Behind The Podcast: "This Is Love" Uses Journalism and Testimony

Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer struck podcasting gold with their first podcast, Criminal. Through its plot-driven, investigative stories about crime, the show amassed a devoted following and praise from a number of high-profile publications, including Rolling Stone. Now, Judge and Spohrer, along with producer Nadia Wilson, are taking the same approach to a decidedly lighter subjectÔøΩ love. This Is Love uses a compelling mix of journalism and interviews to explore a topic that's just as intriguing, and mysterious, as crime. Simon Says spoke with Judge, Spohrer, and Wilson about the inspiration behind their latest show.

  1. For listeners who first discovered you through CRIMINAL, what can they expect from this show? What familiar elements will they identify with?

Lauren Spohrer: We're calling them  "siblings." Both show concepts tackle a broad genre (crime, love) and then anchor the episodes in the particularities of someone's experience. Phoebe Judge hosts both shows, obviously, but in This is Love we get a bit more of her personality. Both shows make use of original compositions from Blue Dot Sessions, and are mixed and mastered by the great Rob Byers.

2. This Is Love uses a mix of investigative journalism and personal testimony to tell powerful stories. How did you decide on this format (vs. simply reporting or using straightforward interviews)?

Phoebe Judge: We have been using this style since we started Criminal four years ago. We find that sometimes with hard or challenging topics, having a chance to have a conversation helps us explain the nuances of someone's story. I'm less of a narrator in This is Love and more of a question-asker. (Even if those questions are stupid sometimes.) As a general rule of thumb, we only break in with narration when we want to move forward or back in time. We're big fans of keeping things moving. Otherwise, we do what we can to keep the storytellers front and center.

3. I recently listened to the episode, A Private Life, which details the story of Nino and Drew, a gay couple who had to hide their relationship for decades. Your subjects are very inclusive-what role does diversity/inclusion play in your selection of stories?

Lauren Spohrer: It's really important to us. We are very aware of the types of stories that we tell, and the backgrounds and identities of the people that are telling them. We are also very aware that the show is made by three white women, and work hard to think critically about our limitations and privileges.

4. How do you find your stories? What's your research process like?

Phoebe Judge: We've all worked in public radio for a long time (me, Lauren Spohrer, and Nadia Wilson). We're used to digging all over the place to find the best stories we can. We'll type keywords into a search engine and let ourselves go down a rabbit hole. We read old books, read scholarly journals, read local newspapers from tiny towns we've never been to, and most importantly, we find great stories just by talking to people. Listeners send great ideas, too!

5. With CRIMINAL, you have one successful podcast. Were you concerned about duplicating that success with This Is Love? How did you know it was time for a second show?

Lauren Spohrer: I don't think we were concerned about trying to duplicate Criminal's audience with this new show. Of course, we wanted people to listen and find This is Love, but really the whole experience was driven by our desire to spend time with different kinds of stories. The love stories are tender and sincere, and less  "plot-driven" than most of the work we do for Criminal. It feels like the loveliest experiment.

6. And why love? What drove you to this topic after exploring considerably darker stories on your other podcast?

Phoebe Judge: Love and crime have a lot in common. Both are full of mystery. Love is the other thing that fascinates and confounds us. There aren't any good explanations for it. So that was part of it. We thought we could tell love stories that weren't cliché and that you haven't heard plenty of other places. And we were excited to try something new and let it be warm.

7. It seems both CRIMINAL and This Is Love would make great TV shows. Are there any plans to eventually expand into other formats?

Lauren Spohrer: Yes. That's the simple answer. But, we are very happy to be working in the world of sound right now!

8. I'm sure each episode involves a considerable amount of production, from research to interviews. How many episodes will you produce each season? How did you decide on that number?

Lauren Spohrer: Criminal comes out twice a month with 24 new episodes a year. Sometimes a couple bonus episodes, too. That's the most we can do with a team of three. We don't ever want to put out a story that we're ambivalent about just to fulfill a quota, and twice a month lets us be as picky as we want. The first season of This is Love had six episodes that dropped every Wednesday for six weeks. The upcoming fall season will probably be longer, but we don't have the exact launch date or duration yet. We will likely return at the beginning of October.

9. What advice can you offer new podcasters who hope to produce shows as well-received as yours?

(Everyone answeringÔøΩ Phoebe, Lauren and Nadia)

  1. Start a show because you love podcasts! And because you love your idea! Don't go into it expecting to make money. It's a lot of work and it takes a long time to grow an audience. We kept our day jobs for years and produced Criminal at night and on the weekends.
  2. Pick a topic that interests you, not a topic that you're an expert in. Your curiosity needs to lead the way, and listeners can tell if you already know the answers to the questions you're asking.
  3. Get an editor! It doesn't have to be someone professional. Ask someone who you know will be honest with you when a story is too long or confusing or just not interesting. This could be your mother, your best friend, a colleague. Maybe don't ask your partner. Everyone needs a fresh ear, no matter how long you've been doing it.

10. Where else can we see your work?

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