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    • Please join me in welcoming Emma-Louise Boynton of non-partisan media podcast resource platform The Venn for a Cake panel.

      A bit about Emma-Louise's background: Emma-Louise was born in New York, grew up in London and now works between the two cities. She started her career in broadcast journalism at the BBC, freelancing across a range of political programs on Radio 4, and also at Sky News. Working on TV and radio coverage of the Scottish referendum, then Brexit and then the 2016 U.S. election, it was a particularly interesting period to start carving out a career in news and she fast developed a penchant for the adrenaline of the news room and live broadcast. 

      It was while she was working on Sky News’ U.S. election coverage that she met Tina Brown, who had appeared as guest on the channel’s election night programming. After a quick-fire conversation in an elevator as she escorted Ms Brown to her car, Emma-Louise gauged that the live journalism event Ms Brown had set up in 2009, The Women in the World Summit, were looking for producers for the next event she sent her resume to the team the following day. Fast forward two months and Emma-Louise had moved back to her birthplace, New York, and was working as a producer for Tina Brown Media and the eighth Women in the World summit. She had begun to feel somewhat disillusioned by the content churn of the 24 news cycle and was glad to be moving to the longer-form, highly produced journalism of the summit and was particularly drawn to the bi-partisan approach it took to covering key political issues.

      Emma-Louise worked on the next three summits, moving back and fourth between New York and London, where she continued to work on the news desk at Sky News. Working in the news sphere at a time of such heightened polarization in both countries, following the 2016 Trump election and Brexit vote, she felt increasingly aware of how important genuinely non-partisan news sources were becoming, and also how rare. She also felt a growing sense of frustration at the sensationalism of so much online and tv news, and found herself increasingly drawn to podcasts for longer form and more analytical discussions. She began thinking about starting her own podcast and what that might look like. It was at this point that she was introduced to her now co-founder, Jim Cowles, as he was planning his exit from Citi Bank, where he was the CEO of EMEA. He wanted to set up a non-partisan political issues platform and was similarly interested in podcasting as the best medium for doing this. Their interests were perfectly aligned and they started working together in the fall of 2018. 

      After months of research and user testing they launched The Venn, a non-partisan media platform aiming to help people better understand the key political issues surrounding the 2020 U.S. election, through podcasts. Each week they publish a newsletter recommending a selection of handpicked podcast episodes that cover three topic areas: firstly, several episodes that shed light on the week’s main news stories; secondly, a ‘deep dive’ section that focuses on a key issue such as immigration, healthcare or climate change, and recommends three podcasts from the archives that delve into that week’s chosen topic; and a 2020 section that selects a single podcast episode focused on the forthcoming election and who’s running.

      Their goal is for The Venn to become the go-to resource for people who want a genuinely non-partisan place to learn about political issues.

      Welcome, Emma-Louise!

    • So thank you so much for joining us today, Emma-Louise! What do you think it is about podcasts that helps elevate discourse so that people can take in more information about complex issues, rather than less?

    • Firstly, podcasts aren’t constrained by time, they can be as long or as short as the producer and host wants them to be. This means you often get a much richer and more in-depth interview discussion around really interesting topics, and it gives the interviewer the space and time to dig deep into meaty, complex issues in a way that just isn’t possible in a live interview on air, for example. I have worked in both live TV and radio news and have seen so many fascinating discussions cut short because we needed to move onto the next segment of the show, which can be really frustrating.

      Secondly, by default, podcasts aren’t designed for breaking news. They are not where you go to get your headlines, but instead where you can go to spend a little longer hearing about a certain topic in a little more depth. This means the sorts of newsy, political podcasts we typically recommend in The Venn are less reactive and more reflective and analytical. In our increasingly click-bait, hyper-sensationalist news culture, this type of longer-form, analytical journalism is more important than ever and I think podcasts are therefore proving the perfect antidote to this type of content.

      Thirdly, we learn through stories. Abstract political issues can make so much more sense when understood through the prism of personal experience, which is why in-depth interviews are such a powerful and important way of accessing politics. The podcast world is rich with interview-led shows that focus on just that - the first-person narratives that shine a light on pressing social and political issues.

    • Your 3 core principles are Civil Discourse, Non-Partisanship, and Inclusivity. How did you and the Venn team hone it down to those 3 principles?

    • We think it’s important for any organization that’s just starting out to begin with a clear and specific idea of the type of place it wants to be, and the culture it wants to embody and aspire to. For us, there were about 10 different principles we knew were important to us, and as we discussed what they’d mean in practice we were able to distill them down to these 3 core values, which we think really capture the essence of what we are trying to achieve with The Venn.

      Firstly, civil discourse is the central tenet of what we are doing. We want The Venn to be the place people can rely on for rational, reasonable, and hopefully insightful discussion on issues that effect our communities, our country, and the world.

      Non-partisan: because only in that way can we hope to bring civil discourse across the political spectrum.  And besides, we believe most people are still in a state of discovery when it comes to forming opinions on many issues. We aren’t telling people what to think, we just want to help them get the information they need to make their decisions.

