Turning Up the Volume on Podcast Voices From the Margins
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams’ experiment could show the industry an economically sustainable way to amplify underrepresented voices.
By Carly Stern
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams likes to speed in her red Mazda, and the 43-year-old media veteran has long had a clear vision of where she’s headed. What fuels her is a desire to bring others along as she establishes fresh paths to places in the media landscape that others can’t yet envision.
“I like … being the person who makes sure that we get there,” she says over the chatter of a New York City coffee shop. Throughout Lantigua-Williams’ different roles in journalism — staff writer, managing editor, podcast producer and now CEO, to name a few — she’s been driven by a single directive: to amplify voices at the margins. Today, her mission is even sharper as she ushers people of color into podcasting as an economic force through Lantigua Williams & Co., the film and podcast production company she founded in 2017 while serving as an adviser for podcast organizations like Amped, Podfund and Sound Education.
Lantigua Williams & Co. pioneered the first reported open-source podcast model with 70 Million, a podcast focused on grass-roots criminal justice reform and funded by a MacArthur Foundation grant. Like books in a library, the material can be freely “ingested, digested, reimagined and remixed” by other platforms, Lantigua-Williams explains. Syllabuses, reform toolkits and additional resources are released with each episode and made accessible to teachers, policymakers, advocates and ordinary listeners.
The company’s bottom-up approach to solutions-based journalism has caught the eye of partners like the Vera Institute of Justice and the Marshall Project. In July, 70 Million won bronze in the Narrative/Documentary podcast category at the 2019 New York Festivals Radio Awards. Lantigua Williams & Co.’s flagship show, Latina to Latina, is hosted and co-owned by Alicia Menendez, a co-host of Amanpour & Company on PBS and a leading influencer among millennials. Feeling My Flo, the company’s newest reported podcast, which focuses on menstruation, is targeted toward 12- to 16-year-olds along the gender spectrum, accompanied by resources on topics like menstruating with a disability.
What the future of media consumption and creation looks like is exactly who she’s speaking to right now.
Ma’ayan Plaut, content strategist, RadioPublic
From hiring to mentorship and production, the same question threads through Lantigua-Williams’ work: “How can we include people in this who typically are excluded from these conversations?” says Catherine de Medici Jaffee, founder of House of Pod, a podcast and audio incubation hub based in Denver.
By taking a mission-driven approach, Lantigua-Williams has also identified a space that’s ripe for investment: Latinx listeners make up just 9 percent of the podcast audience, but they make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2019 Podcast Consumer report by Edison Research — and will comprise 28 percent of the population by 2060, U.S. Census estimates project. By comparison, African-American listeners make up only 11 percent of podcast consumers. “The future of the U.S. is an educated brown woman,” Lantigua-Williams says, adding that for too long she felt like she was talking into the wind. But legacy institutions are beginning to take heed, with publications like The Washington Post recently announcing the launch of a Spanish-language podcast.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Lantigua-Williams moved to the Bronx at 10 years old. Her parents worked all the time but still showed up to every school meeting, recalls Lantigua-Williams’ younger sister Kenia D. Serrette, a designer for Lantigua Williams & Co. Kenia says that Juleyka, the eldest of four, always had a knack for spotting talent and steering it: “She has a bigger vision for all of us than we even have for ourselves.”
After studying at Skidmore College, Lantigua-Williams earned a Fulbright scholarship. She did a stint at Random House, but book publishing was too slow for the change she wanted to make. She earned journalism and creative writing degrees and worked for a slew of publications, including Urban Latino, Jet, Honey, XXL and Giant. After becoming managing editor of the National Journal’s “Next America” desk and writing about criminal justice for The Atlantic, Lantigua-Williams transitioned to a producer and editor role for NPR’s Code Switch, a weekly race and culture podcast, in 2017.
She watched as old media gatekeepers shaped the newly forming podcast industry, noting a coastal skew and underrepresentation of people of color both in content and audience. She felt certain that by creating a space for people to tell their own stories, listeners would follow. Lantigua-Williams also identified women in media, like Jaffee, who were heeding the same call. She spends three hours each week mentoring younger women. “I want to be able to run out of fingers when people ask me: ‘Who should I work with on this?’” she says, her voice rising.
Visionaries are rarely appreciated in their time, and skeptics might question whether Lantigua-Williams’ energy is best deployed speeding toward a horizon many of her peers don’t see. Latinx consumers might represent a minority segment of podcast listeners, they argue, because there are still few platforms where Latinx voices are driving the content. Even so, advertisers and sponsors follow the money — particularly in the belt-tightened journalism market — and expect metrics proving that cutting-edge investments will pay dividends.
All the more reason to look to Lantigua Williams & Co.’s foundation-backed, open-source experiment to send a signal as companies find their footing in this uncertain economic landscape. The MacArthur Foundation has renewed funding to produce a third season of 70 Million, Lantigua-Williams says. Ma’ayan Plaut, a content strategist and podcast librarian at RadioPublic, highlights Lantigua-Williams’ strategy of responding to already shifting demographics. Young, minority populations will be America’s demographic engine in the coming decades — reflected in the workforce, consumer base and voting base, suggests Brookings Institution research. By cultivating this audience now, the content can evolve as the demographic matures and expands. “What the future of media consumption and creation looks like is exactly who she’s speaking to right now,” says Plaut.
Lantigua-Williams’ cherished Mazda, named Minerva for the Roman goddess of wisdom, just hit 50,000 miles, a reflection of milestones passed and a motor reaching its stride. In the afternoon light, Lantigua-Williams pulls up the sleeve of her black-and-white blazer to reveal a delicate wrist tattoo. It’s an open set of quotation marks. She flashes a playful smile. “Because I have to figure out what to say to the world.”
OZY’S 5 Questions With Juleyka Lantigua-Williams
- What’s the last book you read? The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown.
- What do you worry about? Being a good mom.
- What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Kalamata olives.
- Who’s your hero? My cousin Digna. She is wicked smart and driven … and checks me when I need to be checked.
- What’s one item on your bucket list? To do the Mille Miglia, the 1,000-mile fast-driving course through the Italian countryside, with my husband.