MEET KATIE, LONDONER TURNED NEW YORKER DIGITAL PRODUCER.
As a legal alien living in New York for the past 5 years, I very often get a strong connection with European expats here. I meet with Katie, Londoner turned New Yorker, on a cold rainy Saturday afternoon, introduced through a common American friend, and we immediately felt like two peas in a pod. I asked her a couple questions about her love for New York, her career as a content creator and what she wants to do when she grows up.
Why did you swap London for NYC?
I first worked in NYC in 2013, in Digital Production and Streaming for Reuters. I was part of a yearlong exchange program and fell head over heels for this place. I spent three and a half years back in London fulfilling a childhood dream working at the BBC, but always knew in my heart that I wanted to return to New York. I was lucky enough to land a role at a Streaming service for British TV called BritBox – a joint venture by the BBC and ITV. I’ve basically brought all my digital knowledge and social media expertise to launch the service in the US and Canada. It’s been a wild ride, but I’m so glad I took the plunge. New York is a tough city to live in, especially when you’re miles from your loved ones. But there’s just something that’s keeping me here.
What is your biggest learning moving from linear television to streaming?
Working at the BBC in London was all about the big linear moment. Tune in at 8pm for the first-look at the new series of David Attenborough’s documentary, and then you’ll have to wait until next Sunday for the next installment. Streaming is how the world expects to consume TV now – on their terms, when and where they want. Everything I do now is about servicing audiences in the places they expect to be serviced. There’s so much competition in this space, so my job is all about helping people discover all the incredible shows on BritBox – and ultimately fall in love with British Television and subscribe to our service.
What do you think are the biggest digital media trends to look out for in 2019?
Community and authenticity is 100% at the heart of everything digital and social now. Post Cambridge-Analytica scandal, people are craving something real and voices they trust. Facebook has changed its algorithm to favour meaningful conversations with friends and family, so brands have to work harder to get that coveted spot in people’s feeds. At its roots, social media is social.
Another massive trend is in the new formats coming out of changes in platforms and the way people consume content. For example, it’s predicted that stories will take over from the feed as the principle way people consume content this year (again, supporting the idea that people want raw authenticity on social). But, this essentially means different formats, such as vertical video, really coming into play.
That said, another trend I think that is coming into fruition is the idea of understanding how technology impacts our lives and moderating it. I recently read Matt Haig’s book ‘Notes on A Nervous Planet’ in which he bolsters Yuval Noah Harari’s argument in the incredible ‘Sapiens’ which basically says: The world has changed dramatically, and our brains haven’t quite caught up. A very crude summary of two brilliant books, but really, people are starting consider how healthy technology and endless scrolling is for our mental and physical health. How do we switch off when we’re connected 24/7?
What have you learned about digital storytelling through your career at the BBC?
Making content for digital audiences is so interesting. You essentially have seconds to seize their attention before another video swoops in. So one of the biggest things I’ve learned is how to frame video or images to have the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time possible. Whether it’s ‘front loading’ a video, throwing in some intriguing visuals or making smart use of subtitles and text, it really is about cutting through. With the platforms constantly changing, I’ve also learned that you need to be agile and able to iterate constantly – some brand and style guidelines made six months ago could very easily be out of date today.
People can get so obsessed with creating a video with the perfect aspect ratio or length, but ultimately the story is the most important thing. People want to feel a connection, it needs to make someone feel something – if someone is apathetic to your content, then no matter how sparkly it looks, it won’t fly off the shelf.
What’s your most memorable highlight at the BBC?
On a purely personal level, the opportunities it’s afforded me to see live music have been amazing. When I was working in radio, I used to get up to pop upstairs and watch BBC 6 Music sessions. Seeing artists like Father John Misty, Laura Marling and Phoenix up close and personal with an audience of 10 people or less was just perfect. I also got to watch Christine McVie perform Songbird, which was definitely a once in a lifetime moment.
On a professional level, I’ve had training at a world-class broadcasting organisation. It’s an absolute powerhouse and is still my go-to place for impeccable storytelling. I’ve worked in radio, online and TV and learned from some of the best. And now, I‘ve got this amazing opportunity to work on a global level and share my BBC love with new audiences.
You also created a podcast. Tell me more about ‘When I Grow Up’.
In a nutshell, When I Grow Up is a podcast about interesting people about their career and lives. From broadcasters, writers to psychiatrists, I chat to them all about the twists and turns that constitute their path so far. I usually begin by dialling it back to their childhood dreams and how they unfolded, with an aim to show that journeys are very rarely a linear series of successes.
