With ‘Fellows’ effort, SBU podcasts a wider net

Listen up: With podcats peaking as a news and entertainment source, Stony Brook Southampton is teaching students how to do them right.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

It’s a big week for podcast innovations on Long Island.

Just days after the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell launched a serialized podcast following the real-life adventures of first-year medical students, Stony Brook Southampton – in partnership with Connecticut-based WSHU Public Radio – has announced a first-of-its-kind Audio Podcast Fellows program.

Designed to train students in all aspects of podcasting, the new program – which also involves Stony Brook University’s Manhattan extension – will be directed by Kathleen Russo, executive director of “Here’s the Thing,” Alec Baldwin’s nationally syndicated radio show and podcast.

In addition to giving celebrities like Baldwin a larger stage, podcasts have emerged as a digital-news standard, a major pop-culture medium and even an effective marketing tool – through efforts such as Northwell Health’s “Health Story,” a monthly podcasted informercial exploring Northwell’s advances and issues.

With the subscription-driven medium hitting a socioeconomic peak, a maximum of 12 students in the Audio Podcast Fellows program – chosen through a “competitive admissions process” – will develop their own podcasts “from proposal to pilot to pitch,” according to Stony Brook Southampton.

The program will focus first on classroom work at SBU’s Southampton and Manhattan facilities, where “leading industry professionals” – including National Public Radio veteran Julie Subrin, producer of Hofstra/Northwell’s “Making an MD: Year One” – are slated to instruct on topics ranging from production to narrative construction to editing the spoken word.

The idea is to develop “mastery in all phases of podcast production,” according to Stony Brook Southampton, including studio and on-site sound recording and digital editing.

Students will then venture into the field, developing innovative programming ideas, shepherding them through the proposal and pitch processes and finally creating “a soup-to-nuts pilot ready for market,” the university said.

The program – slated to begin in August, when the Fall 2018 semester gets rolling – will also include “a range of internship options,” according to SBU.

Kathleen Russo: Production pro.

A Sag Harbor resident and widow of the late actor Spalding Gray, program director Russo boasts an accomplished history as a film, theater and radio producer. In addition to show-running Baldwin’s syndicated program and co-directing “Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell,” a Broadway play based on her husband’s work, Stony Brook Southampton’s special projects coordinator also served as executive producer on the Steven Soderbergh films “And Everything is Going Fine” and “Gray’s Anatomy.”

Her management of the Audio Podcast Fellows program adds gravitas worthy of an effort to educate students on a medium that’s “increasingly aligned with the future of storytelling and intellectual discourse,” according to Robert Reeves, associate provost of the Southampton Graduate Arts program.

“There is significant demand for producers, editors, writers and other professionals with the requisite skills for competing successfully in the marketplace,” Reeves said Wednesday. “Building exciting new partnerships, such as with WSHU, means we can offer students experiential learning options that are connected to real-world developments and opportunities.”

Fairfield-based WSHU Public Radio, which broadcasts to much of Long Island, plans to share excerpts from Audio Podcast Fellows creations with its audience. The station is “excited” to partner with Stony Brook Southampton on what Program Director Tom Kuser called an “innovative new program.”

“This collaboration allows us to do two things that WSHU is really committed to: deliver compelling new content to our community and provide unique, hands-on learning experiences to a new generation of creative-content producers and storytellers,” Kuser said in a statement.