When Brian Truitt, USA TODAY’s film critic, is putting together interviews for the pop-culture podcast The Mothership, there’s one reaction he says he gets more frequently than others:
“You’re located where?”
The Mothership is one of several podcasts run through USA TODAY at their headquarters Valo Park, a sprawling state-of-the-art complex tucked away in Tysons’ northeast corner.
It’s no secret that media companies, including USA TODAY owner Gannett, are struggling to find a way to stay afloat. The company recently resisted a hostile takeover. But Shannon Green, senior podcasts producer for USA TODAY and co-host of I Tell My Husband the News, said podcasts have been at the forefront of the company finding new ways to tell stories.
The Mothership is hosted by Truitt, technology reporter Brett Molina and TV critic Kelly Lawler, and has been running weekly for four years. While Tysons has not traditionally been considered one of the country’s entertainment hubs, Molina said there are some distinct advantages to working outside of Washington D.C.
“One of the cool things about having this outlet in the suburbs is that we can live here,” Molina said. “People tend to think we work in New York or Los Angeles.”
“Being out here means we have to catch whoever is in the area,” said Truitt.
New episodes of The Mothership air every Friday. This week’s episode is a discussion of romantic comedies. Molina noted that the group narrowly avoided making a “Tribute to Liam Neeson” episode, quickly scrapped after the actor made some troubling confessions.
Green said she was approached to run the podcasting at USA TODAY shortly after Serial brought podcasting into the mainstream in 2014 and the company leadership began to see podcasting’s potential. Green said investigative stories are unique suited for podcasts, using voices to convey ideas and emotions that can’t be conveyed in text.
Not all of the podcasts garner enough downloads to have advertising, but Green said enough do to bring in revenue and help fund more experiments with the medium.
One investigative podcast, The City, profiled the rise of a massive illegal dump in Chicago, including an augmented reality component that helped demonstrate the story of how the empty lot evolved over time. Green said the augmented reality technology helps bring a new visual level to a traditionally auditory form of storytelling.
Green also said bringing in new talent from nearby schools has been part of bridging the generational gap. Kate Gardner, a student at the Madeira School in McLean, interns at USA TODAY but also uses the equipment to help put together an audiodrama: The Ark of Light.
Green said working with Gardner that she’s learned a whole new side of audio production involving Foley sound effects and other methods.
Green said podcasting, audio dramas, and other types of audio-entertainment have become such a hit, primarily due to the intimate connection they offer listeners to the story.
“Spoken storytelling is extremely intimate and emotional,” said Green.