observed that border regions like Texas-Coahuila, San Diego-Tijuana, and now, Tucson-Nogales have a very specific culture.

–How have your biography and personal passions manifested in your career?

podcast storytelling retreat
Be Your Change Podcast Retreat March 2020 — Arizona

Over the years, I’ve worked as a reporter, producer and editor for Latino USA, The World, KPBS in San Diego and KPCC in Los Angeles.

Currently, I’m a full-time teacher at the University of Arizona. And I’m a contributing editor for High Country News magazine, a national magazine about the American West.

I’m also one half of Fonografia Collective. Documentary photographer, Bear Guerra and I met in 2005 on a road trip through Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. We started the collective to put out stories together.

–What’s the vision and purpose of Fonografia Collective?

Fonografia is a word that my partner and longtime collaborator, Bear Guerra and I, came up with to describe our documentary storytelling style. We began collaborating fifteen years ago. He’s a photographer and I’m a long-form storyteller, in print and in audio. Fonografía means “representation of sound by signs” in Spanish; we also liked it as a play on words: “fono” or sound in Spanish and “grafía,” as in fotografía, or writing with light.

Our work is complementary and gives our audiences intimate, humane access to the stories we tell. We always look for new ways to challenge our creative approaches and outputs. We are always seeking out other people who help us experiment with new methods for our storytelling.

–Why is collaboration so central to your work?

I’ve always thought collaboration is a no-brainer: Why work alone when you can learn more from your peers by working together? I love the process of seeing things through multiple eyes, of having someone else give me feedback and edit my work, and vice-versa. Also, having a longtime collaborator opens you up to experimenting more, to taking greater risks.

–What do you see as the value of collaborating on podcast storytelling structure and format via your workshop?

It will be a nurturing space for ideas, approaches and perspectives. Audio production itself is not hard to learn. However, figuring out how to get the most from the medium takes time and confidence. We’ll work together to explore how to format and develop powerful stories for podcasts. My hope is to help others get their work out to the larger world. We’ll start on the roadmap.

–This workshop focuses specifically on helping women amplify their voices and learn to podcast. Why do you think it is important to provide this safe space for women?

Men still dominate the mainstream media. Often these guys aren’t interested in telling stories for, about, or by women. I think it’s essential to have a place for women to share ways to change this reality.

Also, I believe women bring really unique perspectives to storytelling and to podcasting in particular. Podcasting is so intimate and accessible and versatile, and in my mind, it’s a perfect tool for female self-expression.

Learn to structure your storytelling podcast with us on April 21, 2021.

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Juliette Roy

Founder Be Your Change Media. We amplify the voices of women social entrepreneurs and changemakers and provide training to start and grow your podcast.