Martine Powers is the host behind Post Reports, The Washington Post’s daily flagship podcast that launched in December and today hit its 100th episode milestone. Powers grew up in Miami and graduated from Yale University with a degree in African American Studies. She has worked as a reporter at The Boston Globe, Politico, and The Washington Post. When Powers isn’t behind the microphone, she is either reading for her book club or doing a CrossFit workout.
In this Q&A, Martine gives an inside look into the making of the podcast, and more:
How were you introduced to audio storytelling and what excited you about hosting Post Reports?
I’ve loved podcasts practically since the dawn of podcasting. I used to download public radio shows like This American Life and Fresh Air to my iPod (when those were still a thing!), and later on, I became a voracious fan of narrative-driven podcasts like Radiolab, Serial and Reply All.
I think there’s a wonderful intimacy in audio journalism, hearing someone tell a story right in your ear. One of my favorite feelings is when I’m listening to a podcast while sitting on the bus or walking home from work, and something comes on that is funny or poignant, and I can’t help but start to smile or laugh. And I’m sure other people are confused about why I have this huge goofy grin on my face for no apparent reason, but it feels like I’m in a little bubble of audio bliss. That feeling really speaks to the power of audio as a storytelling medium.
Even so, up until a few years ago, I always thought of myself as more of a writer, not a person who could be on a mic. I was proud to be a die-hard newspaper reporter. But then I realized that newspaper stories are often the perfect stories for podcasts — nuanced, incisive, and often with an investigative bent. That’s why I was so excited at the opportunity to host Post Reports and being able to bring my passion for newspapers together with my passion for audio.
How do you think your time as a reporter has helped you interview reporters covering a range of topics?
Because I covered a beat for years, I am often interested in hearing about the behind-the-scenes reporting process, and how a story became reality. I think listeners want to hear that, too. A couple questions I often ask are, “Why did you want to write this story?” and “How did you figure this out?”
Sometimes the answers to those questions have surprising results! In the first month of the podcast, we did a story with business reporter Peter Holley, who has reported a series of investigative stories about the electric scooter industry. It turns out, his intense interest was deeply personal. His primary form of commuting to work is via electric scooter, and he began noticing issues and defects on the machines while riding. He never would have mentioned this in the written version of his story!
How do you decide which stories to feature each episode?
There are nine people on the Post Reports team, and we have a meeting at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day to make an action plan for the upcoming show, and also discuss ideas for future shows. We aim to strike a balance between stories that people know they want to know about — for example, segments about breaking news or politics — and stories that people might not yet know they want to know about, maybe something about art or sports or science.
We want to make sure we have a mix of stories and voices and emotional tones from around the newsroom. We often gauge our own excitement about potential stories, and that’s usually a good indicator of what will be interesting to listeners.
Since taping the pilot to producing the 100th episode of Post Reports, what has surprised you the most?
This isn’t necessarily surprising, but it’s been amazing to me to see how my colleagues at the Post are consistently game to come into our studio at a moment’s notice — even when they’re in middle of working on breaking stories with urgent deadlines. It’s clear that they really see their appearance on the podcast as an important part of their job, and a vital way of sharing Washington Post reporting with a wider world.
If you could suggest one episode to give readers a sense of the podcast, which would it be and why?
We had one episode last week that really captured the mix of stories we strive for: We had an interview with presidential candidate Julian Castro about his plan for immigration reform, paired up with insights from politics reporter Michael Scherer. Then, we had a beautifully-produced feature about a Yazidi refugee in Canada, who had been profiled (and recorded) by foreign affairs reporter Emily Rauhala. And finally we had some reflections from national reporter Joel Achenbach about NASA’s latest awe-inspiring “eureka moment”: the first NASA photo of a black hole.
I like to think it was an episode that made people experience a wide range of feelings, and to me, that’s what makes a good episode.
What do you hope your listeners have heard and will hear in the episodes to come?
A couple of months ago, we interviewed politics reporter Michael Kranish about one of his recent stories. He recounted a funny anecdote, and when I laughed, I accidentally snorted into the mic! I was so embarrassed. And, of course, I requested that my snort be edited out of the recording! But the producers voted to keep it in, because it was an authentic reaction to a funny story. And, despite my embarrassment, I’m glad that it was in the episode, because it was real, and true to me and to the conversation.
I hope that, over the next 100 (and 1,000!) episodes of Post Reports, listeners will hear more of the authenticity and genuineness — from me and from our guests — that is part of what makes our podcast so special. And they may even hear a couple more snorts!