What if a podcast about public policy didn’t have the word “wonk” in it – and it was designed for people who care about creating a better world? And what if, through expert storytelling, people began to see how big and little changes affect us all?
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A small team at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy is creating just such a project. The Ways & Means audio show launched last week on iTunes and Stitcher. It’s a show for people curious about the best ideas for improving our society.
Each episode combines personal stories and pioneering public policy research to explore how and why society works, how it could work better -- and why our best ideas sometimes fail.
“We wanted to bring the power of narrative to policy and politics, and show how solving public problems is, first and foremost, about people,” said Karen Kemp, co-producer.
A new episode of Ways & Means will premiere monthly.
Episode 1, “Pants on Fire,” features four stories of people going to great lengths to make sure politicians and others are telling the truth.
For example, the head fact-checker for the Comedy Central hit The Daily Show, tells the story of the time a Malaysian Airlines flight went down in mysterious circumstances in Ukraine in 2014. Conservative commentators were criticizing President Obama’s reaction to the crisis, and comparing him unfavorably to President Reagan.
Adam Chodikoff unearthed Reagan’s diaries in order to find out how Reagan actually responded in a similar circumstance. Host Jon Stewart turned the discrepancy into a funny bit on the show.
“I always wanted it to say on my gravestone without credibility, the jokes mean nothing,” jokes Chodikoff, a Duke grad.
Also in the episode, a PolitiFact editor tells the story of the time he had to be more like a private eye than a newspaper editor to track down a Republican claim.
And Sanford’s Pulitzer Prize-winning professor Bill Adair tells the story behind a questionable claim in a Democratic advertisement.
Perhaps most poignantly, the show also includes an interview with an Iranian man who is fact-checking Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani. Farhad Souzanchi is doing his work in a climate in which dozens of journalists in Iran are in jail at any one time on charges of endangering the nation’s security or spreading propaganda. So he does his work from Toronto, Canada.
“The hard-line publications in the country, the more conservative ones have mentioned us, and accused us of trying to overthrow the government, or start a coup,” says Souzanchi. “Yes, it’s a very risky thing to do.”
THAT NPR SOUND
The podcast is special because of its use of storytelling techniques and expert sound production.
The host and producers have extensive experience producing content for national public radio entities, and in daily journalism.
Host Emily Hanford is an education correspondent for American RadioWorks, the documentary unit for the public radio powerhouse, American Public Media (APM). APM produces Marketplace and A Prairie Home Companion, among other nationally syndicated shows.
Lead Producer Carol Jackson, Sanford’s digital communications strategist, spent many years with the nationally distributed radio program “The Story with Dick Gordon.”
Alison Jones is an experienced journalist who has reported for Time Magazine and contributed stories to National Public Radio. “Mine Enemy,” her public radio documentary about German POWs in the U.S., was heard by more than 2.5 million public radio listeners nationally last year.
Kemp, Sanford’s assistant dean for communications, is a former print journalist and science communicator.
In addition, Duke students Susannah Roberson and Maria Luisa Frasson-Nori serve as assistant producers.
Season One is funded by Sanford’s Innovation and Impact Fund.
Subscribe to the podcast here.