Red Hook Media Lab teamed up with creative partner Cereal Made to prototype the development process and produce a pilot of a podcast series designed to both entertain AND educate.

The resulting series, “Anomaly,” focuses on 17-year-old Kory Hernandez, who is sent from her home in Queens to the relative safety of the remote countryside of Illinois, after an earth-changing event causes disruption and civil war along the East Coast. Living with a host family in Keensboro, a small town battling the impact of climate change, Kory feels cut off and powerless, unsure of her place in this new world. She grapples with the question: what, and who, can you trust in a world turned upside down?

To develop this story, we applied Red Hook Media Lab’s audience-centered social change framework to model media literacy skills. Drawing on established media literacy curriculum, we designed scenarios throughout the series that demonstrate the importance of source verification, fact checking, and reasoned analysis of information. We reinforce these behaviors by modeling both positive and negative social responses and outcomes.

Scenarios throughout the series demonstrate the importance of source verification, fact checking, and reasoned analysis of information.

In the first pilot episode of Anomaly, Kory meets Skipper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type character, who claims he has information about Kory’s family back in the Queens. Her decision to trust him without verifying his authenticity or motivations sets up a series of missteps that jeopardizes Kory’s family back home and her adopted family, Janis, Frank, and Marigold Miller. Skipper serves as the negative role model, demonstrating the social consequences of failing to engage responsibility with misinformation.

Frank, Janis, and shopkeeper Lynn Vargas provide positive models for how Kory should respond to misinformation distributed via the short wave radio, as well as the peer influence to incentive those behaviors.

We also have a secondary strategy aimed at changing attitudes related to rural urban divides in the United States. In this case, Kory and Marigold model how identities can shift to become more open in who they relate to. This strategy draws heavily on contact theory, which posits that repeated, empathetic exposure to different people can generate more openness and acceptance. Part of the transition we model is Kory’s evolving attitude toward Americans from rural backgrounds. Likewise, Marigold’s transformation is designed to model the plausibility of maintaining a tight community-oriented mindset while becoming more open to an expansive definition of what it means to be an American.

Development of this series bible and pilot episode entailed extensive research into our intended audience and proven strategies for enhancing media literacy and stimulating greater openness to people who are different. With Cereal Made leading the story development and Red Hook Media Lab providing strategic direction, we then worked together to seamlessly integrate the desired behaviors into the plot and character dialogue.