TriPod podcast celebrates New Orleans’ past

Weatherbeaten wharves in New Orleans. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

To celebrate the tricentennial of New Orleans, WWNO — the NPR member station for New Orleans and the 13 parishes of southeast Louisiana — wanted to create something intimate and rich that captured the history of the city in a meaningful way. The result is “TriPod: New Orleans at 300,” a unique on-air program (and podcast) that, over the course of three years, celebrates the city’s past through short, documentary-style episodes.

Laine Kaplan-Levenson is the host and producer of TriPod. TriPod’s 10-minute episodes air bi-weekly, and each one is its own mini history documentary. A recent two-part episode (I, II) for example, told the story of a World War II internment camp called Camp Algiers that housed Europeans who the United States thought might be Nazis.

Laine produces the show on her own, but she has an auxiliary team of historians, professors, and museum curators who help her identify the stories behind some of the city’s most compelling pieces of history. Each month they sit down to discuss different topics to cover. After selecting the topic for the next show, Laine reaches out to people to start interviewing. As the sole producer, she knew she would need to rely on tools in order to keep up with the bi-weekly schedule, so rather than transcribe tape by hand — as she has done in the past — she signed up for Pop Up Archive.

“I’m really impressed with the accuracy. I have to do very minimal editing, which makes the process so expedient for me — and allows me to streamline and focus on the episode.”

After downloading the transcript from an interview and transferring it to a Google document, Laine listens to the audio at 2x speed, following along with the timestamps and bolding the best bits of tape as she goes. When it’s time for her to take a first pass at editing the episode and writing the script, the bolded segments are what guide her. “I’m really impressed with the accuracy. I have to do very minimal editing, which makes the process so expedient for me — and allows me to streamline and focus on the episode.” Finished episode scripts get reshaped into written content for the WWNO website.

As a radio person, Laine — who has been working on the three-year series for over a year already — finds it both fulfilling and challenging to merge the academic and journalistic realms. “I think TriPod is a really brave move on the part of the station. People always talk about intersectionality, but it’s really hard to do! To bring together radio journalism and academic scholarship has been a slow process of building trust and understanding. It can cause frustration, but if you stick with it hopefully it yields a strong end result.”

The community of New Orleans certainly seems happy with TriPod. It’s a small enough city that Laine regularly finds herself face to face with listeners who recognize her face or voice and want to talk about a recent episode. She and WWNO are about halfway through the three-year project, and there are a lot more stories to tell.

Listen to the whole series here, or follow along on Twitter.

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team