Joni Deutsch

April, 2017


Title When Title is Due

A few months ago, my public radio station (West Virginia Public Broadcasting) received a wonderful opportunity in the form of a grant from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (the non-profit corporation created by Congress in 1967 that has now become the largest single source of funding for public media) and PRX (a leading creator and distributor of public media content, talent and technology including This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour and Reveal).

The grant, fondly referred to as Project Catapult, was awarded to seven public broadcasting stations around the country to create a professional network of diverse talent across the country and amplify the production of local podcasts to the world through sustainable, innovative practices, with those lucky recipients being KALW’s Inflection Point, Nashville Public Radio’s Versify, St. Louis Public Radio’s We Live Here, WNIN’s Que Pasa Midwest, WYPR’s Out of the Blocks, KUOW’s Second Wave and West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s own Us & Them.

I’m happy to say that I, too, am lucky by being asked to represent my station during this five-month podcast bootcamp split between weekly webinars at home and monthly hands-on production and presentations at the PRX Podcast Garage in Cambridge, Mass.

On a work level, this has been an excellent experience to flex my digital content development, audience engagement and general marketing skills. But more than that, this experience has made me dive deeper into titles. And by that, I don’t mean podcast titles. I mean my own title.

After a long day of podcast brainstorming and whiteboarding and planning in Cambridge, the podcast teams found their way to a local bar to relax and unwind. I got to talking with a Project Catapult colleague about the number of professional hats he wore, what with sound designing, sound editing, sound mixing, producing and so much more for his station’s podcast. There came a point in the conversation when he complimented my work as a producer for the Us & Them podcast. I thanked him, but let him know that I really wasn’t a producer since I only helped in a minor way with the podcast’s marketing and digital output; as I told him, I couldn’t consider myself a producer since I do not have say in the podcast’s voice or editorial direction, nor would I expect to since its current drivers are doing such a fine job. My colleague would not accept that response; as he told me, I *am* a producer for the podcast because of what I do, not because of what I don’t. If I help with the podcast’s production, I am a producer, and that was that.

This was not the first time I had a conversation like this during the first week of Project Catapult. My roommate during the podcast bootcamp was an accomplished journalist-producer, and when we first met, she asked me if I also was a journalist attached to my own station’s podcast. I chuckled and said that I was nowhere near being a journalist; sure, I had majored in communications, and I had taken a number of mass media and journalism classes in undergrad and grad school, and I had a steady roster of interviews and music reviews under my belt for my station, but I did not graduate from journalism school, and I would never feel comfortable taking on the title of journalist. As I told her, I think about the work of journalists at my station, at The New York Times and beyond, breaking news and uncovering truth, and I just can’t think of myself as a journalist given what they are able to accomplish. My roommate gave me a quizzical look in response; to be sure, not all journalists go to journalism school, and “a degree is not more important than competence,” as journalist and innovation chief Eric Newton once said.

So I can talk about podcast stats and best digital audio practices taught over the course of that first week at the PRX Garage, but the biggest lesson occurred outside the classroom with my colleagues and friends when I finally realized it isn’t about getting credit when credit is due; it’s about giving yourself the title when the title is due.

Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation of Women Leader, sums up my issue in both conversations: “Study after study shows that women hesitate to self-promote even though doing so is a critical path to leadership.” This is a difficult thing to maneuver as a woman who has to walk the fine line between hubris and humility in the workplace. But as Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead puts it, “if you don’t acknowledge to yourself and others your contributions and achievements, it will eventually diminish you, and hold you and your team back.”
At the end of the day, a title is just a name on a plaque or business card. What it represents is self-worth.

Joni Deutsch is a public radio host and producer based in Charleston, West Virginia. In June 2015, she became assistant producer for NPR’s live performance radio program Mountain Stage with Larry Groce; one year later, she became the program’s youngest and first female guest host. Joni is currently working towards earning her Master’s degree in Strategic Communication from American University. She is a recipient of the Emerging Voices Scholarship through AWMF and the Ford Foundation.