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Meet Gabrielle Horton of The Woodshaw

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gabrielle Horton.

Gabrielle, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m an Inglewood native and former Democratic political staffer turned audio and editorial producer. While working on political campaigns (President Barack Obama, then-Mayor Cory Booker) and in the offices of veteran Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and most recently, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, I really learned the fundamentals of storytelling and its power to expand how we talk about people, place, identity, culture and politics. After my City Hall stint, I headed to the University of Michigan to study public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School as a distinguished Rackham Merit Fellow. But, between my first and second year, something clicked. I found myself eager to move beyond statistical models and policy memos, to better understand the often messy and nuanced human narratives that make people, people, and impact how they understand and navigate the world around them. I wanted to hear directly from local residents, from ordinary people about the policy shaping their everyday lives. Turns out, audio storytelling is the perfect platform to do exactly that.

In my final year of grad school, Gabrielle started working as a Production Assistant (aka “intern”) at the local NPR member station, Michigan Radio. There, Gabrielle learned the ropes of producing a daily news show. She would later go on to intern with Crooked Media, where she supported development and production staff on shows like Keep It!, Hysteria, and Pod Save America. In the summer of 2019, Gabrielle filed paperwork for her very own company: The Woodshaw, a Los Angeles-based boutique production house. Current clients include Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom of Hear to Slay, and The Black List Podcast, hosted by Franklin Leonard and Kate Hagen.

My latest pride and joy however is NATAL, the brand-new podcast docuseries about having a baby while Black in the US. After my childhood best friend developed preeclampsia, a life-threatening pregnancy complication, and gave birth two months early, I quickly realized that I needed to learn and more about Black maternal healthcare in this country. Series was conceived last year, and developed and produced in partnership with Martina Abrahams Ilunga of You Had Me at Black. Over the 8-episode season, NATAL passes the mic to Black parents to share their own pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum stories, in their own words. The series is produced by a bicoastal team of six Black women creatives and is in thought partnership with Black Mamas Matter Alliance. NATAL received partial grant funding from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism, where I serve as a 2020 Health Reporting Fellow.

Has it been a smooth road?
HA! The road to becoming my own boss, someone who works independently with clients, was far from a smooth road! Halfway thru my graduate school, I was deeply unhappy and uncomfortable with the sot of bureaucratic/administrator/quantitative research career trajectory the public policy program had in mind for us. I was ready to start bridging the gap between policy, media, and everyday people, especially Black folks. I also realized how much time I spent consuming media, daydreaming about how I would pitch and share stories, and I realized…hey, there may be something to this. I was fortunate to start my production career at Michigan Radio, under a phenomenal boss, Joe Linstroth, who really wanted me to succeed and gave me the confidence that I lacked for a longtime to just do this work and own my space, talent, and individuality in radio. But not every boss after that was like Joe. I dealt with things that a lot of Black women like myself can unfortunately relate to: pay inequities, being talked down to, disrespected, ignored. Some days were harder than others. A lot of days, I questioned if I should even be in audio.

And early on, my goodness I was like peak grad student level broke, but found contract positions here and there and had the financial support of my mom to really keep going even when things looked bleak or I was simply tired. Through it all, I continued to move forward with my career (networking, coffee dates, phone meetings with seasoned media professionals), and honestly it just made me want to figure out how I could break free from the bureaucratic hold of working for a media/podcast production company, that honestly I kept finding to be a series of toxic and challenging experiences as a Black woman. I wanted to tell stories, I wanted to talk policy and culture, I wanted to created platforms for folks to connect, learn, engage, and build. I had such a clear vision for how I wanted to show up in the world in this new career, and ultimately, I wanted to do things in a particular way that I soon realized could only come to fruition if I did it myself. So once I was in a position to launch on my own, start taking on clients, I didn’t hesitate. But goodness, nothing about the road to becoming your own boss, starting your own LLC, is an easy feat!

Please tell us about The Woodshaw.
As the sole owner and employee of The Woodshaw, I provide production services for podcast creators. This support includes news and talent research, scriptwriting, booking guests and studio time, directing recording sessions, content editing, translating podcasts into live events, social media management, and so much more. The Woodshaw also produces original content like NATAL. But, when I’m able to take a step back, I think what sets my work apart is literally all in the name — The Woodshaw, which combines my hometown of Inglewood and my long-term residence in the Crenshaw District.

In all the work that I do, I am constantly thinking about how to make the information accessible and relevant to the communities that raised me, embraced me, and continue to hold me down. How do I make art that me and my homegirls can enjoy? What is the content that my mom and aunties want to hear more of? Being able to stay grounded in who I am and where I come from ensures that “representation” doesn’t just start and stop with hiring me, but rather that representation weaves in and out of the work that I contribute to, always. So what does that look like in practice? It means that I’m showing up to work environments as my full self. It means that if I think we can take a different angle to the celebrity interview, or dig even deeper to topics to strip back the surface layers to explore the messiness and nuance of life and people, I’m gonna say that. I am constantly thinking about ways to center, invite, and reflect the expertise and lived experiences of Black people, queer folks, communities on the margins of our society. As a true 90s girl, I am 1000% all about that FUBU life, and honestly, I think that’s what makes content from The Woodshaw so unique.

What were you like growing up?
Looking back, it’s probably no surprise at all to family and friends that I’m working at this intersection of media and advocacy. I was always very involved with debate, poetry and public speaking clubs all throughout my childhood. I held leadership roles in volunteer service and advocacy organizations all four years of high school at Harvard-Westlake, and I’ve always been someone who isn’t afraid to speak up, ask (a lot of!) questions, and speak the truth. But, I think more importantly — and thank goodness for growth — is that working in politics, and absolutely working in podcasting has taught me so much about the power of listening. Like what it really means to actively listen, to listen with purpose, to listen to what is being said *and* what is not being said, and to listen without the impulse to immediately formulate a response. I think growing up, probably like most kids and young adults, I didn’t fully understand the value in slowing down, pressing rewind, and simply listening. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s been really humbling and beautiful to see my growth in that regard thru my professional journey from politics to pods.

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