Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what inspires them. This week's post features NPR One's Emily Barocas.
Tell us about NPR One and what your role is?
NPR One is an amazing, personalized, and hand-curated digital audio experience that listeners can access on their phones, smart speakers, cars, TVs...almost anywhere. It combines news content from NPR with the best podcasts from NPR, our Member stations, and beyond. My job as Podcast Lead is to make sure that we are highlighting great podcast content and creating a great experience for our listeners. That means choosing episodes to feature, maintaining relationships with podcast producers inside and outside of NPR, analyzing data, exploring new ways to use the NPR One infrastructure to get listeners to the content they want, and much, much more.
One of your charges is to listen to lots of podcasts and then decide what should be featured on the NPR One app. What do you look for in an episode?
Obviously, I look for the best examples of a show's work and the episodes that I can see our listeners really enjoying. But, we also listen for a few really specific things that we've learned are important by looking at the data we collect around podcast listening habits.
The first and probably most important is the strength of the first five minutes of an episode. We know that listeners are most likely to skip a podcast in those first few minutes, so we look for content that really grabs a listener's attention. I also consider the length of an episode. Most of the episodes we feature are under 35 minutes long because our data tells us that's the sweet spot for retaining listeners. Finally, I look at the episode title and whether it gives a clear and accurate sense of what the episode is about. Those titles are like the sales pitch to listeners, so for certain featured collections they play a key role in an episode's success.
Giving your best guess, how many podcasts do you listen to in a day?
So, so many!!! I'm the opposite of most podcast listeners who listen to every episode of a few shows they really love. I've heard a few episodes of what feels like everything. And, I almost always have podcasts playing while I work... like right now!
A couple of weeks ago, NPR One held a Twitter chat helping listeners find new podcasts based on ones they previously listened to and enjoyed. What was your goal for this chat? Did you get more responses than you expected?
That was a really fun and totally crazy experience, like being a human recommendation robot. It really tested my knowledge and recall of all kinds of podcasts. We used it as a way to connect with more of our listeners and deepen their engagement with NPR One. We got a lot of responses, which was very exciting. We definitely hope to do it again soon—maybe with some guest recommenders from around NPR.
You work from NYC. What is your day-to-day like? What is it like coordinating with the DC team?
I actually work from home in Montclair, NJ, about 20 minutes from NYC. As much as I miss being in an office, surrounded by colleagues, this works really well for me right now. Our team is pretty spread out. Our Managing Editor, Tamar Charney, works remotely from Michigan. So, the whole team has really adapted to not being in the same place. We make a lot of use of Slack and GoToMeeting and find ways to collaborate and keep each other informed of what we're working on.
My day basically starts with dropping my kids off at school. Then I come home, make a giant cup of cinnamon tea and head up to my office on the third floor of my house overlooking a park. Then, I dig in to the emails, meetings, and podcast listening on my plate for the day. It's pretty simple but pretty great!
How did you get started at NPR? What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?
I actually started working at NPR as an Editorial Assistant for Morning Edition and Susan Stamberg a long, long time ago. I came from being an overnight Script Coordinator at Good Morning America and was so thrilled to be working more normal hours and with a more intellectually rigorous team.
My advice to someone who wants a job like mine would be to listen a lot and listen critically. Explore all different kinds of content and formats, see where you start to get bored, what kinds of storytelling really engages you, what annoys you. And, dive head first into the unfamiliar aspects of the job. There is a lot to learn and understand, but rather than shying away from it, embrace it and learn all you can. It's probably not as scary as you think. I wish someone had told me that sooner in my career.
You used to work on the Hill. What do you miss the most and what do you miss the least?
I miss the adrenaline of a really busy day on the Hill. I miss feeling like I was present for history. But, I don't miss the politics and the constant fighting. It's a pretty exhausting way to exist day in and day out.
Can you tell us what the transition from a news magazine to podcast was like?
I was definitely not an early devotee of the podcast space. I had my doubts that it would grow to be the important medium that it is now. And, I think that makes me better at my job because it means I'm not just enamored with the idea of podcasts, but I'm really looking critically for the best content. That said, I think the line between podcast and news magazine is really blurring these days—especially on NPR One. There are great podcasts that are shorter than your average news magazine story, and there's great news magazine content trying out creative new ways to tell stories. They all blend really nicely together to create a great listening experience in NPR One.
What are you binging right now, other than podcasts? (Streaming movies, albums, books)
I just started watching Nailed It on Netflix. It's a baking show where average people try to replicate some dessert masterpieces. They fail in spectacular fashion. The Sylvia Weinstock episode is particularly hilarious. It is a mindless and fun way to end a very busy day. Also, the show I'm Sorry is great for a laugh.
It sounds so cliche, but my kids are a great inspiration. My first grader has started to get school projects like little reports and dioramas. Teaching him to be creative and give his all to what he's working on reminds me to do the same with my projects.
Favorite food in your city?
Despite being a suburb, Montclair is actually a pretty awesome little food Mecca. It's New Jersey, so we obviously have great bagels and pizza—particularly this thing called a Grandma's pie which is fresh plum tomato sauce, lots of garlic, and fresh basil and cheese. But, we also have really great ramen and barbecue and soup dumplings. Plus, we're home to Montclair Bread Company, which makes the best and craziest donuts ever. And, a Chopped champion, Meny Vankin, owns a few places in town that make fantastic Mediterranean style food. I love their chocolate halvah filled croissants. They are insane.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I work and I have little kids. There's not a whole lot of time for other stuff. That said, I do love to cook and drink wine, get involved in activities in my community, spend time with friends, read, and travel to Cape Cod in the summer.
Do you have a favorite place to listen to podcasts?
I wish I did, but I do most of my podcast listening at my desk or on my elliptical.
If you had a podcast, what would it be about?
Generally, I prefer listening to and judging other people's work. Ha!
What is your favorite thing about working for NPR?
I've worked at a lot of different places and there really isn't anywhere like NPR. The people, the mission, the dedication, the community all make this place so incredibly special. That's why I came back.