Jamaica Plain resident Rob Hochschild has been in the media business for three decades. Earlier this year, he decided to launch a podcast, “The Media Narrative,” that has media makers and influencers telling their inside stories. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session with Hochschild about the podcast and how it came to be. For more information about the podcast, visit themedianarrative.com. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: Where did the idea of the podcast come from and how did it come to fruition?
A.: At a moment when we are all saturated with media, I wanted to create an interview show that teases out how media makers work and where their obsessions come from. I define media makers in a very all-encompassing way, and have interviewed authors, journalists, producers of various kinds, memoir-writing musicians, and a sports columnist. I’ll have some comedians on the podcast soon, too. I feel that people who are leading and contributing to the public conversation can tell us a lot about the culture and where it’s headed. In addition, I often ask my interviewees about their own media-consuming habits.
Part of the reason why I’m so interested in asking people questions about their lives is because there have always been a lot of mysteries and unanswered questions in my own family. My parents were refugees who escaped Europe during World War II and were extremely reluctant to talk about their pasts. They helped make me the kind of kid who sometimes drove people crazy with questions. Now I’m that kind of adult.
I started doing interviews in 2017 but didn’t officially launch until April 2018, and I’m approaching 20 episodes.
Q.: Where do you produce and record the podcast?
A.: I’ve conducted some of these interviews in my JP apartment, and others in places such as the Hartford Public Library (Doug Glanville); the Podcast Garage in Allston (Julie Shapiro), and the Brookline Booksmith (Billy Bragg). But I’ve done most of my interviews at a beautiful co-working space in Brookline, The Village Works. They’ve built a soundproofed podcast room and outfitted it with recording equipment. The owner of the space, Melissa Tapper Goldman, is a JP resident and she and her colleagues have been incredibly supportive. Wouldn’t it be great if JP had a co-working space?
Q.: What are some of the challenges of doing the podcast and how do you overcome them?
A.: The biggest challenge is to stay on schedule. I release new episodes every other Friday, and although I have a talented engineer—Isak Kotecki—helping me with the editing and mixing, it’s tough to hit that mark every time. You have to be in a different stage of production with multiple episodes: the interview you just recorded, the one you’re prepping for, and the ones you’re trying to schedule. Meanwhile, I’m teaching classes at Berklee, working in radio, and doing some freelance writing and oral history work. It’s a blast, but it’s a lot to coordinate.
Q.: How do you choose your subjects?
A.: I go after interviewees whose work fascinates me and that I feel would be fun to talk to. In most cases, so far, I either know the person or have a connection to them in some way. I want to keep expanding into different areas of the media spectrum, and hope to soon interview people who work in film, TV, visual art, and other spheres.
Q.: What are some of the interesting stories you have heard while doing the podcast?
A.: Journalist Beth Schwartzapfel is doing in-depth and important work covering the criminal justice system for the Marshall Project, and talked about several of her projects. One of them focused on a collaboration between a college and a prison in Washington state that not only provided meaningful work for inmates interested in environmentalism but that successfully nurtured endangered plants and animals.
Another one came from journalist/podcaster/producer Julio Ricardo Varela (Latino USA, In the Thick), who talked about launching his reporting career after being an early non-college user of Facebook, around 2004. He began building an audience by reporting stories on Facebook and as his readers clamored for more, he built Latino Rebels, a very successful Boston-based news blog. He kept following his instincts and now, in addition to his blog and podcast, works for PBS, NPR, and comments on MSNBC and other networks.
Q.: Talk a little about the JP residents you’ve done podcasts with.
A.: One of my recent episodes featured Jamaica Plain legend Rick Berlin. I interviewed him in his kitchen about his music career, his memoir (published by JP-based Cutlass Press/Papercuts JP), and the JP Music Festival. JP resident Ryan H. Walsh came on the show to talk about his book, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, a fascinating tale about Van Morrison and the Boston of those days. And one of my first interviews was with then-JP-resident Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, whose Fact of a Body won all sorts of acclaim as a book fusing reportage and memoir focusing on murder, sexual abuse, and the law. We have some interesting people in our little village.
Q.: What did you do before producing the podcast? Is the podcast now your full-time job?
A.: It’s not my full-time job, but it’s a full-time obsession. I’ve worked as a print and radio reporter, but have worked for Berklee College of Music since 1992. I left my full-time job as director of communications there in 2016 to join the liberal arts faculty at Berklee. Podcasting is a tough way to make a living, but as long I’m persistent and keep pumping out episodes, I’m hopeful that it can help pay the bills.
Q.: Anything else you would like to add?
A.: This is a great time for anyone who has contemplated launching a creative project but hasn’t to drop the inhibitions and give it a try. Thanks to the internet and the inexpensiveness of making your own stuff, anyone can produce and publish their own work. Doing it well is another story. For more than three decades I worked mostly for large teams and organizations, and while I miss a lot about that, I realized I was hiding in the shadows my entire life, unwilling to take a chance and just push my own work into the universe. It’s a good feeling to enjoy the process of doing that, doing the work to get better, and not worrying too much about the outcome.