News Beat podcast recently tied the bow around its first season with a provocative audio documentary examining decades-long race riots in the United States, and the myriad socioeconomic, political, and cultural reasons behind such visceral forms of resistance.
Titled “Why We Riot,” the episode was our most ambitious project yet—almost an hour in length and featuring an all-star cast of intellectuals, activists, and thought leaders, plus an original score from a New York-based hip-hip/rock/jazz fusion band. The News Beat team was inspired to offer a more nuanced look at these collective acts of rebellion because of the lack of context offered by corporate media in their coverage of large-scale protests in recent years.
News Beat podcast, which averages about 16 to 20 minutes per episode, began in January 2017 with a pilot episode about the whitewashed legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King and his planned fight for economic justice on behalf of the working poor—black and white—prior to his assassination in April 1968. “MLK, Jr.—Unfinished Business” set the stage for what News Beat would ultimately become: an honest reflection of the world in which we live, based on the facts, and guided by our mission to challenge conventional wisdom, and hopefully, rectify false or misrepresented narratives, through the power of journalism and music.
Over the course of eight episodes, the News Beat podcast team chronicled everything from: the global war on drugs; the United States’ illegal perpetual wars; the saga of whistleblower Chelsea Manning; the etymology of “Jihad;” the historical and present-day threats of right-wing extremism; disparity in compensation laws for the wrongfully convicted; and the aforementioned systemic conditions that culminate in riots, or as our sources describe these, “rebellions.”
Each episode featured a special guest performance by a notable musician, among these: hip hop artists Silent Knight, LiKWUiD and Kayem, jazz-rock-fusion outfit The Band Called FUSE, and singer/songwriter Greg Tannen. Among the guests that appeared in our episodes: famed intellectual Dr. Cornel West; best-selling author and journalist Johann Hari; New York Times Magazine staffer and co-host of Slate Political Gabfest, Emily Bazelon; Mehdi Hassan of Al Jazeera English and The Intercept; CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou; and many others throughout academia and journalism.
News Beat podcast will return in January 2018 with an investigation into the cash bail system in the United States and challenges to America’s precarious press freedoms.
While we’re excited about moving ever-forward, we believe there’s a lot to gain by reflecting on the year that was, and how we got where we are today.
Our team is primarily made up of veteran alt-weekly journalists who’ve collectively won dozens of awards. They were editors and reporters for the Long Island Press, for a period of time the sixth-largest alt-weekly in the nation. The Press was sold in 2017, but four members of the paper’s team joined forces to create News Beat. They include: Editor-in-Chief Christopher Twarowski; Managing Editor Rashed Mian; Executive Producer Jed Morey; and Michael Conforti, aka Manny Faces, founder of hip-hop publication Birthplace Magazine and nonprofit The Center for Hip-Hop Advocacy.
“Why We Riot.” The episode endeavored to take a deeper look into massive uprisings and the underlying reasons behind such waves of discontent. Perhaps the most significant rebellions occurred in the 1960s. Street protests broke out in cities across America after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. Despite a five-decade-old government report concluding that America desperately needed to address issues of racism because the country was heading toward two societies, “one black, one white,” little has changed in the country since.
In October, the team traveled to Washington, D.C., where they were invited to share News Beat with presenters and attendees of the WISE Up Summit, a conference dedicated to combating extremism and correcting misconceptions about Islam. The summit marked the culmination of an exhaustive report contrasting extremist ideology with Islamic theology. It was at this conference where we conducted the majority of the interviews that would comprise the episode “Radical Caucasian Extremism.” This episode notes how there’s been a higher number of right-wing extremist attacks in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, despite most receiving little national news coverage.
In “AUMF: The Latest Weapon in America’s Illegal Perpetual War,” the team exclusively interviewed former U.S. Army Captain Nathan Smith, who sued the Obama administration over the legality of the ISIS war. One of his Smith’s arguments was that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, is outdated, and has been illegally used to justify wars that Congress has not authorized. To top it off, the episode notes how the United States has not actually declared war on a foreign nation since World War II.
You think you know whistleblower Chelsea Manning? No doubt millions have heard the name, but understand little about what she leaked. In “Chelsea Manning: Collateral Murder Cover-Up” our guests bring to light the importance of what Manning leaked to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, and how those disclosures remain relevant today. They also discuss how the government has tried to malign Manning from the very beginning.
“Exonerated and Broke” was a tearjerker. The episode began with the tragic story of Alan Newton, who was convicted for a brutal rape he did not commit. Newton spent more than 20 years in prison before he was exonerated on DNA evidence. Newton spoke about the plight of the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation and overcoming a host of other obstacles in their way. We also spoke with Rebecca Brown of the Innocence Project, who talked about the disparity in compensation laws in the United States.
“Hijacking Jihad.” Yep. Jihad. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Americans have learned little about the ancient term despite it endlessly being used on cable news (and TV and film) to describe terrorists. In fact, over the course of centuries the word has been defined as “a personal struggle” to improve one’s life. And get this: It doesn’t even mean “holy war.” What we learned is that both the media and extremists have jointly bastardized a word possessing a deep spiritual meaning for Muslims across the world.
“True Origins of the War on Drugs” drove a stake through the conventional narrative that the drug war was a Richard Nixon creation. In fact, it started immediately after Prohibition, as a way for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration, to target weed smokers, black and brown people, and, remarkably, jazz musicians. Many of the same elements that contributed to the war on drugs in the ’30s are still around today.
EPISODE 1 (PILOT)
In our inaugural episode, “MLK, Jr.—Unfinished Business,” we take an alternative look at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, examining how the civil rights icon was so much more than simply the “I Have a Dream” soundbite, which has become known as the cornerstone of his public perception.
What can you expect from News Beat in 2018? We’re going to continue shedding sunlight on important issues facing the country. Interestingly, despite 2017 being the year of political podcasts in the age of Trump, our team thought it was important to address lesser-known stories that have been outweighed by 24/7 coverage of this administration. But that’s not to say we won’t get there. If there’s a conventional narrative to challenge, we’re going to do it.
Also, we expect to continue our bi-weekly schedule of News Beat podcast episodes. Aside from News Beat, we also publish bonus content that provides a behind-the-scenes look at each episode. We call it BackBeat, and it’s typically released about a week after each News Beat episode.
As aforementioned, Team News Beat was invited to share our unique formula of alt-journalism and music at a national conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, and we look forward to presenting our podcast at more conferences, symposiums, colleges and universities throughout 2018.
Lastly, we’re hoping to grow our audience and increase the number of Artists in Residence we have on our team. Silent Knight was News Beat’s first-ever, and his creativity and passion continues to shine in each and every episode he’s a part of. We couldn’t do this without him.
Keep on eye on News Beat in your favorite podcast app. We hope you’re as excited to listen as we are to report, edit and produce each episode. We consider each respective podcast to be a work of art. No two things are more reflective of contemporary society than journalism and music, and we’ll continue to meld the two together while producing the best-sounding podcast around.
See you in 2018.