A podcast studio in a closet, a talk show in a conservatory: How DC’s audio journalists work from home


Kojo Nnamdi broadcasts from his veranda. Photograph by Rashad Young/WAMU.

For journalists, working from home during the coronavirus crisis means moving all newsroom interactions to Slack, mastering the intricacies of Zoom meetings, and finding a chair that offers minimal support. For reporters who work in audio, there is all that more find out how to make your recordings look professional.

How is it Martine Powers found herself in a closet in her DC apartment, her laptop perched on an ironing board, a blanket, and her sound-dampening clothes. The host of the Washington Postit’s everyday Publish reports The podcast has been recording this way since the second week of March, and one problem she’s had is that when she answers the phone with a certain way of saying “hello,” her dog, Shiloh, starts barking.

Powers in his studio closet. Photograph courtesy of Martine Powers.

To post journalists are mainly guests Publish reports, and staffers have been good at improvising their own contributions to the podcast, Powers says. A senior producer managed to distribute recording material before the To post sent most of its employees home on March 10. Employees will give other pieces of equipment to people who live near them. Powers colleague Maura Judkis lives in the same building, and when she appeared on the podcast, she came and recorded in the closet after Powers disinfected it. “If you had told me that I would one day invite my colleague to stand in my closet with me…” Powers said.

Approximately 80% of WTOP’s newsroom works remotely, Director of News and Programming Julia Ziegler said, and the station is testing ways to do all of its broadcasting away from the vitreous nerve center, if necessary. WTOP reporters are used to reporting from the road, and one, Neal Augensteinis a pioneer of reporting via his mobile phone. (He donated his iPhone 4S at the Newseum.)

Reached by phone, Augenstein reviews recording hacks that can make anyone sound better – place pillows behind a microphone on your desk, for example, or better yet, build a fort with your couch cushions and read to the bottom of your couch. Both techniques will dampen “bounce”, which Augenstein describes as “the difference between something that sounds like you’re in a studio and just an empty room”. (“You don’t think about it until you hear a bad sound,” Powers nods.) He sends tutorials he made to sources on how they can record decent audio for interviews.

Neal Augenstein recording in a studio couch. Photo courtesy of Neal Augenstein.

Kojo Nnamdi has been recording his weekday WAMU show from his veranda since last Tuesday, the day after engineers arrived at his house with armfuls of equipment. He thought they were going to camp in the basement, where he gets ready for the show every day, but they put him up in the veranda on an antique desk after “conspiring with my wife,” Nnamdi says. The studio where Nnamdi broadcasts normally has a large window that faces Connecticut Avenue, so “I’m used to seeing daylight when I’m on the air,” he says. Currently, his view is of his alley, which he says is much quieter on weekdays than he is used to seeing on weekends.

The Kojo Nnamdi show is still operated from WAMU’s 1A control room, with a small team in the office, screening calls, running the board and producing.

Nnamdi says she misses the hustle and bustle of a newsroom, with its conversations, jokes and overflowing ideas. Slack and conference calls are part of the difference. WAMU management told employees not to worry too much about audible cues that they were working from home: barking dogs, crying babies or, in Nnamdi’s case, his running dishwasher or his doorbell ringing. When it comes to doing the show, however, Nnamdi says he definitely misses the opportunity to read clues from guests’ faces. “You want to know each other when you have to put them at ease,” he says. He and political analyst Tom Sherwood interact a lot via eye cues during “political hour” on Fridays. “It’s really disadvantageous not to see Tom,” he said. “I always claim that I would much rather not see him, but the thing is, it’s going to be tough to work that way.”

All this disruption, however, is worth it, says Nnamdi: “I am 75 years old. I am in the high-risk group.”

Nnamdi on the mic at home. Photograph by Rashad Young/WAMU.

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