Q&A with Aisha Turner ’09, Executive Producer, “Into America” Podcast
In this interview with the alumni network DukeJournos, StudioDuke mentor Aisha Turner '09 shares how she built a career in journalism by working at numerous news organizations including PBS News Hour, Al Jazeera America, 371 Productions, and Milwaukee Public Radio.
As a senior producer for the MSNBC podcast “Into America” — a weekly narrative show about Black politics and culture hosted by Trymaine Lee — you lead episodes from conception to completion. You are the point person for the editors, producers and associate producers, and host. In August 2021, you also became the show’s Executive Producer, adding responsibilities to your plate like editing episodes, planning long-term projects, and managing relationships between your team and the rest of the company. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of this balancing act?
My favorite part is that I get to be an advocate for our show. I love the show and like being in a position to fight for it. Same with my team — I am pretty protective and like being able to advocate for what’s best for them. Editorially, I also love holding the big-picture vision of the show. I really miss producing — having relationships with guests, writing, playing with tape, etc. — but I like that I get to guide other people through these things while keeping an eye on how things will fit together overall. The worst part of the job is probably that my inbox is constantly blowing up! I am terrible at email maintenance so some of the logistical things I have to deal with now can feel a little tedious.
Prior to your work at MSNBC, you were at StoryCorps where you recorded interviews and produced them into short-form audio narratives that were aired on NPR’s Morning Edition. Do you have a favorite interview or two you worked on for StoryCorps?
So many! I loved so much of the work I did at StoryCorps! But the story that has probably stuck with me the most is about these sisters named Jennifer Mack & Glennette Roselle. As kids their mom killed her abusive husband (Jennifer’s step-dad/Glennette’s dad), and it was something they never spoke about again until their mom died. The story I did with them was about how the shooting and the secrecy around it impacted their lives & their relationships. And then I also did a podcast episode where we spoke to Jennifer’s daughter about the generational impact of all of this. I think about this family a lot — their pain, their healing, their strength… working with them to tell their story felt so important and special. I’m really grateful they let me in.
What is the main motivation behind your work? What do you think you do best?
Almost everything for me comes down to connection. I want to do work that connects current events to historical context, or helps our audience feel emotionally connected to the characters in a piece. Connection, connection, connection… I kind of want to say more here, but honestly it feels like this is all that matters!
At the start of your career, you worked at a number of news organizations including PBS News Hour, Al Jazeera America, 371 Productions, and Milwaukee Public Radio. Do you have any advice from those experiences that you would give to young DukeJournos looking to make their own way in the business?
I think one of the things that has served me well has been a willingness to try different things. I wasn’t planning to make the switch from TV to audio but an opportunity came up and I was like, Okay, why not?! Then I loved it! So I’d say to definitely be open to unexpected opportunities. I would also advise people to raise your hand and make a case for yourself as much as possible — especially when starting out. When I was at the NewsHour, a lot of the opportunities I got like writing news copy, video editing, and field production came from asking for the chance, and making it clear to my supervisors that training me in these different ways would be mutually beneficial. At the same time, don’t feel like you’re “above” any task. If the copier needs paper, fill it! If shelves need to be restocked, do it! Especially when starting out, if you find ways to make yourself useful in small ways, then people will start trusting you with the bigger things.