Aisling McCarthy chatted to Reddy about the elements that bring Sound Africa
together.What does Sound Africa do? Sound Africa
is a locally-based podcast channel that produces high-quality radio documentaries. We tell in-depth, long-form stories on a range of topics, from human interest stories to more hard-hitting, newsy subjects.
We do it in a way that is creative, accessible, and engaging. It's a format that is still quite novel in South Africa and we've taken advantage of our position to try and promote a podcast culture and develop aspiring storytellers in the country.
Ultimately, we aim to be a continent-wide platform for radio documentaries on, and from, Africa and we want to give local producers access to international audiences.
Sensitively told narratives have the power to break through echo chambers and prejudice, and we could argue that there's a particular need for that in South Africa, where people live in different and diverging worlds. How did you notice the gap in the market that Sound Africa now fills?
We did a lot of listening and were always on the lookout for good content. The lack of in-depth audio documentaries in South Africa, both on radio and podcasts, was glaring. There was pretty much no home-grown organisation making documentaries that could stand up to those produced by the likes of National Public Radio, Radiotopia or the BBC.
Despite how popular traditional radio is in South Africa, there's a dire lack of high-quality long-form content. For some reason, we have no shortage of talk shows but audio documentaries aren't much of a thing. We wanted to change that. How do you think podcasting has transformed the media landscape? What does it offer that traditional media does not?
Digital media offers certain advantages, such as a level of audience engagement that is largely missing in traditional media.
Of course, new media has helped speed up the flow of information exponentially and the role of media professionals as 'gatekeepers' has been undermined, for better or worse. Podcasting has played a role in this as it's relatively cheap and easy to produce a simple podcast or audio blog.
Podcasting also has an important role to play in fostering an appreciation for long-form. We're supposedly the instant gratification generation, but the popularity of narrative radio journalism in other parts of the world suggests that people do want to spend time listening to compelling, well-told stories.
Producing high-quality content requires time, energy, and resources. Unfortunately, the digital revolution has also meant that audiences tend to be less loyal and less willing to pay for good content. People can just look elsewhere for free content.
While podcasting has helped democratise the media landscape, this effect has been limited. We have insanely high data costs, so many people don’t consume digital media in a meaningful way.
Traditional radio still has enormous penetration in South Africa, and that's why we've also been teaming up with radio stations to air our content. As the cost to connect comes down, which it inevitably will, more people will come online. What went into the creation of South Africa’s first radio cinema?
We gather a crowd in a room with good acoustics, turn off the lights, and listen to some of the best radio narratives we can find.
It sounds odd, and even I was skeptical at the time, but there's something about the deprivation of sight, the singular focus on sound, and the need to harness your imagination that makes it a very rich experience.
We hold regular radio cinemas in Cape Town and Johannesburg and we've even taken them to Europe. We get really good feedback from these and they're very popular. You’ve started a training programme for storytellers and aspiring journalists. What will these workshops cover and what are you hoping to achieve with them?
Beyond training our own staff and contributors, primarily in audio production and editing, we take on interns when we have the capacity.
They're given leeway to work on their own stories and we encourage people to pitch ideas and run with them, and our editor, Rasmus Bitsch, provides guidance. A lot of folks have approached us and asked to collaborate, and we're pretty keen to expand our network and work with new individuals and organisations.
We’re in the second year of running workshops with Encounters Documentary Film Festival
. The workshops tend to focus on the basics – starting up a podcast with few resources.
For future workshops, the aim is to include a more comprehensive coverage of theory and practical skills that go in to making high-quality podcasts. We hope to develop a network of storytellers who are able to utilise this new and exciting medium to tell stories from other parts of the continent.Why do you think it is important to build up young journalists in South African society?
From when we started Sound Africa
, we said we wanted to amplify African narratives, break down stereotypes, and to produce content that would upend simplistic, one-dimensional coverage.
We wanted to capture the complexity of South African society and the richness of every day lived experiences. Let's give credit where credit is due - we're hardly the only start-up with those kinds of aspirations. But to do the things we think are important, we need good journalists and storytellers.
It's also not an easy time to be a journalist. The profession is struggling, but is as important as ever (especially in an age when bogus news is so easily spread and so readily lapped up), that young journalists be encouraged and supported.
For more information, visit www.soundafrica.org
Interested in starting your own podcast? Read more in our article, Is podcasting for you? podToPod answers.