Tuesday 5 April 2016

SIGNAL BOOST: A chat with the podcasters behind Stride And Saunter

Stride and Saunter is a regular podcast focusing on thoughtful conversations about a host of topics – from race issues to politics, gaming to body image. Hosts Kip Clark and Caroline Borders joined Stephen Hunt for a chat about their show. 

Hi Kip and Caroline, thanks for joining us. We reviewed your show last year – in fact, named it one of our favourite podcasts from last year. But for the uninitiated, how would you describe your show and what do you think are its strengths?

Kip Clark: I would describe the show as an exploration of humanity, our world and how thoughts and feelings negotiate the space between both. We do not claim any expertise but instead seek genuine discourse on a variety of topics. The foundation behind each of our episodes is a commitment to remaining open-minded and thoughtful in our conversations. I feel that one of its strengths is its breadth and candidness. We want others to join in and share in our conversations. I think anyone, regardless of various differentiating factors such as gender, race and culture, can appreciate a truly fulfilling and open conversation.  

Caroline Borders: I would describe our show as a continued conversation by two people and others who simply want to expand what we already know through discussion and the opinions of our peers. It is by nature exploratory, and we try  to emphasize that we really aren't experts on any of the topics, we're just  speaking as friends. I think  its strengths are just  that: we don't try  to present ourselves as anything but two people who enjoy good conversations.  

Caroline Borders and Kip Clark

What I like about your show is that when you tackle topics, you clearly know your stuff but explore all aspects of the topic, not jumping on one side of the argument and pushing that. How much research do you do ahead of each show?

KC: Several episodes can be classified as "thought-experiments" in which we follow the intellectual breadcrumb trail of a given idea or recent encounter. We rarely research anything for these but instead rely on introspection. For other episodes, such as those relating to political and societal issues, we will usually consult three or four articles pertaining to the topic. 

CB: We do very little research ahead of most of our shows. We usually  read articles on the topic. Again, we emphasize that we are not experts. Often times we speak from personal experience.

How did each of you come to podcasting? What's your background?

KC: I am delighted to admit that it was a very happy accident and one which has given me an excellent medium with which to express my passions. Hector Marrero, who started the show with me, posed the idea in July of 2014 and we began when we returned to college in August. My personality has always drawn me to meandering and profound conversations. I have always appreciated the humanity and learning that a conversation can promote. I had no prior experience in broadcasting of any kind, but all of us have experience in thinking and feeling, which felt appropriate for this podcast.

What was it that drew you to podcasting as a format? 

KC: I was excited by the prospect of sharing conversations with those I have never met and inviting peers from around the world to join in these dialogues as well. More than live production or the written word, I feel that voice and inflection can carry sincere meaning and have a distinctly human "print," so to speak, on the ear and the mind.

One of the things I like about podcasting is the democratisation it brings to the journalism and entertainment markets. It's a very accessible way to get your voice heard – but more than that, in opening things up to alternative voices, it also brings a chance for an alternative approach to matters. What do you find are the biggest advantages to using podcasting for what you do as opposed to other formats?

KC: Stride and Saunter has always been built on the idea, as stated by Socrates that "I know that I know nothing". Some might say that we miss information at times, when I feel that we simply do not have every perspective and detail at our disposal. Podcasting feels like a strange paradox of certainty and humility. We want to share our musings and feelings but we also admit that we have much to learn and we hope our listeners will appreciate and engage with this process. I also think that podcasts are great because others can listen to our episodes on their own time, particularly in scenarios which might be more mindless. There's nothing wrong with taking a break from your thoughts, but we hope that listening to the thoughts of two students might prompt thoughts in equally thoughtful listeners. The written word might feel a bit too detached and formats such as video might distract from the flow and intricacies of dialogue. 

CB: I think  podcasting really reflects the modern consumption of information in our fast-paced world. People are constantly multitasking, I think  podcasting helps people consume content while still doing a variety of other things.

The first show I listened to of yours focused on cultural appropriation – with the Haka in Maori culture being used more widely, such as by the New Zealand rugby team. I was struck by how carefully you approached the subject while clearly being people on the outside peering in, which I thought must have been a delicate balance. Are there any shows you've found particularly tricky to tackle because of feeling the need to be cautious in how you approach them? And if so, how did you resolve your concerns?

KC: Absolutely. Being American, we notice increasingly frequent stories surrounding race in our country. We acknowledge our identity as white people, but we also feel that progress stagnates surrounding various social issues because of discomfort and hesitation. As we have said before, we do not claim to have the answers, but we do believe that respectful, receptive and honest conversation is capable of producing progress in the world. Even if we stumble and struggle with every detail, the act of conversation on our part is meant to indicate that truly anyone can do the same if they take the time.

CB: Indeed, any topic that revolves around race is sensitive for us, as we are both white. The only thing we really try  to do is be conscious of our own privilege and enter into the discussion with open minds.  

That previous show had Hector Marrero as the co-host, is he still connected to the show? If so, how do you decide who joins in on which show?

