Podcast Producer Emphasizes Value of Research

Sep 11, 2020

Lauren Ober, host and producer of 'Spectacular Failures,' kicks of a series on the applications of research.


Lauren Ober (top right), podcast producer and host, and Dr. Azadeh Block (top left), director of the Center for Undergraduate Research, lead the discussion for 'Research and Real Life.'

“I love to do the research that gets you to understand a story, and the unpacking of ideas is a euphemism for research.” 

Podcast host and producer Lauren Ober shared practical applications for research Sept. 10 as the inaugural presenter for the “Research and Real Life” series,” hosted by the Center for Undergraduate Research at Cal U. 

Missed the livestream? Listen to Lauren Ober's presentation for 'Research and Real Life' on YouTube.

Ober is the host and producer of Spectacular Failures from America Public Media, which examines business failures and what could have been done to avoid them. The podcast was ranked as the 10th best podcast of 2019 by Time.com.  

“I don’t know anything about business, can barely understand my retirement account and have never been entrepreneurial,” Ober said. “But my feeling about taking on a show like that is that business stories are just like human stories with a lot more money attached. There’s always drama in human stories, so that is interesting.” 

A former newspaper reporter, Ober hosted and produced The Big Listen, from WAMU and NPR, and was an award-winning producer for WAMU’s weekly newsmagazine, Metro Connection. Her stories have been heard on public radio shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition, as well as podcasts like Criminal and 99% Invisible. 

Whether writing a scholarly science paper, producing a podcast or running a business, Ober said, research and writing well are necessary blueprints for success. She said she wrote more than 70,000 words for her podcast’s first 10 episodes, which drew 2.5 million downloads. 

“Good writing allows you to be heard and I can’t emphasize enough how much that matters,” she said. 

Ober explained her team’s process of producing a Spectacular Failures episode about the unraveling of a fast-fashion retailer, Forever 21. Personal organization, reporting and research plans were common traits. 

“Your personal organization does not have to be formal, but it is so important to helping you have a clean brain space,” she said. “The research is how can I tell the most interesting part of this story, who the most interesting people are who have the best things to say, and what does our particular treatment of this or any story look like.” 

A.J. Hartman, a senior social work major, found the presentation meaningful. 

“I really appreciated how fluent everything was,” he said. “I listened to many podcasts over the summer that were more of a conversation type, and the ones she’s doing are so different because they’re so question-based.” 

Ober’s presentation was followed by a workshop with students from Dr. Christina Fisanick’s capstone course for English majors.  

“Research is something we all use in part of our careers,” said Dr. Azadeh Block, the director of the Center for Undergraduate Research. "We hope this series is fun and whimsical. Lauren’s podcasts use an intersection of media, an important perspective on a career path that students need to hear." 

The series continues 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Oct. 1 with Alisha B. Wormsley, an interdisciplinary artist/cultural producer, and Divya Heffley, a public art advocate.