In his time as communications manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, Ran Northam realized that many residents do not understand the processes behind Town operations, despite knowing that they exist. This gave him the desire to put a face to Town services, accomplished by creating "TOWNtalk the podcast."
Northam said he, Community Safety Public Information Officer Alex Carrasquillo and Public Information Officer Christina Strauch created "TOWNtalk" in an effort to educate the public and shine a light on staff members.
The podcast, which began in January, is available weekly via Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Episodes of the podcast focus on various Town staff, what they do, how they do it and why their roles are important for the community. The monthly TOWNtalk newsletter is also available online at the Town of Chapel Hill's website.
Northam said he chose the format of a podcast because of its capability for storytelling.
“As human beings, we love stories," he said. "We're storytellers. We like to listen to stories. I think that's why the podcast movement, especially during the pandemic, has been so big — because people love stories.”
The most recent episode featured Transit Crisis Counselor Troy Manns, who shared his past experiences and how they help him help people in need.
Carrasquillo said he feels as though the podcast effectively highlights the work many Town employees are doing. In addition, he said he was able to learn more about his peers' daily routines through its production.
“If we can sit down with somebody and ask them, 'What do you do day to day? Tell us about yourself,' that gives somebody who works at public works a chance to understand what their colleagues are doing,” Carrasquillo said. “That’s what is inspiring to me about the podcast.”
Carrasquillo explained that podcasts can reach new audiences.
“It's an area where people are looking for content and there's an audience there," he said. "That's an audience that we weren't reaching before.”
Interim Town Manager Chris Blue said Northman approached him for approval after the podcast team was created, and that the approval process was quick and easy.
“Very few administrative or bureaucratic hurdles were put in place,” Blue said. "It's hard to say no to something that has very little organizational cost and pretty significant benefit”
Northam said the podcast consists of a diverse group of people in the Chapel Hill Communications and Public Affairs Department who have had the most exposure to storytelling.
He said he wanted to vary who talks in the podcast instead of him hosting each episode.
Northam said he is even thinking of adding more hosts to the podcast outside of the department, such as the Town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Shenekia Weeks — who was a guest for episode two of the podcast.
Blue said while he recognizes the podcast's impact on community education, it also has the opportunity to create a real impact on organizational culture.
Part of building an organizational culture is developing supportive relationships, he said.
“One way to do that is to know a little bit about each other," he said.
@DTHCityState | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.