      Inclusivity: that applies both internally and externally. We believe in having a diverse workforce because that is  the way to get the best talent, and because diverse teams are proven to be more successful. Externally, because we believe that what we are doing is important and relevant to everyone, across all parts of society. It goes without saying, but we are living through particularly polarized times, and yet a healthy democracy relies on people being able to talk to one another: to discuss ideas and challenge assumptions. In order to be able to do this we really need information sources that aim to be inclusive rather than divisive in how they approach political discussion. We think we can be that source.

    • In each issue of The Venn newsletter, you keep readers “up to date with the most important political news stories of the week, selecting the three podcasts we think best explain what’s going on in the headlines.” As the most challenging aspect of podcasts continues to be discoverability, how does The Venn team wade through the dozens if not hundreds of relevant, timely episodes to determine the best ones to include?

    • We listen to a lot of podcasts! In the office, during our commutes, when we exercise, etc. There are a lot to get through, but we are getting a clearer idea as we develop the type of podcasts we want to recommend. We have to reject a lot of podcasts outright because their production quality is poor or because they are just too long. Even for podcast-lovers a two hour episode is a big time commitment.

      As we are making our final selection for the newsletter we essentially run through a checklist for each of the podcasts the team puts forward to include in the newsletter: is the production quality high? Is it clear and accessible so that you really finish the episode better understanding the issue being discussed? Is it entertaining? While we want to educate our listeners on some very complex issues, we also want our subscribers to enjoy what they’re listening to! Finally, and most importantly, is it respectful of different points of view? We are committed to being non-partisan, but understand that many of the podcasts we choose do reflect a point of view. We’re fine with that providing they do so in a responsible way.

    • Would The Venn team ever create original content, or do you think your focus will stay on collecting and curating the best pieces for your community?

    • Yes. As we continue to delve into our deep dive topic areas and expand our database of podcasts, we are starting to see some gaps in what is currently being offered and so are starting to strategize as to how we might fill those gaps.

      Watch this space!

    • To be the source people rely on to learn about political issues and to build a community where people can have reasonable, responsible, and productive discussion on those issues.

    • The Venn was formed to lead in to the U.S. 2020 election, and launched fairly recently. How can we help support your goals of empowering the public with the relevant information they need?

    • By helping us get the word out about what we are doing - sharing our newsletter, listening to our podcast playlists, and joining our community for robust and engaging discussions around the issues we address.

    • That’s a great question. I think that in an age of so much news and just so much content generally, it can be really hard to keep on top of everything that’s going on, and more importantly, to make sure you actually understand the issues behind the headlines. You can’t do everything or keep abreast of it all, but I think if you set aside half an hour of uninterrupted time each day to focus on one topic that’s in the news that interests you, maybe by listening to a podcast or reading a long-form article on the issue, you can begin to build a firmer infrastructure of understanding around key issues.

    • Yes! We plan on producing our own podcasts to address some of the issues or questions we feel other sources aren’t doing well enough, or at all. We are also planning on doing live events in the lead up to the election.

    • I have always been really interested in politics and current affairs, so the types of podcasts we recommend in our newsletter are the sorts of podcasts I really do love listening to in my own time anyway. But, when I do want a podcast-break from news and politics I go to the New York Time’s Modern Love podcast, which features well-known actors reading love stories penned by New York Times readers. Every story is so different and so poignant in its own way, I find them really moving. I also really like The Cut on Tuesdays by New York Magazine. They cover a wealth of different topic areas from one-on-one interviews with inspiring women on how they do what they do, to the financial baggage we inherit from our family. I always learn something interesting and unexpected from their podcasts.

    • Actually yes. In our last newsletter we recommended a really interesting interview with Kim Kardashian and the founding board member of the Innocence Project,  Jason Flom, on criminal justice reform in the U.S.. The interview touched on a lot of really topical issues regarding America’s carceral system and I would definitely recommend it if you haven’t listened already.  The podcast is called ‘Wrongful Conviction’.

    • Staying curious and asking questions. We all have biases. That’s the way people are. But it’s important to be aware of your conscious and unconscious biases, and to understand why you believe what you do and make the assumptions you make. Then, from there be curious. Seek out information and opinions from a variety of different sources. Maybe they will confirm your beliefs or maybe they will modify them, but either way you will be better informed. The second part is to understand why people who have different opinions hold their views. Try to discover that and then see if you can respect their views, even if you disagree with them. And lastly, don’t vilify them.

    • We think the 2020 election is a call to action for people to learn about the issues.  But that’s not the end.  Whoever is elected, with whatever platform they have, we believe people should continue to stay informed and engage in productive, robust discussions around political issues which don’t descend into the sort of mud-slinging, outrage-fueled debates we’ve become so used-to online. Civil discourse is integral to our democracy and we want The Venn to be the place where people know they can come to for just that.