When it comes to radio and podcasting, writer and reporter Julia Longoria is blazing her own trail. The Miami native and Cuban American has worked for outlets including WNYC, the New York Times, and the Atlantic.
She recently talked to Hispanic Executive about how she went from assistant producer to host in a short period of time and why she’s passionate about finding and telling the stories of people from underrepresented groups.
Take us back to the beginning. How did you get into journalism, and specifically audio?
My family is loud. I grew up listening to my parents, and grandparents, and aunts and uncles yelling, arguing, and repeating the same stories about why they left Cuba. I was a wallflower, but I was always listening. That really shaped who I am. I loved listening to them argue, but more importantly, I loved the stories.
You could have taken that in so many directions. Why audio?
It’s such an intimate medium. It can be a place for people to really listen to each other and explore where we’re coming from.
Was it hard for someone with your background to break in?
I went to Brown and was involved in student radio, so I learned editing and software there. I cold-called a station in Miami. They didn’t have an internship, but they said they would take volunteers. I was living with my parents and volunteering at WLRN and making my own content. That helped me get an internship at WNYC.
What was that like?
It was a boot camp in journalism. We had to fill whatever time they had. I learned how to disarm people, build quick rapport, and ask the right questions. That’s where, as a wallflower, I learned to talk to people more.
What was the industry like for Latinas then?
This has been an issue for a long time in public radio. The barrier to entry is great. I could work for free as a volunteer, which was a luxury over some others who couldn’t realistically do that. I was one of maybe two or three Spanish speakers in the WNYC newsroom, so that created opportunities.
When Pope Francis came to New York, I did a story about Argentines in the city and their reaction because I could speak Spanish. I got some good assignments that way, and it inspired me to make sure I help open doors for people after me.
You hosted the Experiment with the Atlantic, until they recently ended production and are about to reboot More Perfect, a series about the Supreme Court. What drew you to the podcast space?
I started out in newsrooms, where I felt like I didn’t have the right personality to race and compete for every single story. I had to cover protests after the killing of Eric Garner, and I collapsed in the newsroom after that. I wanted to spend more time on these stories. I wanted to spend a month exploring the perspectives I heard about Garner, but I was obligated to immediately turn in a three-minute piece. I have a slower narrative style. I’m interested in getting into the nuance of a topic. Podcasts are arguably the best place to do that because you can dive into the gray areas more.
You rose through the ranks pretty fast. What contributed to that?
I started having coffee with people who were doing the work I wanted to do. I was still naturally shy and I had to tell myself to go for it. I asked people if I could watch them work for an hour in exchange for baked goods. My first full-time job in radio was as a fellow doing general assignment reporting in the newsroom. Later I got a job on Only Human, and the producers there mentored me.
Tell me more about your recent work.
More Perfect started as a limited run, and then I did the Experiment, which was a show about America’s biggest ideas and our messy pursuit of those big ideas. It was a show about people navigating our country’s contradictions.
This is such an interesting time in podcasting. What are the opportunities and potential?
There’s a lot of opportunity. When I started, there were very few ways into public radio and long-form storytelling. Now there is so much investment in audio, and I hope that means a wide group of people that are attracted to the medium will tell a wider range of stories than we’ve heard in the past.
What can be done to amplify Latino stories?
Although the outlook has improved a lot, there’s still a long way to go. The first long-form narrative team I worked on had eight people and two people of color. My team at the Experiment was mostly people of color. As a child of immigrants, these issues are important to me and I’m glad I can be a positive influence in our teams and in the stories we cover.
What else are you thinking about as you prepare to reboot More Perfect?
I’m learning that I love to create an environment for producers to learn and grow and create their own stories. This will be a place where others can hone their craft and feel supported . . . and I want to do more reporting. We have to be curious about the world and why it is the way it is. We have to keep asking questions.