Last week, we released the first episode of our first podcast, Medium Playback. On each episode of the show, we invite a writer we love to the studio to perform a recent story they wrote for Medium (episode one features beloved author Roxane Gay) and then chat with us about it.
To make the show work, we were looking for hosts to introduce you to each episode’s guest and have a candid conversation with them about the story. We found that in Manoush Zomorodi and Kara Brown. In addition to being experienced podcasters, they also are accomplished writers, which means they know how to get inside our guests’ heads.
Our VP of Editorial, Siobhan O'Connor sat down with Kara and Manoush to learn more about what makes them tick.
Medium: What drew you to the project? Why Playback?
Kara: There are so many stories out there that you rarely get to do a deep dive. In this age when you have all of this content and all this work being done, it’s nice to actually take a second to learn more about the things we enjoy.
So it’s another chance — and a different way — to get a story in front of people.
Manoush: Playback isn’t just to introduce people to new stories but also to experience it again in a different way. We take in so much information on screens all day long. So as a journalist who makes podcasts , I really appreciate the power of voice. To hear someone read their words. What do they emphasize? What emotions do they imbue in the words they’ve so carefully crafted? The way someone says something can really impart so much emotional information.
Can you think of an example from any of the episodes where, in hearing the story, there was an emotion or nuance that was unexpected?
Kara: I find Roxane Gay’s voice so distinctive, so I like to hear everything she writes in her own voice anyway. But really hearing her go through that journey via her own reading made it even more powerful.
I had a similar experience with Roxane’s episode. Somehow the frankness with which she writes feels less frank and more emotional when you hear it.
Manoush: Baratunde Thurston’s a comedian, so when he says just one sentence you think, “Oh, I didn’t realize that was funny until I heard you say it.” In contrast, designer Mike Monteiro, who never has his voice out there, was equally powerful. He relaxed into the words he’d written and became passionate all over again about design and the ethical ways that we build our technology.
What do you think you can do with a podcast that you can’t do with your own writing?
Manoush: I do not feel as comfortable with longform writing. I wrote a book but it was painful. I really struggled. But I’ve been doing taped conversation and broadcast media for over 20 years and I just love it. I love that you can say a very short sentence but because of the way you say it, you can convey all kinds of meaning. Maybe that says I’m lazy. I’m not sure.
Kara: When I was at Jezebel, because of the nature of the site, people felt very connected to what I was writing. With podcasts it’s even more so and I’ve had to adjust. On Keep It, I’m in people’s ears when they’re driving to work or folding laundry. It’s very intimate. I was surprised by people’s reactions to it and how excited they were to meet me. At a live show people were running up to the stage, and I remember thinking, “Guys, calm down, it’s a podcast.”
Manoush, your work focuses on how technology impacts in our lives. I’m curious about your conversation with Baratunde about his data detox.
Manoush: I had done a project in January 2017 called The Privacy Paradox , where we got 50,000 people to do a weeklong bootcamp to investigate where their personal data is. I put so much work into this and been shouting about this for so long, but I wasn’t sure if there would be any change.
When the Facebook story broke, this became a mainstream conversation in America. It was really a relief. So to hear Baratunde take all that has happened over the past year and to codify it into this beautiful long piece felt very satisfying.
Kara, you wear many hats: you wrote for Grown-ish, Shondaland, and have a blog, Fancy Pasta Bitch. Tell us a bit more about that project.
Kara: The pasta blog is the silliest thing I do and it seems to elicit the greatest response. I bought a pasta machine around March of 2017, kind of in response to Trump being President. I wanted a hobby to take my mind off things. I made pasta one night and it was so good — I couldn’t believe I had made that. I thought, “This could be in a restaurant, I’m amazing. I’m a fancy pasta bitch!” I put it on Instagram and my friend Amina from the podcast Call Your Girlfriend messaged me, “You have to buy that URL.” And I had been drinking wine, so I went to Google and bought it for $15. I’m working on a new show called In The Dark. It’s a drama for the CW, so I’m trying to be a very dramatic person. So it’s nice to have the blog as an outlet for my dumbest jokes.
Let’s do a lightning round. What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
Kara: The Truth about Animals by Lucy Cooke. It’s all of this insane information about animals and really weird things that they do. We don’t know how eels have sex. It’s crazy.
Manoush: I just started reading my friend, Elizabeth Wallace’s new book, The Ambition Decisions, which isn’t even out yet. It’s about 40 women my age, my economic bracket, and what has happened to them in the last 20 years.
What time of day do you do your best writing?
Kara: My best writing unfortunately is around 11:30 p.m.
Manoush: In the late afternoon or evening. I wish it was at five in the morning but my brain doesn’t function.
Favorite guilty pleasure TV show?
Kara: Literally every Real Housewives franchise, although I don’t feel guilty about it.
Manoush: High Maintenance, also don’t feel guilty.
What’s the most overrated aspect of summer?
Kara: The beach in L.A. Give me a pool any day.
Manoush: Iced coffee. I think cafes are keeping old coffee around and icing it.
Who on Twitter should we be following?
Manoush: Nein Quarterly. It’s German humor that’s not that funny and kind of negative.
What song or album do you have on repeat?
Kara: Cardi B’s new album. I have been a Cardi-Believer since the early days. I think everyone thought her album wouldn’t be good and it is and I’m very proud of her.
Manoush: Why Do You Always Call Me When You’re High? by the Arctic Monkeys. Because it reminds me of when I was 23.
What’s your favorite word in the English language?
Manoush: My ten year old and I think “dormant” is so good because there’s a lot of promise there, it just hasn’t come yet.