The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of many in unexpected ways, including the two high school students co-hosting The Finch podcast. After schools shut down in March, co-hosts
William Fang, Cedar Shoals senior, and Alex Benoit, Oconee County senior, wanted to combat the misinformation and biased views online.
“We’re frustrated by the amount of attention on just two perspectives: health experts and economists. News headlines were dominated by them both,” Fang said.
In the early process, Fang and Benoit sought out others who believed in the vision of The Finch. From their connections through the high school programs like the Research Science Institute and the Governor’s Honors Program, they created different branches of their team. Through the dual enrollment program at the University of Georgia, Fang met students in different classes who would later converge to join the vision including head of branding Sudhan Chitgopkar and head of media Krishie Desai.
Through The Finch, the duo hopes to give a voice to views that have been silenced from mainstream media. With no prior journalistic experience, Fang and Benoit started to learn more about how podcasts operate. Originally, the Finch began as a question and answer format until the co-hosts decided to arrange the podcast through narration.
“Will and I interview the guests and jot down what they’re saying. We try to build some sort of narrative structure out of it and most of our episodes have multiple guests. We’ll try to look at what they said, and the story is composed of three things: (our) narration, news clips, and the raw interview itself,” Benoit said.
Fang and Benoit have featured some prominent guests on the podcast including Nobel laureate Dr. John Mather, astronaut Jessica Meir and former Supreme Court law clerk John Rappaport, but it was not always easy to book credible guests. In the beginning, the co-hosts contacted 16 UGA professionals with some rejections, but they realized they had nothing to lose.
“We just cold email everyone; we write really professional scripts and then we attach a guest list with credentials. And so by building up our podcast we’ve been able to expand both our outreach and the number of guests we have at increasing rates,” Fang said.
Fang and Benoit work with the rest of the podcast staff to determine issues that need to be resolved to develop their plans for content for each episode. Events and issues that have been covered include police brutality, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yemen humanitarian crisis and voter suppression.
As The Finch progresses, more listeners continue to tune in. The staff has received attention from news outlets including NPR, the Red & Black, Flagpole, and the Atlanta Inquirer. This success sparked a new beginning for the podcast as their current listenership has risen to the thousands over 31 episodes.
Fang and Benoit have also gotten drawn into local discussions surrounding problems arising during the pandemic, helping news outlets fact check certain information. After a recent episode, The Finch Podcast helped Flagpole deflect criticism when they sent a soundbite of an emergency room doctor confirming that capacity was full due to COVID-19 complication while several elected officials denied this to be true.
“Flagpole reported that the hospitals were full because of COVID-19, and several elected officials came out and said that it wasn’t true and that COVID-19 is fine. And we just interviewed Neal Priest, the Director of Emergency Medicine at St. Mary’s in charge of hospital capacity, and he told us that the hospitals were indeed full that week. So we reached out to Flagpole and we told them about the soundbite from the interview and they were interested. That was cool because that was one of the first times our news was being used as news,” Benoit said.
Fang and Benoit hope to continue producing The Finch after they leave high school by hosting the podcast remotely through Zoom. Fang hopes to pursue a degree in computer science at Stanford University while Benoit wants to pursue microbiology at Harvard University.
“While the podcast is on the side we’re always asking questions… that’s a full time job here’s my blanket push for everyone to always challenge what they see and hear while also constantly thinking about why they believe what they believe,” Fang said.