Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Caroline Ballard (LS '13) on Life as a Public Radio Host


Caroline Ballard headshot
What did you study at NYU?

I earned a B.A. in Global Liberal Studies with a concentration in Contemporary Culture and Creative Production and a minor in French. It was an exciting time because we - the Class of 2013 - were the first class to be accepted as GLS majors and go through all four years of the program. It also required a year of study abroad which I was very excited about!

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at NYU?

When I was studying abroad at NYU Paris, there was a sponsored trip for students to the Dordogne region of France. It was the most incredible thing I did all four years. We visited several different caves that had prehistoric paintings in them, walked through an elaborate terraced garden, toured a medieval town, and ate delicious food - plus it was all paid for by the school. The way prehistoric people used the natural shape of the cave in their paintings to make them “move” with torchlight has stayed with me. I’d love to go back!

Caroline Ballard: her story continues

How has your educational experience at NYU shaped what you do now?

I grew up in a small city in rural Virginia, so coming to NYU was the first time I spent a lot of time around people from different backgrounds. My program also gave me really solid grounding in writing and in foundational ideas about religion, art, and culture. Knowing that the world is full of different kinds of people who have their own stories to tell still motivates me in my career - I aim to be an amplifier for other people’s voices.

What drew you to a career in radio and journalism?

When I was a freshman at NYU my roommate wrote a few pieces for Washington Square News. Through that, she was contacted by a New York Times reporter to be a subject in a piece about college students in New York City. Throughout the year we met up with the reporter, and we picked her brain about being a reporter and how she got her start in journalism. Once the piece came out, she put me in touch with an editor at The Village Voice which turned into my first internship in the journalism field. I was also able to intern at a beur (French-Arab) radio station in Paris during my year abroad. All these experiences led me to pursue journalism as a career.

Can you talk a little bit about what the HumaNature podcast is, and how the podcast came about?

HumaNature is a storytelling podcast about people’s experiences in nature. Our episodes run anywhere from 8 minutes to an hour and tell one story with light musical accompaniment. When I first moved from New York City to Wyoming to take a job hosting and reporting for Wyoming Public Media, it was very apparent that everyone in this state was very connected to the natural world. So when a colleague of mine mentioned the station was looking to create a show with national appeal, I suggested we do something about the outdoors. The idea grew from there, and it took about a year for us to experiment with different formats until we finally launched the podcast.

What drew you to explore the intersection between humans and the wilderness?

There are infinite stories about how we interact with the natural world, so there’s always something new. In addition to the wealth of stories, I found it was easy to become disconnected from the natural world after living in the city so long, so this is a way to bring the outdoors to everyone, no matter where you might live.

Caroline Ballard at work
What types of stories are you drawn to or are especially interested in featuring on this podcast?

There’s such a range of stories on the podcast. Some of them are intense like wolves escaping a wildfire or a women running through a blizzard, but some are more subdued like how an artist living in New York City reconnected to nature. I think the thing that makes an episode shine, though, is when it touches something genuine and vulnerable in a person. We try not to have people tell stories that are too polished or have been told a
thousand times. I think it’s more special to hear someone be honest and work through their own thoughts as they remember an experience. For example, one of my favorite episodes is “Through The Keyhole” - in which a man tries to overcome his grief at the death of a friend by climbing Longs Peak in Colorado. It’s touching and raw, and in some ways stranger than fiction.

What is a typical day like for you working as host of HumaNature?

My primary role at the station is as Morning Edition Host, so I start my on-air shift around 5:30 a.m. I’m off-air by 9:00 a.m., then the rest of the day it depends on what is lined up. Sometimes I’ll do news interviews, other times I’ll edit other reporters and their stories. I also interview, produce, and edit episodes of HumaNature - so if there’s a day focused on that I’ll spend a few hours cutting audio, setting it to music, and scripting parts for myself. It really depends - and if breaking news happens you can throw all that out the window! The diverse parts of my job help keep it interesting. No two days are ever the same.

We understand you love to travel.  Do you have a favorite destination?  Do you have any savvy tips you have learned from your travels?

The more I travel the more I crave really beautiful secluded places - so now anywhere there’s good food and I can detox is great. I love escaping to the mountains in Wyoming and Colorado, especially in the fall and winter when you can cozy up. Estes Park, CO, Steamboat Springs, CO and Saratoga, WY are some of my favorite weekend spots. But wherever you want to go, my top tip is to book trips in the shoulder and off-seasons if you can swing it. The rates are so much better and it’s way less crowded.

Do you have any advice for students or alumni pursuing a similar career?

Your network is your most powerful tool! You never know how someone you meet through unrelated circumstances might play into the bigger picture of your career. Be curious about everything, ask a lot of questions, and make connections.

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