Democracy Works podcast wins CASE Circle of Excellence Award

Susan Burlingame
July 01, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Democracy Works,” a weekly podcast produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and WPSU Penn State, central Pennsylvania's public media station, has received a Silver Circle of Excellence Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Begun in March of 2018, Democracy Works was created to help fulfill the outreach objective of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, whose mission is “to promote scholarship and practical innovations that defend and advance democracy in the United States and abroad.”

“We had been talking about ways of effectively reaching out to the larger public about issues concerning democracy and the different work being done both on campus and beyond,” said McCourtney Institute Director Michael Berkman, professor of political science. “The podcast turned out to be a very effective tool and far surpassed what any of us expected.”

In CASE’s announcement of the award, judges called the podcast an “excellent, engaging, insightful, balanced, and honest discussion of the realities of what it means to live in a democracy. The podcast has already achieved (and gone beyond) the objectives, and the reach is impressive.”

Since its first broadcast, Democracy Works has grown from a few hundred listeners to approximately 1,500 listeners per episode. It is now available in 161 countries and sees about 10,000 downloads per month.

“There are more than a million podcasts out there, and I’m always humbled and flattered to know that people want to listen to us,” said Jenna Spinelle, communications specialist for the McCourtney Institute and producer of the Democracy Works podcast. “It’s particularly nice to be recognized by an external organization like CASE, which is highly regarded in higher education, and its great to know that we’re making a mark.”

The format of the podcast includes an introductory conversation with Berkman, Spinelle and Christopher Beem, managing director of the McCourtney Institute. During the second segment, Spinelle interviews the speaker or speakers, followed by a wrap up.

“Even though the show is weekly, we never run out of ideas for episodes,” added Spinelle, who said they tap into speakers who are invited to campus, Penn State faculty, authors of books related to democracy and others.

Noting that she had not done any podcasting before Democracy Works, Spinelle credits WPSU with helping her think about how to take the idea and “make it a show.”

“They helped me think about the things that need to be part of it, like music between segments and credits at the end. Without WPSU’s help in broadcasting and editing, we would never have gotten it off the ground.”

"WPSU is incredibly proud to be a part of creating the Democracy Works podcast,” said Emily Reddy, WPSU-FM news director. “This important partnership with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy brings listeners thoughtful conversations by taking an in-depth, real-time look at the status of democracy in our country and beyond.”

“The CASE award has special resonance for us because it’s from among our peers at academic institutions,” concluded Berkman. “Being among such high-quality universities is where we belong and where we wanted to be, so receiving this commendation was particularly meaningful.

“This award is a real credit to Jenna,” he added. “Chris and I show up each week, and we prep and we speak, but producing it is the real job. Jenna sets up the guests, does the editing, prepares the questions, and does all of the reading involved. Maybe most importantly, Jenna has helped other units across the University set up podcasts of their own.”

  • Democracy Works Final Lightbulb
    IMAGE: Katie McLaughlin/Locality Studio

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 01, 2020