Armenia: In the wake of turmoil, podcasts provide an outlet for difficult stories | Podcasting | DW | 26.02.2024
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Armenia: In the wake of turmoil, podcasts provide an outlet for difficult stories

After the exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, two journalists took part in a DW Akademie podcast workshop and launched a show giving reporters in exile a space to share their hardships and successes.

Journalists Mariam Sargsyan and Tatevik Khachatryan found their world thrown into turmoil in 2023. They, along with 120,000 people from Nagorno-Karabakh, fled their homes in September. The exodus was the result of Azerbaijan’s capture, after a nine-month blockade, of the long-disputed territory. After the military offensive, most Armenians were forcefully displaced to Armenia.

Before fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, Mariam and Tatevik worked at Artsakh Public Radio. Suddenly they both found themselves out of work and having to navigate new lives in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. That's when they decided to start their own podcast called PodCut. They wanted to create a space for journalists in exile to discuss the daily problems they face and to share memories of the nine-month blockade and then a war in the region.

"We invite them to talk about the things they deal with every day since everything has changed for us. We share our true feelings on the podcast," said Tatevik. "If we feel like crying or laughing, we do it. We want our guests to know it's fine to show how you feel."

The two did not have much experience with podcasting. During the blockade of the territory by Azerbaijan, Artsakh Public Radio started producing podcasts in English to inform an international audience about what was happening on the ground. But their former employer only managed to release three episodes before the Azerbaijani military moved in.

For Tatevik and Mariam, podcasting was a new way for them to share their stories. During their time at the radio station, they found themselves occasionally frustrated by the limitations of broadcasting formats as well as the topics they were allowed to cover in the region's relatively conservative media environment. They had begun to look for ways to share their own stories and thoughts.

"Our editor-in-chief used to always revise Tatevik's reports because she kept adding her own thoughts to them," joked Mariam.

The two friends had an idea for a podcast, but they didn't have the tools or even know much about how to go about making one. Then they heard about a podcast training program run by DW Akademie and the Media Initiatives Center, a media development organization based in Yerevan. They thought this was the right time to turn their podcast idea into reality. 

Armenien Jerewan | Podcast Training Workshop

Discussing podcast ideas at DW Akademie’s PodcasTraining workshop in Yerevan, Armenia

Strong interest

The training organizers were surprised at the overwhelming interest in the podcasting workshop when it was announced. In the end, they could only choose 15 people to participate.

"Each of them came with their own unique idea for a podcast," said Knar Khudoyan, an independent reporter and podcaster who also works with and was one of the workshop's co-trainers.

The podcast training wasn't originally part of DW Akademie’s planned activities in Armenia, but podcasting has become increasingly popular among media professionals and the public there. DW Akademie had already translated its podcasting development and production planning tool, the MethodKit for Podcasts, into Armenian. The time seemed right given the interest and the resources, as well as the recent political and social developments, to introduce podcasting to more people.

The intensive five-day workshop in Yerevan included several journalists who had relocated from Nagorno-Karabakh. During the workshop, participants discussed topics like format development, target groups, audio recording and editing, scriptwriting, podcast platforms and promotion. Five of the 15 participants have already begun producing episodes.

"We had the idea for our show, but we didn't really know how to put it all together or where to start. This training was a great chance for us to get our thoughts in order and develop our concept," said Tatevik. "We even came up with our project's name and designed our logo during the training," Mariam added.

In a media world where big stories can drown out smaller voices, podcasts offer a way for individual media creators to be heard. As many of them are independently produced giving creators editorial freedom, podcasts can address topics that may otherwise be missed in the usual information flows. Also, the barriers to entry are low.

"Making a podcast doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment or money. And in tough times like what we've been through, people might not want to be seen on camera for safety reasons," said co-trainer Khudoyan. "We also spoke about the importance of staying true to journalistic ethics, one of the many subjects we tackled in the training."

Armenien PodCut | Mariam Sargsyan und Tatevik Khachatryan

Mariam Sargsyan (left) and Tatevik Khachatryan (right), the producers of PodCut, in the recording studio

Building a community

For DW Akademie's Armenian team, building networks of media creators and helping them share their experiences is one of the key goals of the organization's work in Armenia. The podcasting workshop was one more way to make that happen.

"It wasn't just about learning new skills. In this difficult period, we've found a community ready to support us," said Mariam. "Other podcasters cheered us on, celebrating each new listener we gained, and the Media Initiatives Center provided us a studio and equipment to record our first 10 episodes. It's become more than just assistance."

Mariam and Tatevik did indeed have something to celebrate. The first episode of PodCut got more than 3,000 listens.

"People from Nagorno-Karabakh have been reaching out to us through social media, leaving comments about waiting for every new episode. Someone even wrote that the podcast helps with their homesickness since it allows them to listen to their dialect," said Tatevik.

The two women have just released the 10th episode. But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. They are having a hard time finding a new studio and equipment to continue production. Still, despite the obstacles, they are already brainstorming with their audience on social media on how they might expand their coverage and address additional topics on PodCut.

They remain optimistic about the future of their series. They say that that in challenging times like they've living in, people are looking for honest conversations.

PodcasTraining was organized by DW Akademie and the Media Initiatives Center through support from the European Union in Armenia, within the "European Media Facility in Armenia" project.

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