Laura R. Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio (NYPR), has an agenda: She wants at least half of the podcasts produced to be hosted or co-hosted by women. “We’re making progress,” she reported at Werk It 2017, an annual festival she helped to create in 2015 to give women the tools they need to become creative forces in podcasting.
Walker came up with the idea after she’d read a report on this new medium and discovered that of the top 100 podcasts on iTunes, only 20 percent were hosted or co-hosted by a woman.
“Podcasting was headed in the same direction as every other entertainment medium—flooded with men….the gender dynamics were the same old story,” she told the attendees at the this year’s festival, recounting its history. And after a conversation on those findings with Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Walker originated the first Werk It Festival, a gathering of women with the goal of creating a paradigm shift. The festival offers the tools of entrepreneurship, production, and broadcasting—and the confidence that comes with knowledge—in a women-helping-women model.
Now dubbed “The Woman Working to Make Podcasting More Diverse,” by Fast Company, Walker reported to this year’s festival that the most popular podcasts on iTunes are now nearly 35 percent women-hosted—and of those originating at her home station, WNYC, nine out of the 20 podcasts, or 45 percent, are created by women. “In podcasting, everyone in this room can create your own characters, tell your own stories. We don’t have to be relegated to fitting ourselves into the roles that a group of male decision makers deems to be appropriate, sellable or allowable,” she told the crowd.
Held this year in Los Angeles, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel with 600 attendees (last year’s festival in New York welcomed only 100), Werk It 2017 featured a number of notable participants including Death, Sex & Money‘s Anna Sale, Note to Self’s Manoush Zomorodi, and Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa, as well as Nina Jacobson (producer of The Hunger Games), EMMY award-winning actress Lena Waithe, Recode’s Kara Swisher, TV producer Ilene Chaiken, and podcasters Ester Perel, Nigel Poor, Nora McInerny, and Kelly Mcevers. Many of the sessions are available as podcasts at no cost on a site hosted by WNYC Studios.
Note: Walker will be on the Wesleyan campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend, speaking on “Journalism in The Trump Era: Public Media’s Role as a Trusted News Source and Convener of Public Discourse” at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, in a WESeminar to celebrate Wesleyan’s Koeppel Journalism Fellows. Anne Greene, University Professor of English and director of Wesleyan’s Writing Certificate, will serve as moderator. Walker holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in history, magna cum laude, from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.
Follow Laura Walker on Twitter: @lwalker; WNYC Studios: @WNYCStudios
And listen to her Careers by Design podcast interview, “Encore: Don’t be Scared by Ambiguity,” hosted by Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of Wesleyan’s Gordon Career Center.
In this 2016 conversation, Walker told Castonguay: “For me a lot of the fun of it, and the challenge of it, and the kind of stuff I love to do, is the mix of the creative and the business… I think that actually started at Wesleyan… There’s something about seeing connections and drawing them and reveling in them…and not being scared by the ambiguity, but being challenged by it.”