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Local Politicians Hope to Connect with Citizens Through New Podcast

The second taping of “The Ithacast” at Nguyen’s dining room table Photo: Jack Sears

Key Points

  • Two common council members have started a podcast
  • They’ll discuss political issues and ‘hot topics’ in the city of Ithaca
  • They hope to produce a new podcast biweekly

Two Ithaca politicians are diving into something many politicians try to avoid: media.

For City of Ithaca Alderpersons Ducson Nguyen and Joseph Murtagh, both representing the second ward, the idea to start a podcast about local politics was a no-brainer.

“As representatives on the Common Council, I think we’re both always looking for ways to reach out to our constituents, and this seemed like a good one,” Murtagh said

“The Ithacast” is still in its infancy stages, having only two episodes recorded as of March 2. The podcast was the idea of Nguyen who listens to podcasts quite often.

“I did a search for other municipal podcasts, and the ones I found were all just recordings of city council meetings, which sound kind of boring,” he said. “I thought it would be better if we actually talked about policy in a way that would be accessible to our constituents.”

A Common Council meeting in the City of Ithaca. Photo:
A Common Council meeting in the City of Ithaca. Photo:

Coming Up with Topics

Murtagh and Nguyen both are still figuring out how they want to format their podcast and the topics they want to cover.

“I think we really want to address a broad topic of issues on this podcast, everything from housing, to the police, to historic preservation, to dredging, to roads and infrastructure—those are things that affect everybody,” Murtagh said.

Nguyen initially thought the podcast would just be the two Common Council members discussing the upcoming agenda, but that changed.

“I remember when I pitched it to Seph, I said: ‘15 minutes—tops! It’s just the two of us, we’ll talk about the upcoming agenda, and whatever issue was on our mind at the time,’” Nguyen said.

The first episode featured Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, and much of the podcast covered Ithaca’s housing crisis. The taping lasted two hours, but Nguyen said there was nothing worth cutting out.

“Our first conversation was with the mayor about housing, and we really got into the weeds about many deep policy issues,” he said. “Many people enjoyed the insights they got.”

The Production Process

On the evening Tuesday, Feb. 27, three microphones were set up in dining room of Nguyen’s Northside home.

He and his wife Amber welcomed everyone warmly into their home. A small selection of beer and other drinks were offered (or served), to help create the casual atmosphere that they want to translate into the podcast.

The second podcast featured Brian McCraken, the City’s historical preservation planner. The discussion focused on historical landmarks in Ithaca and the recent vote against designating the Chacona Block as a local historical landmark. McCraken said he thinks the podcast helps break-down and explain complicated issues like historical preservation for citizens.

“The conversational format of the series creates an approachable platform for citizens to learn more about topic(s) and the positions of their elected officials,” he said. “Too often conversations about preservation are narrowly focused, but the podcast allowed me to discuss the topic more broadly and, for some issues, in more detail.”

The two do not have plans for their next guest yet, but they like talking to employees of the City.

“City Hall is a pretty small place, we both know a lot of the people who are involved with the city staff,” Murtagh said. “I think it’s just a question of figuring out what is the ‘hot topic’ right now, what people talking about.”

The second taping of "The Ithacast" at Nguyen's dining room table Photo: Jack Sears
The second taping of “The Ithacast” at Nguyen’s dining room table Photo: Jack Sears

Post-production Feedback

“People I talk to all the time listen to podcasts,” Murtagh said, and that seems to be the case with the first podcast. The first podcast, titled “None of us are experts here,” has over 2,200 views on Facebook. It can also be found on the podcast’s website. Nguyen is happy with the feedback he has received.

“They really appreciated our conversation,” he said.

Neither Nguyen nor Murtagh had a typical listener pictured in their minds, they both just hope to engage residents.

“I think we’re just trying to communicate the policy as best we can,” Murtagh said. “Any resident in the city that’s interested in the issues that confront the city I imagine as the audience. It really is a broad audience we’re going to target.”

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