Carnegie Mellon University

The Re:Verb editorial team recording an episode.

February 28, 2018

Grad Students Re-launch Publication For Internet Airwaves

By Daniel Hirsch

In 2010, a group of rhetoric graduate students, including Alexis Teagarden, Hilary Franklin, Doug Cloud, and Matt Zebrowski, launched an online publication called Silver Tongue as a home for “rhetorical criticism for the engaged citizen,” and a place where complicated rhetorical articles could be accessible to a broad audience. On its digital pages, that criticism included thoughtful and spirited examinations of everything from memes about the Arab Spring to Lady Gaga’s iconic “meat dress.” However, after a six-year-run, Silver Tongue went mostly quiet.

Now, a new class of graduate students has taken on Silver Tongue’s mission but with a new voice—literally, they’ll be revitalizing the publication as a podcast. Renaming the publication Re:Verb, the podcast will air about two times a month and feature rhetoric graduate students in lively conversation—and sometimes heated argument—about current events with a rhetorical twist. Its first episode is available at

Alex Helberg, Ana Cooke, Ryan Mitchell, and Calvin Pollak, Ph.D. candidates in rhetoric  and members of Re:Verb’s editorial board, recently answered some questions about why they were drawn to making a podcast, what they hope to do with their show, and which infamous world leader they hope starts listening. 

Re:Verb’s predecessor was a blog called the Silver Tongue, which was founded by a group of Rhetoric grad students in 2010, why did you decide to re-launch this outlet? And why did you decide to call it Re:Verb?

AH: I really like the original idea of the Silver Tongue, which was to make rhetorical criticism and humanities scholarship translatable to a broader public audience. It was – and still is – an awesome site with a lot of great content, but I think that as the founding editors matriculated through the Ph.D. program and got jobs, it became more difficult to maintain a steady flow of student involvement in writing for the blog. When rhetoric Ph.D. Derek Handley was in town last spring (at the time, he was a Silver Tongue editor), he approached Ana and I about becoming members of the editorial board to try and re-vamp the blog and get more people engaged with the project. We came up with the idea to shift the original concept (using scholarship to comment on current events in an accessible way) into a new format, and Re:Verb was born!

AC: In terms of the title, we wanted something that was short and memorable, and were playing around with ideas that referred to the idea of a “Re- (something —relaunch, reboot, re-vision. “Reverb” of course refers to the modality of sound, so it seemed to fit with launching a podcast, as well as with the “re” idea. To me it also made sense in terms of referring to the concept of an “echo” or reverberation of sound as being something that’s back-and-forth — i.e., sort of a metaphor for conversation or dialogue, as well as “responsiveness” in the sense of responding to issues, concerns, topics, events of the day. And of course, “verbs” are one way we see “action” in language, so the name synergizes well with a lot of ideas we were trying to capture.

Why a podcast?

RM: To be honest, in its nascency, Re:Verb was going to be a much larger, multimodal project. Over time, however, we realized that approaching a task of that size was too ambitious for a new project. We decided that before we could branch out into more diverse media, we needed to develop an audience and shore up our goals for the project. A podcast seemed like the best way for us to begin to do that.

CP: Since we’re used to writing proposals, conference papers, journal articles, e-mails, CVs, teaching materials, and other academic media and genres, it’s fun to express ourselves in a different way. We wanted to try something more conversational, multimodal, and collective, and we hope that this will spur more contribution and different kinds of contribution. Also, I don’t know if you’re aware, but podcasts are extremely popular with “the young people” these days, and we’re working overtime to stay hip. There is nothing more important, in my view.

What do you hope Re:Verb will become? Who do you hope will listen?

AH: Ideally, I’d like Re:Verb to be the kind of podcast that’s equally engaging for people in academia as well as the general public – folks who are well-versed in scholarship and those who want a new, engaging way to look at the world and the ways that we talk about it. In our first episode of the podcast, Doug Cloud (one of Silver Tongue’s founding editors, and now now an assistant professor at Colorado State University) puts it really succinctly when he says he wanted to write blog posts for the Silver Tongue “in a way that somebody like my dad would want to pick it up and read it.” As it happens, my dad is obsessed with podcasts, so I guess I’d like to create the kind of show that all sorts of people want to listen to, from my colleagues and advisors to my dad. (FYI: he’s given his full endorsement of the show so far!)

AC: I think we’re also hoping it will become a venue that others will want to engage with, contribute to, create episodes for, respond to...The Silver Tongue was a great outlet for the creative energy of communication scholars who were enthusiastic about drawing on their academic backgrounds to frame and understand current issues for an audience beyond the academy. I think we’re hoping this endeavor will similarly be something that other English and humanities scholars get excited about being involved with.

RM: Right now, we’re all excited to see where the podcast can go. Working on a collaborative project like this has really brought to light so many strengths that we don’t often get shared in traditional academic work. We all have so many ideas for how to make the podcast realize its full potential and how to give it a fighting chance in the competitive sonic landscape. In our immediate future, we’re hoping to develop a dedicated listening base and develop a richer sense of what people want to hear.

CP: It would be pretty great if President Trump became a listener. “Heard the newest episode of Re:Verb with Professor Patricia Dunmire from Kent State. She says we want to control the future? Fake news! But a very smart analysis, I have to say.”  

Your opening question in your first episode with Doug Cloud was “what is Rhetoric?” Cloud joked that this is the “ultimate jerk move” among Rhetoric circles. So, let’s toss that right back at you, for the purposes of your podcast, and the scope of its interest, what is rhetoric?

AC: I think we’re hoping to embrace a multitude of perspectives about not just rhetoric, but language, communication, and culture, so I’m reluctant to define rhetoric in a way that would suggest we’re not interested in the work of those who might define it otherwise or who would see their work as of interest to us -- if only we hadn’t defined rhetoric is this one specific way in that one article…

CP: Rhetoric is the art of observing in any given case the available means of defining the term "rhetoric."