Catarina Reis is a journalist and podcaster based in Portugal. She currently works for the incredible digital-based magazine Mensagem de Lisboa where she creates the podcast Sons de Lisboa, a human interest podcast that records the sounds of her city. We spoke to Catarina about her love for storytelling, her passion for Lisbon, and the inspiration behind her unique podcast.

Hi Catarina! Welcome to Bear Radio! Tell me a little about yourself. 

I am a journalist, I’m 26 years old and I currently live in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, although my accent always reveals where I am from – I was born in the North of the country, in Porto and it’s the city I live in today that I’ve been writing about for a year. 

I am part of the team that founded the only local (digital) newspaper in the capital, Mensagem de Lisboa and I mainly write about social issues. I also create a podcast with the magazine called Sons de Lisboa.

And what inspires you about podcasting?

It’s curious because it’s as natural as my long-standing desire to be a journalist – I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but I always knew this was what I wanted to be. 

I think it’s mainly this intimacy that podcasting gives us. I mean, you’re able to talk to someone in their ear, right? This does not exist when we read or even watch a video. When we listen to a podcast, it’s like that conversation is just for us. From the creator’s point of view, I’m fascinated by the countless possibilities of editing a story.

Do you remember the first podcast you ever heard?

Hard question, actually. For many years I have been used to listening to the stories from Antena 1, which is the Portuguese public radio, in podcast form. I like long, strong and good stories so these ones are great. Each episode goes beyond one hour.

Tell us about your podcast Sounds of Lisbon.

When my director invited me to help create Mensagem de Lisboa, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to create a podcast. Before, I hadn’t had that opportunity, because traditional Portuguese newsrooms tend to suffocate their journalists a lot and there is little time for creativity. So when this opportunity came my way I thought, what better time to do it than now? 

At Mensagem de Lisboa, we have a special bond with our audience because we are local and as I said, there’s nothing closer than speaking in someone’s ear! During lockdown when we entered a second lockdown, we all spoke about how much we missed the sounds of the city, some of them so characteristic of Lisbon. That’s when we decided to pay tribute to the sounds of Lisbon and explain the history of some of our favorites. In fact, the first episode was about the silence of the city.

Catarina on the Start of Sons De Lisboa

What is it like recording and collecting the various sounds for your podcast?

I’m very meticulous, especially in the case of this podcast because well, it’s a podcast about sounds so those sounds have to be very clear. 

I often spend hours recording a single sound, so that I know I will have many options when editing. However, I don’t plan all of my recordings. Sometimes I hear a sound on the street and I think, ‘This would a great sound for the podcast.’ I have a huge library of Lisbon sounds.

How do you decide what sounds of Lisbon to include in your podcast?

It mostly has to do with the story behind that sound. Although sometimes the simplest sounds, or the simplest stories, are the most interesting challenges. I have a list of sounds that I have been pointing out or that have been recommended to me by our listeners, but I will always first explore what story they have behind them and then decide which one is best. 

I want our sounds to be surprising. I also want them to be topical. Sometimes I choose according to the current situation in our country or city. For example, if in city politics we are discussing changes in river crossings by boat, I mean a very famous boat with a very famous sound called ‘Cacilheiro’, then maybe this will be the protagonist sound of my next episode.

How do locals respond to you recording the sounds of the city? 

It’s interesting to think about it, but I don’t get as much feedback as to when I write something in Mensagem de Lisboa. I think there are two reasons I find for this. 

First of all, commenting on something is much simpler when we have just read a text and we have a comment box right there. Secondly, we do not promote the podcast at 100% of our capacity yet, we’re just starting.

What is the podcast industry like in Portugal?

Let’s do this exercise. I’m now opening my Castbox app, where I started listening to podcasts, and I’m looking at the most listened to podcasts in Portugal. Among the top 10, half are comedy, four are free debates on current issues and the other one is made by a great humorist in Portugal who writes essays of about 4 minutes on a current national topic. Humor, life interview podcasts, and debates always win the race. 

I would like to see something more similar to This American Life in Portugal, but I think that it will happen soon. The media is starting to pay more attention to podcasts, which is great.

There’s a clear passion for storytelling throughout your catalog of work. Where does your passion for storytelling come from?

We use this maxim a lot in Mensagem de Lisboa: informing for empathy. The more informed we are and the more people from different cultures and contexts we talked about, the more empathy will come from those who read or listen to us. The engine of all that we do is storytelling, there’s no doubt. It’s what allows us to take a story so far from our daily lives and humanize it. 

I recently read an interview in The Atlantic with Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University, the other day and he described storytelling as “a neuro ballet”. I loved this metaphor as it painted the mental dance of telling a story perfectly. 

Catarina on Storytelling

You primarily work as a journalist, when did you decide to pursue a career in this industry?

Since I can remember I have wanted to be a journalist. I never considered being anything else. It was always a very irrational thing, which I can only explain with the curiosity that has accompanied me since I was a child and the passion for storytelling. I even turned math assignments into stories in school. The teachers laughed at me but looking back, I think it was pretty original. 

Tell me about your digital publication, Mensagem de Lisboa.

I currently work as a full-time journalist with Mensagem de Lisboa, or Message of Lisbon. It is a local digital magazine based in a historical cafe. It was founded at the beginning of this year to fill a huge gap in the city of Lisbon. At the time, local news outlets in the capital were basically non-existent. 

Mensagem de Lisboa’s team is based at a local cafe. Tell me why you decided to have this as your base?

In the past, cafes in Lisbon were a meeting point for many intellectual personalities. They were focal points of the city, places where people discussed things and made things happen. Because we founded the newspaper in a historic café called A Brasileira we wanted to keep its long-standing tradition of being a powerful source going. 

Our mission is to bring identity back to our city, our community. What better place to carry out that mission than in a local place with so much relevant history? 

And to finish, what is your favorite sound?

Can I be poetic on this one? The silence. Because when we are willing to listen to silence, that is also a sound, we can hear everything else.

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