For years, Sara Bernard served as a staff writer for Seattle Weekly, crafting powerful stories about heavy stuff, including environmental activism and sexual assault. Then, a few months ago, she went dark. This Friday she will re-emerge as the host and producer of Sound Publishing’s new podcast, Seattleland.
Each week, the podcast will feature a deep dive into a story inspired by the reporting done by her colleagues stationed in communities thoughout the region. In the first episode, we will hear about the fight to rename King County after Martin Luther King Jr. from the people who made it happen. After that, Bernard will take us to the pinball parlours of Seattle, the skateparks of Renton, and the wake of a marijuana pioneer. And that’s just the beginning. We asked her what she’s been up to behind that closed studio door and what we can expect from her new obsession.
There is this idea that you need to be niche in order to succeed in the podcasting space. And you’re doing something that’s a little different than that and focusing on a place. Why?
This is an incredibly interesting space right now for a number of reasons. The history is really fascinating, the contemporary struggles are drawing national attention, there are a lot of national profile companies, and in the past year there have been a lot of national profile politically charged events. Seattle is taking on this national role. This podcast allows us to tell these local stories, but in a way that uses the power of audio to engage more people and engage people differently. I have a real passion for audio and its ability to be so empathic and so intimate and so immediate and emotional. I want to give that opportunity to people who live in this area, or maybe who live anywhere, to hear these stories and understand these stories, have an opportunity to really experience them in a different way and, arguably, feel them more deeply.
Do you like working in audio instead of print now?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Even though, I’m really stressed out. Especially this week, because this thing that has existed only in our heads is now going to be a real thing that other people can listen to and comment upon. So that’s a little scary. However, there are a couple of reasons that I’m happier now than I was then: One is, I confess that I have always been more interested in stories than in news, and I think [that is] the way that we’re structuring the podcast at the moment, that these are not going to be breaking news, responsive type piece. We will be topical and we will have time pegs when we can, and we will try to respond when we can to very timely things. However, our focus is going to be on the story. And that is a real privilege for me. And number two: I just feel like it’s a new challenge. This has just been a lot of fun, but I have learned a lot of things in the past few months, the hard way. I have done radio since maybe 2011, while also writing, and I feel like I miss one when I am doing the other. So, this is cool to maybe swing the pendulum back over and focus on this thing that I put down for a couple of years.
We hear a lot of your voice in these first three episodes, but as we move along we are going to be introduced to other voices. Who do those voices belong to?
It definitely is going to evolve. The first few episodes are going to be mostly me as host and reporter, but the idea of course is to not make this my podcast, or my project, with me as reporter and producer and host; it’s also me working with local reporters in this family of publications owned by Sound Publishing to elicit their expertise in their local communities. I’ll be the host continually, but hopefully showcasing a lot of the people who are doing this field work on the ground.
Tell me about a moment from these past three months that is going to stick with you.
One moment was when I started to go through the audio I had collected for the first episode, which is about how King County came to be named for Martin Luther King. I was going through some of that audio to figure out what the good parts are, and I was just blown away by some of these conversations I had. They felt really powerful to me. It felt like, in this first episode, there are going to be moments that, for me, anyway, underscore the importance of audio and the reason I love audio. The conversations I had for this episode were things that I wouldn’t have been able to say myself as well, even if I were quoting someone in a print piece. I just feel so grateful that I get this opportunity to show people what I was hearing; to give people what I was hearing.
New episodes of Seattleland will post every Friday starting this week. Subscribe through your favorite podcast platform, or download each episode at seattlelandpod.com.