As someone who has tried their hand at a lot of different jobs, I want this podcast to show people that it’s OK to be unsure about where you’re going. It’s all part of the adventure after all. It’s also OK to have moments of failure, indecision – and of course success. We’re all (myself included) still figuring it out, even if our LinkedIn profiles may suggest otherwise.
What motivated you to create it?
I’ve always been guilty of talking about doing something but never actually doing it. Making a podcast has been one of those things. I’ve worked in digital media and radio for most of my career, and have always loved audio as a medium. It felt really natural to give it a go. Soon, I started to run out of excuses and realised I was the only person standing in my own way.
I’m an indecisive perfectionist so there was a danger I would never get it off the ground. This is why I just had to go for it. Decide on a name, book the first interview in… and see where it goes. That said, it still took me a good year to actually get going with it. Moving to New York was definitely the catalyst. Life changed a lot. I think the anonymity of New York really helped when fearing what people might think.
My main motivation really came from wanting to tell stories. I am so curious about everything (my Google search history would be so revealing), so it’s pretty much an ideal situation being able ask fascinating people questions. I want to connect with others feeling the way I do and this felt like the perfect way to do it.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a podcast?
I’m still learning every time I create a new episode. It’s nowhere near perfect, but I’ve learned to be OK with that. I’m proud of the fact I’ve done it. I have no idea where it’s going, but that’s part of the journey. In fact, I’ve kind of done one season and still working out what’s next.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from guests, and my own life so far, is that you don’t need to wait for permission if you want to create something. I’d been waiting my whole career to wait for permission or the opportunity to make something like this, but in an age of self-publishing, we really have no excuse. My three recommendations are:
1. Accept that it will never be perfect and just start: You have to get rid of the idea of perfection. As with life, it will change and evolve.
2. Good equipment helps, but it isn’t essential. You can get cheap plug-in mics for your iPhone.
3. Be kind to yourself. So what if it doesn’t sound like This American Life? You’re putting a part of yourself out there into the world, and that’s pretty amazing.
Who are your 3 ideal interviewees on your podcast?
Ken Robinson. He’s basically the founding father of my podcast and I tell everyone to read his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. I tried to get him on, but I think he’s a bit too busy being an absolute badass.
Maggie Rogers. I love this girl so much! Her story and rise is so inspiring.
David Attenborough. Confession: I wrote him a letter asking if he’d be on the podcast. Of course, I was shooting for the moon, but you don’t get if you don’t ask right? I received the classiest and loveliest reply. That man is an actual saint.
Other people I would love to talk to (in no particular order): Caitlin Moran, Charly Cox, Samantha Barry, Werner Herzog, Louis Theroux, Jamal Edwards. One day, one day.
Your go-to meeting outfit when you interview someone in person?
If I’ve been at work all day, it’ll be whatever I’m wearing that day. Otherwise, something pretty comfortable such as jeans and a jumper – comfort is all I care about, as I need to concentrate on the interview. Working in production meant I used to wear black all the time and my wardrobe is pretty morbid now.
Favorite coffee shops to get work done in the city?
Devocion in Williamsburg is one of my favs. I also frequent hotel lobbies, such as The Ace Hotel and the 11 Howard Library is nice. If all else fails, I have this weird affinity with Allegro coffee in Whole Foods and am pretty much on first-name terms with every single Whole Foods coffee bar staff member. My new local spot is called The Roost on Avenue B, which I’d thoroughly recommend. One of the best things about having a side hustle are the new places you stumble upon through need for plug points, caffeine and Wi-Fi.
On your playlist to get work done?
Instrumental, sad music. This year I’ve had Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Low, Explosions in the Sky, The Japanese House and Wet on repeat. I actually have a sad playlist I like to put on when I’m feeling particularly wistful. And then, if I really need to get in a groove, I’ll put on some Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton or Bob Dylan. I can’t work without listening to music. Then again, I can’t edit while listening to music, but it’s the perfect punctuation and break in the midst of an intense editing session.
3 podcasts other than yours that you recommend?
1. The High Low. The best dose of current affairs, delivered in the most entertaining way. I adore Dolly and Pandora. Listening always makes me feel a little homesick, but 10% smarter.
2. Song Exploder. This is a staple for all music geeks. I recently listened to Julien Baker’s episode and was totally in awe. My New Year’s Resolution is to learn the guitar.
3. Table Manners with Jessie Ware. This podcast is an absolute DELIGHT. Jessie and her Mum are adorable. It’s just so British and the perfect dose of home. The calibre of guests is fantastic and I love hearing an interview that’s outside the usual studio setting. Being around a dinner table in East London really disarms guests, and elicits wonderful conversation.
And, of course, I have to mention to overlord of all podcasts (IMHO) Desert Island Discs.