NPR backs podcast co-created by VCU faculty member, will explore people’s paths not taken

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A podcast co-created by a faculty member in the Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences is one of only three in the country to win funding from the NPR Story Lab, NPR’s idea hub that creates pilots for radio shows, launches new podcasts, and introduces new voices to the public radio network.

In the podcast, “Do Over,” Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member Chioke I'Anson, co-host Kelly Jones and producer Claire Tacon will tell stories of pivotal moments in people’s lives and explore what might have happened had they made a different decision.

I think that there is a sensible curiosity that many of us have about certain decisions we've made, especially when they signal a clear divergence in our life paths.

The idea, I’Anson said, is for “Do Over” to examine the “real fake story of what your life would be like if you had made a different choice that one time.”

“My podcast partner Kelly Jones got the idea after seeing some particularly appealing pork chops at a barbecue. Being a vegetarian, she wondered what her life would be like if she had made different life choices,” I’Anson said. “I think that there is a sensible curiosity that many of us have about certain decisions we've made, especially when they signal a clear divergence in our life paths. I think that reflecting on some of these choices can give us a better idea of the core commitments that make us who we are.”

The show, he said, will be cathartic both for the people it profiles, as well as listeners. And it will go down “informational rabbit holes that will enlighten as to the inner workings of whatever subject we are called to investigate.”

Thanks to the support of NPR Story Lab, “Do Over” will receive an operating budget for its pilot episode — which should be finished in December — as well as editorial support from NPR.

“Producers of a fledgling podcast like ours could not have dreamed of support like this,” I’Anson said.

Jones, whose background is in French philosophy and who worked for the past two years as a producer for BackStory, a Charlottesville-based public radio show and podcast about American history, said the “Do Over” team is thrilled and humbled to receive support from NPR.

It is important to note that “Do Over” will not be a show about regrets, Jones said.

“Instead, it's about choices — why we make them, how we make them, and what could have happened otherwise,” she said. “Our primary focus is curiosity, so hopefully the balance of ‘nutrition’ and laughs will be a cathartic one for listeners. We're going for relatability, not judgment.”

Jones came up with the show’s concept a year ago, and pitched it to I’Anson and Tacon.

“We applied to a workshop at NPR, got accepted, learned a ton, talked about our idea in front of a huge crowd of producers and editors and NPR movers and shakers … and now here we are,” she said.

Ian Chillag, a producer for “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” and co-host for the NPR podcast “How To Do Everything” was assigned as a mentor to the “Do Over” team as part of the NPR workshop and the Association of Independents in Radio’s mentorship program.

Tacon, who teaches at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, said the show will encourage listeners to consider their own life choices and reflect on the narratives they’ve created about their own lives.

“As we get older, there’s a natural pruning of life choices,” she said. “Looking back, it’s easy to create a fantasy of what life could have been like. We’re hoping that by researching what the path not taken looks like, we can give our clients a new perspective on their own choices.”

I’Anson, community producer for the Richmond-based public radio project “UnMonumental” launched earlier this year with VCU alumna Kelley Libby, said he would like to see “Do Over” encourage more podcast projects at VCU.

“I have been a fan of podcasts for a while,” he said. “There are many out there that are entertaining and extremely informative. Here at VCU, COBE and RAM Nation are putting out some great work. But I think VCU has not yet explored the role of podcasts in education, whether online or brick and mortar. I think the production and consumption of podcasts can enhance learning outcomes, just like the Common Book Program and other projects. This is something I want to work toward here at VCU.”


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