‘The Chatcast’ creators talk process, surprises and what they hope Chatham learns

Posted 12/6/19

As we continue to preview “The Age of Anxiety,” the first season of “The Chatcast,” we want to introduce you to the hosts, creators and reporters on this season — the Chatham News + Record's Zachary Horner and Our Chatham's Adrianne Cleven.

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‘The Chatcast’ creators talk process, surprises and what they hope Chatham learns

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As we continue to preview “The Age of Anxiety,” the first season of “The Chatcast,” we want to introduce you to the hosts, creators and reporters on this season.

Zachary Horner is a reporter with the News + Record. After graduating from Elon University with a degree in print and online journalism, the Sanford native worked in communications and marketing for two years before joining the staff of The Sanford Herald for two years. Horner has won multiple awards in both collegiate and professional journalism. He currently covers Chatham County government, education and other topics for the News + Record and writes a weekly business column. He is a member of the Education Writers Association and regularly tweets from government meetings.

Moncure-raised Adrianne Cleven is currently a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism. Cleven has worked for Our Chatham, a project of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s Reese News Lab. Cleven has also contributed multiple stories to the News + Record, Chapelboro.com and the Raleigh News & Observer.

Horner and Cleven took some time to share their thoughts on the project and the topic. Season 1 of “The Chatcast” will be released for free on December 13 on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast platforms.

1) Why did you feel this was a project worth pursuing?

ZH: Just look at the numbers. One in nine Chatham teens have attempted suicide, if the numbers are to be believed, and I think they are. When we shared that statistic and others with some of the people we interviewed, they were not surprised. It’s what people on the ground with Chatham’s adolescents are seeing. They’re seeing these pressures and these burdens and they know what happens. So Adrianne and I really felt it was necessary to take a deep dive on this and bring to light what these teenagers are dealing with on a daily basis and how it affects them.

AC: Mental health issues are real and present in our community. And unlike some other issues communities face, this is a problem that often becomes more manageable when we discuss it. So podcasting — an entire medium focused around the human voice — seemed like the perfect medium for this topic.

2) What was the most surprising thing you learned?

ZH: I think the most surprising thing I learned was the number of people who are already working on this topic and are aware of it. Mental health and mental health disorders have had a stigma around them for so long, even through most of my 27 years, that it feels to me it’s not talked about or addressed in the way it should be. I still believe that, but to a point. Chatham has a lot of good people doing great things in this arena, and we really wanted to feature that in this podcast.

AC: In my journalism work so far, it’s typically been easier for my sources and I to just hop on a phone call and discuss a story. But getting clear audio for podcasting means that Zach and I had to drive out to record audio in different of the county. Those drives reminded me of Chatham’s diversity and uniqueness. From Siler City to Pittsboro, we have talked to some amazing people doing great work in mental health resilience. The experience reminded me that Chatham is massive and has so many different strengths and needs.

3) What do you hope for the community to get out of the podcast?

ZH: I want people to notice. I want people to see what’s actually happening to these teenagers. As Chatham Drug Free’s George Greger-Holt told me, “These are the folks that are going to be in our community. They’re going to be walking up and down the street here. Hopefully they’re going to be gainfully employed and they’re going to be able to pay my social security.” I want Chatham residents to realize the long-term impact mental health issues and the pressures teenagers face will have on this county and its schools, cities and neighborhoods, and let that guide how they respond.

AC: I want the community to feel like this podcast has been created especially for them. Because that’s exactly what we’ve done! Zach and I are using the this project to discuss a national and global issue, but we’re focusing on Chatham’s unique resources and people. This is the only podcast I know that’s taking such a global issue like mental health and narrowing down to the county level. And that’s one of the primary goals of journalism: to take a big issue and show why it matters — and what’s being done — in a community.

4) Do you have any personal connection to this story or this topic? How has that shaped your work on the podcast?

ZH: I take two different medicines for mental health issues. If you meet me in person and ask me about mental health, I’m not shy about it. So yes. And it’s one of the reasons I wanted to pursue this topic in the first place. It’s one of the driving forces.

AC: Mental health is such a broad topic that, whether we put labels on it or not, I think most of us have struggled with it at some point. I know that I, many of my friends and older adults I know have experienced struggle and success in that area. And throughout my growing-up years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have influences that encouraged me to discuss mental health openly. I have heard so many people in my social circle admit that they weren’t feeling well. I’ve heard my friends feel safe enough to say, “I need to talk to someone about this stuff.” And now here I am, helping develop a podcast about it! It feels like a full circle moment. 

5) There are a lot of statistics in this project. What was one statistic that stood out to you and why?

ZH: The rising prevalence of teenagers across America going to the hospital for treatment for non-suicidal self-injurious (NSSI) behaviors, better known as self-harm. We didn’t get a ton of relevant data for Chatham, but starting in 2008, the number of youth going to the hospital for NSSI rose 5.7 percent annually to 2015, when the last data was available. It had been relatively stable during the seven years prior to that. I don’t think that data even made it into the podcast, but it shows just how significant things like self-harm are and how much more ubiquitous they’ve become.

AC: Near the end of the series, we talk about coping mechanisms for mental illness and a well-researched link between mental illness and crime. In one episode we say that “10-25 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have some sort of mood disorder.” That leads me to imagine how our society would change if mental healthcare were more accessible and stigma less powerful. If we can catch these illnesses when children are 5 or 6 — instead of when they’re 17, depressed and have a criminal record — our state and nationwide community would be so much stronger.

6) You both listen to a lot of podcasts. Why is this a medium that you feel is catching on and why should Chatham County residents try yours out, if they’ve never listened to a podcast before?

ZH: Podcasts are a mix between audiobooks and TV shows based on real-life stories. They’re not something you have to watch, so you can consume them in the car, while mowing your lawn or cleaning up the kitchen. We really hope “The Age of Anxiety” is not only an informative podcast but an engaging one. We’ve got nearly 30 voices in there along with insights from research and studies in Chatham and across the country. This isn’t a unique phenomenon, after all. We hope Chatham residents try it out because we’ve put a lot of time into it and it’s incredibly relevant in today’s world. Also, we as the News + Record are trying new ways to reach you with the news, and “The Chatcast” is a wholly unique opportunity for Chatham residents to consume news. And it’s free, so what do you have to lose?

AC: Oh goodness. Don’t even get me started on my favorite podcasts. I have too many favorites to count! As a medium, podcasts are simultaneously strange and appealing. Usually, when journalists write stories, we expect people to give our words their undivided attention. Conversely, podcasts are designed for multitasking: listen while you drive, while you do dishes, while you run or walk the dog or garden. And I think there’s so much to be learned by the idea of a faceless voice on a podcast. Why do we trust that person? What can they teach us?


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