Emeritus Editor-in-Chief Erin Wade ’16 talks about working on Pulitzer nominated podcast Ear Hustle


Courtesy of Erin Wade’16

Akriti Dhasmana, co-Editor-in-Chief

On May 4, Columbia University announced the 2020 winners of the Pulitzer Prize. Among the finalists under the newly added category of “Audio Reporting” was the podcast titled Ear Hustle. Recently the Concordiensis had the opportunity to talk to the digital producer of the podcast and Emeritus Editor-in-Chief, Erin Wade ’16 as well as receiving statements from the co-host and executive producer of Ear Hustle

“Ear Hustle launched in 2017 as the first podcast created and produced in prison, after winning an open Radiotopia contest seeking new podcast ideas. Originally sharing first-hand stories of daily life in prison, the show has evolved to also explore the reality of life on the outside, post-incarceration, in all cases considering what it means to make a life wherever you are,” Julie Shapiro, Executive Producer of Ear Hustle said.

Nigel Poor, who is the co-host and co-creator of Ear Hustle expressed great joy and surprise at the Pulitzer nomination, “When we first came up with the idea for Ear Hustle, we thought success would mean getting the podcast played inside all of the prisons in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The idea that someday our podcast would be associated with the Pulitzer would have been inconceivable,” he said.


Following is the interview with Wade that was conducted via email.

What was your reaction to finding out about this great news?

When the name of our show popped up on the screen, I screamed, “WHAT?” and then instinct just kind of took over. I very quickly took a screenshot so I could use it for social media. I also texted and Slacked everyone on the team. I had a ton of adrenaline going.

What has your career path been after graduating from Union? How did you get to Ear Hustle?

I went to grad school at Boston University right after graduating from Union. I knew I wanted to get into podcasting, which meant I needed to learn audio production — everything from interviewing for audio to story structure.

BU’s College of Communication has a great journalism program, and they have audio-specific classes. In my first year, I went with BU News Service to Las Vegas to cover self-driving cars at CES before then going to Washington, D.C. to cover President Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March. 

I had two internships that summer — one at public media organization PRX that lasted through March of 2018, and one at The Somerville Times, a local newspaper in Greater Boston, where I got to pitch and write what I wanted. I knew I was interested in transportation and infrastructure reporting, so I had a lot of fun doing print pieces on that beat. 

I started working with Ear Hustle on the first day of my internship at PRX, because I started there exactly a week before the show was set to launch in June 2017. We couldn’t have predicted how big the show was going to get — as co-host and co-creator Nigel Poor says, “The reality is bigger than the dream.” 

From January 2018 through the summer, I did some freelance reporting for a few local newspapers, including the Cambridge Chronicle and the Arlington Advocate. That was mostly reporting on meetings, local politics and, of course, transportation.

Then in late spring I got a call from Radiotopia’s Executive Producer Julie Shapiro, who offered me a position doing audio production for PRX and Radiotopia, as well as digital production for Ear Hustle. 

Now, I’m Digital Producer for Ear Hustle and Producer for Radiotopia. I get to work closely with a lot of amazing podcasts. 

How is Ear Hustle different from other places you’ve worked at?

Prior to Ear Hustle, I’d never really had experience working within the bounds of prison regulations. I’ve worked with court regulations and public records about incarceration, arrests and law enforcement, but I had never been exposed to all of the challenges that you can encounter when telling stories within a prison system. It’s definitely been eye-opening. 

The Ear Hustle team is a scrappy one. Everyone works their butts off all the time, which is a dynamic that I really love to be a part of. 

What does an average day at Ear Hustle look like for you?

As digital producer, I’m in charge of all of Ear Hustle’s digital properties — everything from social media to updating the website to getting episodes up into the RSS feed and into your ears. So the day before an episode drop is usually a busy one for me. I listen through the episode and do a quality check to make sure there are no problems with the audio, before uploading and scheduling it to publish.

On the web side of things, I update the Ear Hustle website and schedule social media posts. If it’s the end of the month, I then usually go into the draft of our monthly newsletter, The Lowdown, and add all the information about the new episode for our 18,000 newsletter subscribers, because I’ll be sending out the newsletter the next day. 

That’s when everything goes according to plan. There have been times when we’ve had unexpected things happen, like lockdowns at San Quentin State Prison, which can change the team’s production schedule.

What was your favorite/most memorable episode of Ear Hustle?

I love them all! I’m the last set of ears that listens to episodes of Ear Hustle before they go out into the world, so I try to listen with fresh ears every time. One that really stopped me in my tracks was “Bittersweet,” a story from Ear Hustle co-host and co-creator Earlonne Woods’ own family. It’s about major milestones that pass you by while you’re in prison, including deaths of loved ones. 

What was your most memorable Concordy story, and why do you think the Concordy is an important part of Union’s community?

The story I wrote for the Concordy that I still talk about the most is one covering a few anonymous hazing reports at Union’s Greek organizations during the fall of 2015. 

I was having a tough time getting Union’s administration to confirm the reports, so I looked into the Jeanne Clery Act, which mandates reporting of any incident on campus that rises to the level of misdemeanor or felony criminal activity. I noted to the administration that hazing reports were not being included in the Crime & Fire Logs that we publish in the Concordy each week, which may have been a violation of the Jeanne Clery Act. 

After that, the administration confirmed that there had been three anonymous hazing allegations, and some hazing reports started appearing in the Crime & Fire Logs. 

Later, the administration announced that one of the reports was an allegation of kidnapping and other forms of hazing at Theta Delta Chi, which led to TDX losing their on-campus housing for the following two academic years. 

I think that’s one of the things that makes the Concordy such an integral part of the Union community: student newspapers can hold the administration to account and ensure that students have the information they need to keep themselves safe.

You have had a robust career in journalism. Is there any advice you would like to share with aspiring student journalists at Union?

I’m only 26! I still have so much left to learn. But I’ve had a lot of fun doing both print reporting and audio production. I think my biggest piece of advice would be to read and listen a lot. You don’t get better without recognizing what the good stuff is. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you can go into your interviews with an idea of what you want your story to be, but you have to be prepared to find out that your story is more complex or even entirely different than what you thought, and be ready to adapt.

I also suggest familiarizing yourselves with this code of ethics from the Society Of Professional Journalists. It’s a great set of guiding principles. 

One more thing: learn how to code if you can. It’s helpful, even if you don’t think it will be. 

What would you say about the current hostility towards the media, especially with regards to political stories?

Hostility toward journalists is misguided. Journalists are always aiming to give the public information they need, while holding powerful people and institutions accountable. Journalists are our biggest allies.