A Conversation with Beverley Wang
Interview by Leah Jing.
Beverley Wang is a journalist and radio producer. She makes and hosts the ABC RN podcast, It's Not A Race. From Canada, she has lived in Australia since 2009.
From Vancouver, to NYU, to working for the ABC in Australia— how have you come to this point? I grew up in Vancouver, did my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, then went to Japan to teach English because I didn't have a clue how (or maybe the confidence?) to pursue a job in the media right after graduation. After about a year and a half of teaching English in Japan, I applied to the Masters program in Journalism at NYU, and that's when I really started working hard pursuing a career as a journalist.
About how I landed in Australia—it's a common story. I moved here because my partner is Australian, and Melbourne has been home since 2009. I love my life here, I love my job, Melbourne is a great city, but I do get homesick, I miss my family and old friends a lot. In terms of getting into the ABC—I was lucky to land some casual news shifts at the ABC not long after I arrived — and I've managed to stick around!
How have you found existing as a woman of colour in Australia?
I've been here almost ten years, and I don't know what path my life and career would have taken if I hadn’t moved here, though of course I do sometimes wonder. Would I have stuck it out in the US? Would I have moved home to Canada? Would I still be working in the news media? Would I have gone into radio? Would I be making a podcast about race? So many questions, no way to actually know.
A wonderful, unintended benefit of making It's Not A Race has been that it's put me in contact with so many amazing Australian WOC that I wasn't connected to before. I don’t think I fully realised how much that was missing in my life here until now, and I’m really appreciating them now. There are so many people doing great things here, way before I made a podcast, and I have so much admiration and respect for them.
How did It's Not A Race come to be? Why choose the format of a podcast?
Alas, there isn't any kind of amazing origin story for It's Not A Race—when I pitched it in 2016, it just happened to be around the time when RN (Radio National) was taking pitches for digital projects. We didn't really intellectualise 'why podcasting?', it just was an obvious and natural fit, due to the fact that I work at RN, which is one of the top podcast producers in the country.
Could you take us through the production of an episode of It's Not A Race?
I don't think my fundamental editorial approach to a podcast differs that much compared to a radio series, but I do think being a podcast means we take a much more creative and playful approach with the format and audio design. Leona Hameed is my producer and Matthew Crawford is the audio engineer, and we all have a really open, collaborative and creative approach to how we treat audio, but we also bring a focus and pacey-ness that comes from our experience making daily radio.
There's a lot of consultation between Leona and me about story ideas, guests and approach. I send a lot of notes to myself, Leona or Matthew with ideas as they strike me—whether it’s a production thing or something more editorial. I'm also a sucker for funny gags and I hate being boring, so I always want whatever I’m making to be entertaining, pacey, and not preachy, so I spent a lot of time on the script and structure.
There's a lot of chasing and planning—we have to take care of everything from booking parking and studios for our guests all the way to research, interviewing, editing and structuring the episode. It’s hard work, but I’m also very conscious that saying that making a podcast is hard work is probably one of the most privileged statements ever uttered in the history of humanity.
We do a lot of listening back—when the episode is in a final draft form, we sit together and listen all the way through. We take notes and try not to talk. After that session we share our notes, make cuts or rearrangements down to the second. There is not a single second of the audio that does not get multiple passovers. Aside from the stories, that’s one of the things I love most about this series—the level of craft and production quality. People listen to it not just for the stories—but also because it's well made. I'm really proud of that.
Radio, or podcasting, seems at its core to contain a very distinct separation of your voice and your visual self.
I think because I’m quite new to the presenting side of radio, I haven’t really thought about this that much as it relates to me specifically. I guess it’s liberating not to have to have your physical appearance scrutinised while you're trying to do your job, which is about creating a really engaging conversation with another person inside an artificial structure. Maybe that means locking eyes with them, or waving your arms wildly when you talk, whatever it is you do when you’re having a really involved conversation with a friend. Luckily, in a radio studio you are free to do all those things, which would look weird on TV. Also, you can wear whatever you like, and not worry about having a full face of makeup on. So yeah, that’s definitely freeing. But it’s not like it’s an out-of-body experience, you are still very much aware of your physical self while doing radio!
Often people of colour shoulder the weight of representing not only themselves, but their entire race. With your work on It’s Not a Race, how do you deal with the ‘rep sweats’?
The rep sweats are an outside force and they come from all directions—supporters and detractors. If you’re doing your best, what more can you do? You can’t be everything to everyone nor should you desire that. I'm going to go hard on the clichés here. But sometimes you just have to tune out and run your own race. This gets easier with age and experience.
Inevitably, I am not enough for one person and too much for someone else. I accept that.
Do you ever struggle for words? Do you have any tips for someone that does?
All the time! I hardly feel qualified to give advice on this front, but here are a few tips others have given to me that I have found helpful. In terms of interviewing, calm down, slow down, breathe.
Don't be afraid of pauses and silences, either your own or your interviewee's. Don’t try to rush in and fill those gaps. Those pauses in an interview, those gaps of silence—can be so telling. And often the answer that follows that silence is pure gold.
In the non-interview context—maybe the same advice applies?
Following on—as young artists we're hungry for advice!—do you have any general advice for emerging podcasters?
