How we created a multilingual podcast between Africa and Europe without getting on an airplane

Peya, Lillo, Marta, Arwa and Naira: the team behind the podcast Cry Like a Boy

1 — Choose a production house that is not too big, or too small, but fits your needs.

Whether it’s your first podcasting experience, or you are a pro, do consider working with a production house as it makes things a lot easier for you. There are many production houses in France where we operate, but we chose Studio Ochenta, based in Paris.

2 — Think about a strong graphic identity for your podcast.

Someone wrote that “your content could be the best around, but if the cover art doesn’t stand out, you’re standing in the way of your own success”. This is true.

3 — Collaborate with local journalists, and choose them wisely.

If you want to record a podcast abroad and you can’t travel, you need to rely on someone else on the ground to do the job with you. You need someone to be your eyes and ears. It is important to choose a like-minded journalist with a strong background in what you’re going to be talking about.

Pascalinah Kabi, investigative journalist from Lesotho, interviewing a Thaba-Tseka woman whose children died in the illegal mines in South Africa. This is the topic explored in Cry Like a Boy — Ep. 9 and 10

4 — Plan ahead: it takes months to pull off a good quality 15 min documentary podcast.

After weeks spent researching, you pitch the idea to your partner on the ground. Now it’s their turn to do research and see if your story stands.

5 — Strive for uniformity.

Working in a team with a lot of journalists with different backgrounds, one of the biggest challenges is to achieve balance and uniformity in the content. We used Google Docs for the collaborative editing of the script, and found it really useful.

6 — Write guidelines for the people recording in the field.

Don’t spare the details, write them only once but write them well. This is the principle that saved us a lot of time. Layout specs, but also editorial line.

An example of the technical guidelines (in French) we shared with journalists and fixers on the ground

7 — Never go out in the field without a pre-script.

The more research is done in advance and the more detailed your pre-script is, the easier it will be for your producer on the ground to go out and record those sounds/interviews.

Our pre-script for the first episode of the podcast, set in Burundi

8 — Find a way to organize your team.

We learned that if you’re collaborating with more than one journalist in more than one other country, WhatsApp groups with everyone involved are pretty useless. In our case, working with more than 10 people in Europe and Africa, WhatsApp groups are pointless. However, this type of communication has been very useful for the parts of the production that don’t involve field work. We have created groups for people with whom we share precise objectives.

9 — Learn how to use online tools to help you.

We use Trello board as a project management tool. Trello allows you to create a dashboard where you can put “cards”. Each card works as a placeholder, can be worked upon in a collaborative way and can store files. In the first months of the project, Trello became a giant dump for us, and each “Trello card” a repository of stuff.

10 — Dubbing a documentary podcast can be crazy. Make sure to plan in advance.

In Burundi, most of the two documentary episodes have been recorded in Kirundi, the local language, so when mixing and editing the podcast, you will need dozens of people to voice the interviewees. In our case, multiply this by 2 as we needed them both in English and French. Organization is key here. From our first chaotic experiences, we learned to record all the voices in the same studio and to write an organized list of all the voices we needed per episode. In addition, we call in many favors from our multilingual colleagues with a nice voice.

11 — Be prepared for a lot of Esperanto talk.

Our team in Lyon is made up of a Russian, an Italian, a Spaniard and a French of Tunisian origin. On top of this, each of the African journalists we collaborate with speak their own mother tongue, plus English or French as a second language. Working in several languages must be part of your daily routine. It’s important that your journalist on the ground is comfortable in your working language. However, be prepared to make an effort to understand each other.

12 — If you can pay for an AI transcription tool, it’s money well spent.

We found Trint and Headliner (combined with Deepl translator) powerful allies for transcribing and translating audio files. Obviously, these are not a panacea (as they don’t include all the world languages) and we still needed to get on board a translator from Wolof. Luckily, she was based in Lyon. But, still, they help a lot.

13 — If you are the person in the field: describe, describe, describe.

The power of the podcast lies in being able to tell and feel a story without being able to see it. And by not being able to see the stories we wanted to tell ourselves, our work with the journalists in the field has been much more intense. They were our eyes in the field. What was the house like? What did it smell like? What was the day like? Was it hot? Describe it to me. These conversations helped us write better scripts.

14 — Have a backup plan.

When recording a conversational podcast, with Zoom or with other platforms, have your guests record the conversation with another recording device. If poor Internet connection makes you lose some sounds, you’ll have a backup at hand.

15 — The hard work starts when the podcast is published.

We learned the hard-way that once you have made sweet bread, out there in the lab, if there is no one to sell that bread to customers, it will go wasted, unfortunately. In our case, being our first podcast, we recognise the enormous size of the challenge to build an audience around it. You’d need specific expertise, but also clear workflows on distribution and promotion. Most podcasts are recurring, rather than “one-off series” because it can take dozens of episodes to build an audience, and they are usually addressing a specific national market (because podcast platforms and charts are organized by country). We are still trying to figure out what the best strategies are to gain as many listeners as possible, but in the meantime, one last piece of (unwanted) advice: don’t get to the finish line exhausted. This is where the real race starts.

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CRY LIKE A BOY PODCAST

CRY LIKE A BOY PODCAST

Stories of men in five African countries who are challenging what it means to “be a man” in their societies, and campaigning for gender equality.