The Office of Communications & Marketing’s podcast, available Aug. 11, is packed with candid conversations listeners won’t find anywhere else.
Texas Tech University will release its first podcast, “Fearless,” on Aug. 11. This nonfiction podcast will share the untold stories of the school we love. The debut season focuses on perseverance and how the campus community faced the unknown during COVID-19 while faculty, staff and students rallied together to overcome unparalleled challenges.
“Our team played with the idea of producing a podcast for some time now,” said Matt Dewey, chief marketing and communication officer for Texas Tech. “There was this moment of convergence at the beginning of 2021 when we knew it was time to pursue this.
“As a university, we were responding to one of the greatest challenges in our school's history, and at the same time, our team finally had the people and the right resources to take on a project of this magnitude. We explored several ways to tell the story of COVID-19, but the multi-episode format of a podcast was perfect to capture the scale and magnitude of our campus responding to the pandemic.”
To learn more about “Fearless,” we sat down with Allison Hirth and Taylor Peters in multimedia production for Texas Tech's Office of Communications & Marketing. Although the whole team has played a part in getting “Fearless” off the ground, these two women are spearheading the project.
Where did the idea for “Fearless” originally come from?
Allison: The idea of a podcast had floated around our office for some time. We knew a podcast could give us a new way to tell stories. Most of the content that comes out of the Office of Communications & Marketing is very buttoned-up and tidy – and that's fine – but we were interested in pulling back the curtain more. That's why we felt a podcast could be the way to go. Just sitting down and having a conversation with someone allows them to open up in a way that is harder with the media or a camera in front of them.
Taylor: The concept was also born out of our love for podcasts and compelling storytelling. Podcasts give you a chance to do in-depth features that we don't have the capacity to do in other media. The episodes average 25 minutes in length, and that is just too much content for video or written articles.
What are a few of your favorite podcasts to listen to?
Allison: Taylor and I both have a background in television news, so I think that has influenced our taste a bit.
Taylor: Yeah, we both really like “Serial,” “This American Life” and true crime-style podcasts. In fact, when I started envisioning what I wanted “Fearless” to feel like, “Serial” was a podcast that influenced the style quite a bit.
What can we expect when we listen on Aug. 11?
Allison: This is the first season of hopefully many to come. The plan is to release other seasons in the future, but season one is about how Texas Tech got through COVID-19. We wanted to highlight the experiences, stories, perspectives and challenges listeners probably had never heard about.
Taylor: Listeners will hear people they're familiar with, such as Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec, Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope and other university leaders, but we also wanted to focus on staff and students. For example, we sat down with a student who finished high school in the midst of the pandemic and came to Texas Tech to start her first year. We talked with her about how she found community and connection despite starting college on a socially distanced campus. We also talked with 2020 Texas Tech graduates about what it was like to come back a year later to walk in their commencement ceremony.
Will future seasons be about COVID-19, or something else?
Allison: No, future seasons will focus on other topics. What those topics are, we're not quite ready to announce, but they will be focused on Texas Tech and West Texas culture.
Tell us where we can listen to “Fearless.”
Taylor: Listeners can access “Fearless” anywhere they listen to their podcasts, such as Apple Music, Spotify or Google podcasts. The first episode will come out on Aug. 11 and a new episode will be released each Wednesday. A note for listeners, there are many podcasts with the name “Fearless,” so we suggest searching for it along with the name of the university.
There are a lot of podcasts out there. Why should we listen to “Fearless”?
Allison: On campus, we all get into our bubbles, which is pretty natural since it's such a big university. We want this podcast to be an opportunity for listeners to get to know people they might never otherwise meet, or hear from people they do know, but in a new way.
I also think season one is going to serve as an archive for the university. Hopefully down the road, alumni can share what it was like attending college in a global pandemic. We were able to capture so many of those memories because it was so raw at the time.
Taylor: Yeah, these stories are vulnerable. Many of the people we spoke with felt very emotional about their COVID-19 experiences, and that comes across. We hope the podcast is a way for listeners to hear from decision-makers in a more informal way than they would otherwise.
It seems that podcasts are blowing up right now. As communications practitioners, why do you think that is?
Taylor: Podcasts are so versatile. Pretty much anyone can find a podcast that is aligned with their interests.
Allison: And there are so many out there because they are simple to produce. You really only need a microphone and an idea. And for listeners, if you have a phone, you can find a podcast. Unlike video or reading, you can listen to podcasts while driving, walking to class or working out.
How did you pick who to feature in season one?
Allison: We went back and looked at the timeline of COVID-19 and isolated major events. From there, we tried to find the people who could best speak to those events. We asked ourselves, “Who were the people involved in making those decisions?” That is where our list came from.
Taylor: In addition to the decision-makers, we wanted to feature students and staff. Some of the voices we knew we'd have from the beginning, but then there were characters who came as complete surprises. At the end of the day though, we kept coming back to who our audience is and we let that color our choices.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while producing season one of “Fearless”?
Allison: The entire process has been a challenge! Our office had never done a podcast before so there was a lot to figure out from both a technological and logistical perspective. Also, we had to cast a strong vision for this project and get university leaders to see the potential we saw.
Taylor: I started this job in January. I had never worked in higher education before and I did not attend Texas Tech for school, so I think I approached this project fairly ignorantly. I didn't know what I didn't know. Trying to be honest, I just had no idea who did what on this campus and how certain things worked. However, because of that dynamic, I approached conversations with genuine curiosity, which will hopefully benefit the listeners.
What has been the most memorable part of this process for you?
Taylor: Something that has been memorable for me is the feeling of empowerment I have felt from Allison to really take ownership of this project and run with it. I also have felt a lot of empowerment and encouragement from our whole team in the Office of Communications & Marketing. Everyone has come together to make this happen and I've gotten the chance to collaborate with our graphic design team, our social media team and everyone in between.
Allison: I remember the first time I heard the trailer for season one. It was incredible to hear it come together. I knew Taylor had captured the spirit of this project. Beyond that, the most enjoyable part has just been connecting with people. That's what we love to do. “Fearless” has been an opportunity to learn about people and become part of their world.