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The power of voice

Dr Siobhan McHugh
School of the Arts, English and Media

Capturing history in an accessible format and providing the marginalised a voice to influence change

Associate Professor Siobhan McHugh is internationally recognised as being at the forefront of podcasting studies. As a critic and scholar, as well as an acclaimed practitioner, her work over three decades has been dedicated to capturing the capability and intimacy of sound and the creative adaption of oral history. She strives to transform non-fiction stories into audio projects of cultural worth and significant social impact.

A/Prof McHugh has authored more than 60 audio documentaries and won prestigious awards. Her theoretical research interests include the aesthetics and disruptive impact of podcasting and audio storytelling, critical analysis of podcast, radio and documentary form, and orality and aurality throughout history and the power of voice.

“For people who have experienced discrimination through visual media, the audio medium can be liberating,” A/Prof McHugh says.

“Audio can also confer anonymity. These factors facilitate revelatory interviews that can be leveraged to examine sensitive matters that are in the public interest. Audio is also democratising in that it is highly accessible: you don’t even have to be literate to ‘get’ it.”

Her collaboration with Fairfax Media on the podcast Phoebe’s Fall (2016) which was heard by approximately 1.5 million listeners, examined a possible miscarriage of justice in the death of a young Melbourne woman, Phoebe Handsjuk, in 2010. The series won four awards, but more importantly triggered a review of the Victorian Coroner’s Act. She is following on with this successful collaboration with Fairfax with Wrong Skin, released in 2018.

A/Prof McHugh was also recently commissioned to produce a documentary for ABC Radio National, The Conquistador, the Warlpiri and the Dog Whisperer, as part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project led by Professor Ian McLean examining transcultural aspects of the production of Aboriginal art.

A/Prof McHugh incorporates learning from her research and commissioned projects into her teaching and in turn has enabled the professional development and success of journalists transitioning from traditional media platforms. She has travelled extensively, addressing rooms packed with journalists and organisations such as New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the Colombia-based Rutas del Conflicto (a human rights organisation that documents stories of victims of the FARC guerrilla groups), and the Australian War Memorial, all eager to access her knowledge to tell their own stories and join the podcasting revolution.

A noted oral historian, A/Prof McHugh’s collections are held in the National Library of Australia, the State Library of New South Wales and at the City of Sydney. Her expertise in crafted audio storytelling and the evolving media format of the podcast enhances access to and engagement with journalism, for impact on the public good.