KC: As Hector prepared to graduate in the spring of 2015, I knew that I had found a project which meant more to me than any others before and I intended to continue. He gave me his blessing and when I approached Caroline, she was willing to give it a try and has been invaluable in the period since Hector's departure. We still discuss the show on occasion when we catch up over the phone, but at the moment we are in separate states, so recording together is not as feasible. I hope he can return for future episodes because his perspective is always honest and valuable.  

What has been the show you have most enjoyed putting together? And was it one that resonated most with listeners or did you enjoy it for more personal reasons?

KC: I thoroughly enjoyed preparing for our episode on Donald Trump. Fortunately, there have been plenty of other favorites, including our pair on life and death, but this presented an opportunity to empathize with my political opposites. I do not support his candidacy or politics, but the phenomena we have witnessed in recent months seemed worthy of conversation. I think we tackled several points of nuance and interest and a number of listeners responded favorably.

CB: I really loved our episodes discussing life and death. It is interesting to reflect personally on what it means to be alive, and what it means to die. I also loved this episode because we got submissions from friends and other people we knew. Hearing their perspectives was especially powerful. I also really loved our episode discussing the establishment of a Whole Foods in Englewood, a food desert outside Chicago. We heard back from a local Chicagoan who works in the public school system there who said he really appreciated our discussion. That was especially rewarding to hear.

In terms of personal outcomes, what has brought each of you the most satisfaction as a result of involvement with the show?

KC: I have truly enjoyed the tremendous amount of learning the show has cultivated in me. I knew nothing about sound design, editing, hosting or social media presence before this process and both maintenance and quality control for the show have taught me a lot. Of course, I cannot overlook all that I have gleaned from the articles and content we have consumed in preparation and on a very profound level, the show has taught me quite a bit about my friends, colleagues and myself as well.

CB: Personally, I always feel reinvigorated after Kip and I's conversations. I fell like our podcast is unique in that often times we have the conversations that people wish they had had they more time in the day. Kip and I make time for those conversations, we just  happen to also record them.

On the other extreme, what can be the biggest problem or annoyance?

KC: At times, editing and other technical troubles can be a struggle. Beyond those, human error, nervousness or improper articulation are always frustrating but they are equally necessary. You cannot appreciate the truly fluid conversations without those that stutter at parts. We continue to learn from these processes every week.

I'm curious about the name of the show – Stride and Saunter – where did that come from?

KC: In all seriousness, the name came to me after my first preparatory phone call with Hector. I had no idea why, but the sounds just resonated with me and Hector felt similarly. Although concepts like foreknowledge might sound unreasonable to some, looking back I feel that the title absolutely fits the show. First, both "stride" and "saunter" are nouns as well as verbs. Our show is both a process and a product, not distinctly one or the other. Secondly, although walking is not an exclusively human activity, the act of walking (or exploration in general for those who cannot walk) is a very human privilege. I think it reflects investigative nature of our show. Finally, a stride may be quick and a saunter may be more relaxed, but both are moving the individual forward. Whether our topics seem heavy or light, we are always trying to learn and grow.

One thing you're particularly good at, I would say, is tipping your hat in the direction of other shows that you think are doing it right. As well as simply being excellent manners, how important is networking and forging good connections with others in the field of podcasting? 

KC: It is absolutely essential. As you said earlier, this is a very democratic process and field. You have to observe and listen to various audiences and producers in order to pick up new skills and consider new information. You might be invited as a guest on the shows of others and you might make new friends who appreciate your craft. With respect and sincerity, always reach out.

In terms of connection with your audience, obviously there are different ways in which podcasts build their listenership – over in the books field, reviews are crucial, for example. If a listener loves your show, what is the absolute best way they can express that which would help you?

KC: That's a great question! Love or respectfully disagree, we truly value any feedback. You can leave comments on our website (strideandsaunter.com) or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook or email at strideandsaunter@gmail.com. We can never hear enough from our listeners, old and new!

CB: Listener feedback is awesome and I wish we got more of it! It's always helpful to hear if we're leaving out aspects of a certain discussion or if people would like to hear us discuss a certain topic.  

Looking at the future, what plans do you have for the show?

KC: As we finish our senior year at Kenyon College, Caroline and I are recording consistently, both with one another and with guests. We aim to prepare content for the next several months so that the show can continue with new hosts in the future as we relocate. We would like to discuss listener submissions and perhaps provide multimedia content at some point in the future. In the distant future, we might even produce episodes in other languages. 

Last question for each of you. I mentioned earlier about how you are very good at nodding towards other shows – in fact on your site you have a page devoted to other show that you recommend – but if you have some time to sit down and listen, what is the show you most regular tune in for? And yes, you can absolutely cheat and name two or three! 

KC: I always try to tune in to Stuff You Should Know, a wonderful offering from How Stuff Works. I also love Reply All from Gimlet Media and How Do We Fix It? which resembles our show in its open-minded approach. 

CB: I really enjoy anything from NPR (This American Life and A Prairie Home Companion especially), but I also enjoy a podcast another Kenyon alum does called Couple Things.

Kip and Caroline, thank you very much for joining us!

KC & CB: Our pleasure, we are so honored to have the opportunity!

To find out more about Stride & Saunter, follow them on Twitter @StrideNSaunter or visit http://www.strideandsaunter.com/

A shortened version of this article previously appeared in The Tribune Weekend section on April 4

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