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The Importance of Staying True to Your Identity in Storytelling

Mediums like podcasting give audio storytellers a platform to stay true to the culture that made them.

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Jacob Lund — stock.adobe.com

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

So much of what we do in life comes back to storytelling. It is at the heart of our families, friendships and relationships. It transcends cultures and traverses thousands of miles across borders and oceans. Whether our own stories or those passed on from generations, the stories we tell, hear and share help define who we are.

Storytelling in Media

If you’re lucky, you might find a way to integrate storytelling into your job — as a journalist, writer, musician, director or even marketer. But one of the most innovative and booming mediums that allow people to experience storytelling in a more visceral way than ever is podcasting.

Podcasting is uniquely impactful because it can capture the best of many worlds. You can craft a fiction narrative, immerse someone in a tropical location, recall your funniest anecdotes, interview people when they are at their most open — all without the restrictions, rules and editing of other creative mediums. It’s also the perfect setting to talk unapologetically about yourself and your identity. It’s the one-on-one connection that allows listeners to feel like they really know their host on a deeper level. It’s also a great place to dive into your guilty pleasures (hello, true crime) and immerse yourself in an auditory experience.

My own journey into the podcasting space isn’t exactly conventional, but it was this journey that gave me my voice. I was born in Sri Lanka, raised in Australia, and now settled in New York. I found my way into podcasting after 10 years in radio, taking not only the technical skills with me but also the lessons and stories of being a gay immigrant woman growing up in a new country. Podcasting became my medium of choice because of the power it has to build an audience of people who tune in every week to listen to you for who you are.

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Speak What You Know

The best way to create rich, meaningful stories, whatever the medium, is to write (or speak) what you know. It’s a phrase that is often tossed around between writers and creatives, sometimes with skepticism, but it’s a mantra that holds true. When trying to find or reinvent yourself as a creative storyteller, neglecting your roots and the culture that made you is a wasted opportunity. For the same reason that we need diversity in newsrooms and at writers’ tables, culture defines our storytelling perspectives. It allows us to tell the stories that no one else can and helps audiences find a universality in this.

Some of the most successful movies and TV shows to come over the last few years have given us an insight into vastly different lives and cultures. Actor Rami Malek perhaps said it best in his acceptance speech for Best Actor Oscar in 2019 for Bohemian Rhapsody. Paying tribute to the late Freddie Mercury, he said in his speech: “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant who lived his life just unapologetically himself. And the fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this.” He added: “I am the son of immigrants from Egypt, I’m a first-generation American and part of my story is being written right now.”

Identity Creates Storytellers

In podcasting, it may take some soul searching before you discover your niche, but people often find it because they discover a whole community of people who may be just like them. Marginalized groups or underserved communities can find immense value in hearing from those who are confident and unapologetic in their cultural identity. It’s exactly why encouraging a public narrative about these conversations is so important. The truth is, different cultures bring different stories. And, in my experience, the richest ones often come from a place that the storytellers once thought to be mundane or insignificant.

In a world where indie media has to fight for survival to avoid the impersonal studio system, we can celebrate mediums like podcasting that give audio storytellers a platform to stay true to the culture that made them.

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