Q&A with co-founder and CEO of Kerning Cultures, Hebah Fisher

Highlights from the IG Live with Hebah Fisher of Kerning Cultures. Watch the full conversation on Instagram.

 

Tell us a little bit about your background and what prompted you to start Kerning Cultures?

A lot of my background before Kerning Cultures was in anthropology, which lends itself quite well to storytelling.

It was really born out of wanting to tell good stories. There’s a huge problem that we have across the Middle East and North Africa where the majority of mainstream media coming out of the region is catering to our parents’ generation and not to the majority of youth. To not feel like the media around us is really speaking to us is extremely alienating. I certainly felt that growing up. 

Audio is what captured my heart. I’ve been obsessed with podcasts for a long time. We started with a single show and we grew from there. It took us about three years to get good at producing stories with just sound because when we launched, there weren’t any other podcast companies in the region. Very few people knew what podcasts were. It was actually a really good quiet time for us to learn as a team and get good at the craft of storytelling with audio.

 

Why did you pick to focus on audio and what does audio do as a medium that other forms of media don’t?

Podcasts are absolutely magical. It’s such an incredible medium to tell powerful stories through. There’s something so intimate about audio. 

We’re creating evergreen content – content that lasts. You can listen to our stories from six years ago and still find them relevant. And that’s because that much effort goes into creating this sonic experience for the listener. My heart really beats for narrative storytelling and I think that’s true for the majority of our team. When you’re producing narrative, you tell the story with the voice of the storyteller. 

As a listener, all I have to go off of is your voice. I have no visuals to go by, which is typically how we interact. There’s so much unspoken understanding that we get from hearing the intonation and the way that the person sounds. You can really infer a lot about the person just from their voice. And that depth of who the person is – their character, the story, the context around them – you don’t have it in other media.

Podcasts fire my imagination in a way that other media doesn’t. 

 

Why is it important to produce region specific content – why for the Middle East in particular?

This is home.

For us, we wanted to tell stories that we actually wanted to listen to. When you listen to a show from Kerning Cultures, you’ll hear voices from all across the region and so we actually get to learn a little bit about each other in a really beautiful way. 

For our English content, it’s also a case where we’re reaching diaspora internationally. A lot of listeners will write in to us and say “Kerning Cultures is my connection to home. And this is how I keep in contact with that part of my identity,” which I find really beautiful.

 

Can someone approach Kerning Cultures Directly with story ideas?

We’re always always open to freelance pitches. We love falling into rabbit holes of really cool ideas. So if you have a cool idea, pitch it to us. We’d love to involve you as much as you’d like in the creation of the story.

 

What would you say to early career journalists? 

Just start. Don’t be shy of the audio quality. As you grow, you can invest in a more professional set up. 

To interview somebody is one of my most favourite things to do in this world. It’s such a sacred space when you’re sitting with somebody and inviting them to tell you their story. You can start with your friends, with your family, sit down and interview your mother or father and really practice that art of having this conversation – of really listening and having the story unfold for you instead of trying to drive it in a certain direction. That’s a really fun part of the process.

It’s always good to have a certain number of episodes produced before you launch, spoken from experience. This way you’ll understand what your production timeline looks like.