Just over two years ago, Goshen College librarians Erin Milanese, Abby Nafziger and Tillie Yoder started their first podcast, “Just Plain Wrong.”In it, the three discuss different areas of Amish culture and depictions of Amish and Mennonite life in the media.
Although they first began discussing strictly Amish romance novels, they have recently found more enriching areas including the presentation of Amish and Mennonites in movies, novels, comics and nonfiction stories, as well as research on Amish life.
One of their more recent episodes featured Dirk Eitzen, the author of “Fooling With the Amish: Amish Mafia, Entertaining Fakery, and the Evolution of Reality TV,” who turned out to be quite popular among their listeners.
“I think one of the biggest surprises for all of us was that people actually listen,” Nafziger said. And listen they do: the podcast averages around 300 listens per episode, and the podcast overall has had over 30,000 downloads over the last two years.
They’ve also explored creating their own content in the form of quizzes, interviews, newsletters and what they call “Balderdutch,” a game where they summarize some of the wildest Amish fiction stories, intermixing their own made-up summaries to see whether the guests on the show can decipher which one is fake.
The podcast has been largely experimental for the group, allowing them to explore new content ideas and engage with their audience’s feedback, which has influenced them to evolve into new topics.
“[We’re] slowly realizing ‘oh, I don’t think our audience feels like we need to stay true to this like original idea, I think we have flexibility to look at different ideas,” Nafziger said.
“This is a hobby — we do this for fun — so in many ways we want to follow the things that interest us.”
At least once a season, the group tries to integrate a more tangible approach to the podcast.
They’ve experimented with different Jell-O recipe classics and have even tasted Amish-themed wine from a Lancaster winery. Their next plan is for a whoopie pie tasting.
Although Milanese, who had the original idea for the podcast, moved to Portland this past August, the change has not stopped their persistent creativity.
“I think a lot of our creative things just come out of brainstorming or in the middle of recording — we’ll go off on a tangent sometimes that makes the cut into the episode and sometimes it doesn’t,” Yoder said.
Over the course of the development of the podcast, the feedback from listeners shows that the dynamic between them is a major draw to the podcast — along with the content.
“I’ve also heard people say something they appreciate is the dynamic of the three of us talking together,” Nafziger said. “We try to outline what our episode is going to be like, but we don’t script it.
“A lot of it is like: let’s have this question and then we’ll kind of respond to each other.”
Although Milanese, Nafziger and Yoder bring a sense of humor to their episodes, they work to keep their discussion grounded.
“We’re critiquing but trying to come with a sense of empathy as well,” Nafziger said.
“We try to be very cognizant of the fact that we are three progressive, white Mennonites talking about a whole range of Anabaptist experiences,” she continued, “so we are not experts.
“We view ourselves as librarians, which means we like to learn more.”