Hustle, work it, pitch, be hungry! Hone your skills and audiocraft. Learn to edit, be thoughtful about your interviews, prepare. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that 'chatty' conversational podcasts don't need preparation and witty and sparkling dialogue just trips off people’s tongues. Maybe for some, but we write and edit everything. Look for work in the audio industry—try a job that you may not love 100% but where you’ll learn valuable skills. Listen to lots of podcasts and radio.
If you could interview one person right now, who would it be?
TAIKA WAITITI. ARE YOU READING THIS, TAIKA?
Ha! I hope he is. What are your plans for It's Not a Race? Can we expect another season?
Yes! We have just started working on a second series. It's at the very early stages as I write this, but we're thrilled we got the green light to proceed and have lots of ideas. The first season ended up being very foundational, which is great, we’re so proud of all the episodes. Season two is coming in mid-November. Seeing that written out gives me the stress sweats, but that’s just part of the process. We'll get there. It’s so satisfying to look at the feed of episodes in a podcasting app—sometimes I just stare at it. We built that from zero!
In what area of society would you like to see more POC representation?
I would say that every area needs more representation. Politics, media, the arts. But more than that, we need to move beyond diversity 'showcases' and take a look at leadership roles. We need more POC in leadership and decision making roles in all sectors—government, mainstream cultural organisations, corporate boards, elite sports, tech, science, media, health—everywhere. For example, when will there be an Indigenous head coach or president of an AFL team? That will be a big day and is long overdue.
But when we talk about representation and POC, let's also be honest and talk about the fact that under the very broad banner of POC we have conflicts and differences. We have different levels of privilege and access, and we have very different levels of understanding and awareness of race politics. We need to be cognisant of those differences if we want to move forward together in an honest and productive way.
It needs to be recognised that 'POC' isn’t a monolith and we need to talk about what that means.
It must be strange to work as a journalist in Trump's 2017—how do you deal with the concept of 'fake news'?
We hear a lot of accusations of 'fake news' being thrown around in American politics these days. Powerful, overt efforts to undermine legitimate, respected news organisations like the New York Times as 'fake news' are very concerning. You can see this 'fake news' label being adopted and thrown around here in Australia too, and that's really worrying. But equally, this idea that people working in the media just make stuff up is not a new concept. Mistrust in the media is longstanding, it’s just that now we have a catchy term for it, 'fake news.'
As someone who's worked in news for nearly fifteen years, I know how hard journalists, producers and editors work behind the scenes to do their jobs well. We don't just throw stuff out there willy-nilly. It actually boggles the mind to think that some people think we make stuff up. I’m speaking only for the places where I’ve spent most of my career (ABC, AP) but we work so hard to get things right. And truth is stranger than fiction—real news is more bizarre than anything we could possibly dream up.
What can we do as readers?
In terms of advice—I think it's pretty basic. Read trusted and respected news sources—more often than not that's 'legacy' media. Don’t read random shared links that pop up in your feed. Better yet, don’t share random stories in your feed without first reading the story and checking where it came from. If it looks fishy, it probably is.
What are some podcasts we should be listening to?
It's Not A Race Season 2, launching November 17, and the entire back catalog of Season 1. Also too many to name and my list changes all the time, but lately I've been binging on: Still Processing, Pretty for An Aboriginal, The Stoop, Nancy, Sleepover, 2 Dope Queens. Code Switch is excellent but sometimes I have to stop myself from listening so I don't freak out worrying that all the stories have already been done. As someone who grew up watching Oprah on a near-daily basis, Making Oprah was totally engrossing. I got to meet Jenn White when she came to Australia earlier this year for the OzPod conference and she was a delight and an inspiration. Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History is so, so smart. I like news and politics podcasts like The New York Times' The New Washington, the NPR politics podcast and of course RN's The Party Room podcast. I really enjoy Alec Baldwin's interview on WNYC's Here's The Thing—he's so unapologetically himself and brings such interesting insider knowledge about show business that really shines through in the questions he asks. I also enjoy Levar Burton Reads because I love both Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation so I will always have time for Levar Burton reading short stories.
How do you practice self-care?
Spending time with my family. Taking breaks from the news cycle. Exercise. Also, these are harder ones, but—being kind to yourself. Being a friend to yourself. This means accepting offers of help, and asking for help. Learning to take compliments. Enjoying good moments without engaging in negative thinking. Learning to say no to things. I'm not always great at these, but they're a work in progress. Luckily I have a good partner who reminds me that I can and should do all these things.
What does being Asian in Australia mean to you?
I suppose it's been a journey to understand and embrace seeing my difference as a source of strength, but I don't really have a full answer for this. Hard question, Leah!
In terms of the immigrant experience, and this is speaking from a Canadian perspective, I have so much appreciation and gratitude for all the hard work my parents had to put in as immigrants to a new country. Now that I'm a parent, I recognise this even more. I moved to Australia as a really privileged person—with a good education, career experience, and a support system in place—and there were still struggles—but nothing in comparison to what others go through, and what my parents went through moving to Canada in the late 1970s. So, I guess there's pride and gratitude there too.
Interview & Photographs by Leah Jing McIntosh.