In 2019 Abukar Adan ’17 was a general assignment reporter for WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Fla., churning out story after story on the city council and school board.
“I burned out quickly,” he said. “I was itching to get out, and I got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, if I want to do the thing I want to do, I need to take some kind of risk.’”
That thing was podcasting. And the risk involved a move to New York City, a healthy dose of uncertainty, and a big payback.
Now, as a producer for the podcast company Campside Media, Adan’s work is receiving national attention. Earlier this year, his podcast series Wild Boys appeared on two “best podcasts of 2022 (so far)” lists: New York magazine’s imprint Vulture and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio.
Wild Boys investigates the true story of two “bush boys” who appeared in a small Canadian town in 2003 claiming they’d been raised in the British Columbia wilderness. Turns out they were lying and had hoodwinked the town. For a period, Apple Podcasts ranked Wild Boys higher than the popular podcast This American Life.
Three years into the podcasting business and Adan, 27, is standing on solid ground. Chalk it up to steering a steady course, being at the right place at the right time, and having the freedom to go out on a limb.
“Thanks to Colby, I had no student loans,” said Adan. “I think that’s what really allowed me to take this kind of risk.” That, and an invitation to crash on a friend’s couch rent-free when he first came to New York. “The leap is so great that you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I have a safety net in order to do this?’” Even then, “you’re just trying to survive, and you have to make sacrifices. It’s just so precarious for so long.”
Adan arrived in New York as podcasts were multiplying with media companies like the New York Times and National Public Radio launching series. Tech giants such as Amazon, Spotify, Apple, and Sony started sponsoring podcasts, spurring production companies to form.
In this fertile ground, Adan planted himself.
“I was networking, networking, networking,” he said. He earned a spot in a competitive podcast certificate program offered by the Made in NY Media Center by IFP (now The Gotham). The program exposed him to trade secrets, skills like “writing for the ears,” and established editors, writers, and producers.
An informal production-support job grew into regular work. He saw potential, so he stuck around. “These long-time journalists were coming together to make this company, and I just found myself there. I was like, ‘I’m just going to work hard and ride this out.’” A year later, in September 2020, when Campside Media launched its first podcast series, Adan became a full-time associate producer. A year later, Campside promoted him to producer. Wild Boys soon followed.
Adan’s interest in creative nonfiction began as a high schooler in Portland, Maine, where he settled with his family, former farmers who immigrated from Ethiopia when he was 4. He came to Colby as a Bunche Scholar unsure how to pursue a career in journalism. While he double majored in government and education, he also wrote for Colby Magazine, was news director for Colby radio WMHB, and blogged for the Huffington Post.
The summer before his senior year, he was named the Jim Dowe Public Media Intern, bringing his experience as both a Mainer and an immigrant to Maine Public’s radio, web, and television platforms. He continued working for Maine Public, as a reporter, after he graduated. He moved to Jacksonville in October 2018.
Adan charted his course through public radio because the podcasters he admired—those creating long-form, investigative podcasts—came from public radio. He had learned the craft and was eager to continue practicing it in podcasting in a place with resources to think through a story and the time to do it well.
He’s found that at Campside, where a podcast series takes between nine and 12 months to complete. It’s a complicated affair. As a producer, Adan’s job is to keep everything moving and make sure each project comes in on time and on budget.
That long list of people you hear at the end of each podcast? He manages all of them. Researchers, writers, reporters, editors, sound designers, fact-checkers, lawyers, and marketers. “When you’re doing something like this, there are a million different factors,” he said.
And as many places where things can go wrong. He’s had doubts that he was up to the task.
For a few years, “there was a lot of emotional turmoil. There were moments where I was like, ‘What am I doing? What is the point of this degree?’” Then he realized how much the soft skills he learned at Colby—communication, time management, and interpersonal skills—propelled him forward. College, he said, is more than the degree you earn.
The seeds Adan planted took root. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, ‘Yes, I know this, and I can do it well,’” he said of podcasting. “I feel comfortable, and this is a part of who I am.”
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