Faces Of NPR 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 they're inspired by on the daily. This month, we feature NPR's Latin community. Next up is Lauren Gonzales.
Name: Lauren Gonzalez
Title: Senior Manager, Content Development Team
Victor G Jeffreys II
Victor G Jeffreys II
Victor G Jeffreys II
What is your most proud work at NPR so far?
I'm really proud of the Oye Lab. It's really great to work with teams who bring a hunger and enthusiasm and a level of delight to their projects. I think sometimes when you're in this industry, in this profession for a while, people can lose sight of the exciting work we get to do. It's nice to feel that energy, and work with Latinx creatives who have identified and distilled a really interesting story that resonates with audiences we're seeking to center. Through this lab, we're really finding that we can better meet Latinx audiences by sharing the mic with them.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Oye Lab work and your hand in that, how you contribute?
So this lab originated from the larger working group that we started a year and a half ago. Oye started off as a working group for NPR to really think through the question: how do we better center Latino audiences within NPR? And I think a big takeaway we had is, in order to better center an audience, you can't just give them one show. You need to give them a universe. And so it became clear that we needed to be able to open the fold and bring in different ideas, in different mediums and genres, basically create a wide swath of programming. And in order to do that, we had to do it in a big way, in a way that really opened our echo chamber. And so the lab was born out of that need.
We reached out to LAist Studios to partner on this endeavor because they have really taken a huge effort in putting people of color front and center in their work. So when we approached them to see if they were interested, we were so excited to know that they were game to do it.
This lab is a six-week incubator to pilot Latinx podcasts and programming with producers and creatives from across the country. We've brought four teams who applied with an idea for something they thought could be a really good series in audio. And what we're doing with them is taking that pitch and pressure- testing it over the next six weeks to figure out how to build it out further. We're helping teams to flesh out their vision and distill it into a series treatment. We're also producing a pilot with them because, often you need to hear it to believe it. And this lab does just that. So we're really excited. We have a lot of work to do. We're rolling up our sleeves to get these pilots produced by the end of October, and all four teams will present their pitch and a sample of their episode to an audience of NPR and LAist staff.
I want to know how your work and your identity intersect and how important is that to you in order to feel fulfilled within your job?
It's interesting because that has been so much of my work at NPR. I have been involved with Oye from the jump. It feels embedded in the work I do. I feel particularly driven in how we do this work well, and not doing it from a place of reactivity, because I think that often leads to mixed results.I am lucky that my role is meant to be in service of new audience development. That's been the task that I've been assigned to do. And so I get to think about this deeply, and I have the support of a network to put this on the front burner. And I don't think a lot of people get to say that, and that's a really cool part of my job.
I think what keeps me motivated is how we do this well and holistically, because I think "new" audiences can often be relegated to one tidy corner of a network through one episode or one show. It's a way for other places to say– okay, we were able to check a box on this work. And to me, I think the way we do this well is to create a generative ecosystem of Latinx POVs and stories. There's a lot of foundational work you have to do, but you have to make sure this work isn't a "one-and-done" endeavor.And so the way I'm thinking about this work is like, how do we keep the momentum going? Because ultimately this work will be done well if we see Latino stories and Latino voices take hold across the board.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Miami. My parents were also born in Miami. My grandparents came from Cuba and my parents were both born shortly thereafter. And the whole family is still there in Miami. Lots of cousins and uncles and aunts who are born there, raised there, and will be there for life!
You're in New York now. How is your transition from Miami to New York?
Well, there were a couple of steps in between Miami and New York. After college, I quickly found podcasting and really became enamored with audio storytelling as a medium. Being able to just put my headphones in and listen to a podcast became such a way of escaping into other people's stories, deepening my curiosities, and considering other perspectives.. And I found myself every afternoon plugging in my headphones, always wanting to take the long way home. I'd get out of the subway station a few stops ahead, so I could walk peacefully and listen deeply. And there were just very few other things that captured my attention that way. And it just became so important for me not only to keep listening, but to figure out how to do the work. And so I moved to New York and I worked at The Moth for a few years then went to work for Luminary. And I haven't left podcasting since.
Do you remember which podcast that was that got you really interested in podcasting?
I am going to be a total stereotype and say Radiolab. I really loved it. I remember hearing Jad Abumrad speak at On Air Fest years later, years after I was a fan girl. And he said something that at Radiolab, they were initially trying to hone in on stories around wonder. And I think that's the power of this type of storytelling– that we can help amplify people's capacity for wonder. .
So transitioning to your time at NPR. Do you feel supported at NPR?
I do. I mean, I'm lucky that I have a really great boss, Yolanda Sangweni. And I think that if there's anything that I have learned, it's that work works well when you feel belonging, and you feel like you have a sense of, the people around you trust you and trust what you are capable of doing. And that can be a really hard thing to find and build, especially in the world of remote work. And so I'm lucky to have that deep of a relationship with my boss and team. The work that we do is a challenge. There's a lot of uncertainty in creating new shows because you never know what's going to stick. Like, you cannot be prescient about this. Sometimes you think you're going to hit the bullseye and you don't, and vice versa. And so what allows you to do this work well is feeling trust in yourself. And you don't necessarily need this from others, but it really helps when other people trust you.
I like that. How are shows greenlit? How does NPR decide what stands out?
This is a question I get a lot because I think people are always eager to find out how they can get their show on NPR! And there's not a singular answer as to what makes a show idea stick–I'll tell you that much!
The things that I'm always asking myself in a pitch are, Why this show? Why now? And why NPR? When I ask why this show — what are the stakes? What is the listener's promise to this show? And is that promise compelling, original, and of consequence? Why now — does this show deliver on a relevant or prescient need in the current media climate? And then, why NPR, I think, is the most important one. Is it laddering up to the mission that we have as an organization to create a more informed public?
Those are the things that I'm asking myself, just from a programmatic perspective. It's a big puzzle to piece together, but you always have to start with the listener's promise and how it connects to the mission of NPR.