Episode 31 – “PRISM: NSA’s Information Net” – by Rishabh Gharekhan

Runner-Up; Undergraduate: “Excellence in Podcasting” Competition

Sponsored by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and the Office of Immersion Resources.

With secrets at stake and lives on the line, where does the United States government draw the boundary between privacy and protection? In this episode of VandyVox, Rishabh Gharekhan produces a think piece that debunks myths, reinforces facts, and compares competing stories surrounding Edward Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency (NSA) data leak. He was awarded runner-up in the undergraduate category for the Excellence in Podcasting competition.

Opening with audio reminiscent of a picturesque beach vacation, Rishabh induces a sense of relaxation with the sound of waves crashing on the shore. This cold open purposefully juxtaposes the life Edward Snowden traded for one of intense scrutiny, on the run from his home country, in name of privacy protection. Making the most of transitions, he deploys a set of revolving newsreel highlights from June 6, 2013. Utilizing historical TV clips as transition audio transforms the podcast’s time and place, giving the audience the impression that they’re flipping through channels and learning about Snowden’s astounding reveal for the first time. Further, brooding background music sets an atmosphere that makes the listener feel like they’re a spy receiving the debrief for their next mission. These are all examples of notable ways Rishabh skillfully incorporates audio to accentuate his content.

In addition to supplementary sound, informational scaffolding is another stronghold of Rishabh’s audio so that it’s accessible to experts and amateurs alike. He begins by communicating the basics, asking the question “Who deserves our data?” and breaking down the key players who may be involved, such as the government, industries, consumers (self), or some balance between them. Scaling up, he offers the listener some historical context to privacy and protection laws, describing how cascading events in post-Watergate policy tipped the scales of privacy in favor of surveillance, leading to the creation of the NSA’s Planning tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization, and Management (PRISM). By providing historical context, the listener is primed to dive deeper into the denser aspects of PRISM operations and chronological events that follow Snowden’s data leak.

Pulling back the curtain behind the PRISM, Rishabh provides an in-depth analysis that’s still accessible to the average privacy and protection novice, building further credibility between himself and the audience through direct references to federal policy and relevant newscasts. He extends this trust as he highlights the potential for long leash interpretations within the PRISM program, citing the language in section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that requires “reasonable suspicion,” for a defining target, or the meager  51% confidence interval for determining whether a someone was foreign or an American citizen. After scaffolding listener learning to an understanding of PRISM’s creation and wide operating range, Rishabh then builds a burgeoning for how the data collected by the NSA was being used, one step further into uncertainty.

Rishabh employs a tool to make even complex, non-verified theories about the inner workings of our nation’s top security agency palatable to a larger swath of people: analogy. As he covers multiple theories by top techs, he relates the process to a relatively ubiquitous experience, retrieving candy from a vending machine. As the information gets dicey, he maintains impartiality, quoting a variety of key players, top tech companies, bipartisan government officials, the director of the NSA, and former President Barak Obama, even playing a soundbite of his response when asked about these intelligence operations while in office. Though competing comments may cause perceived truths to sway in credibility depending on which characters you believe, Rishabh’s supported audio solidifies his integrity as a reporter, storyteller, and podcaster.


When opinions are across the board, strategic informational scaffolding like Rishabh’s helps hosts communicate organized facts. Convey your content with precision:

The IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College offers free, online resources related to implementing instructional scaffolding:

  • https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/sca/cresource/q1/p01/


In this tale of traitor vs. hero, Rishabh tells of twists and turns that keep the audience locked in. This Forbes article outlines the key components to achieve effective podcast storytelling.

“The Power of Podcasting For Telling A Story” by Carrie Kerpen

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/carriekerpen/2020/03/11/the-power-of-podcasting-for-telling-a-story/?sh=1654323c2fb4


Catch your audience off-guard to capture their attention, the way Rishabh has the listener standing in the sand. Try introducing your podcast with a cold open:

Scroll through Tallie Gabriel’s “Show Bites: Hook Your Audience With a Cold Open,” on Marketing Showrunners:

  • https://www.marketingshowrunners.com/blog/show-bites-hook-your-audience-with-a-cold-open/


Rishabh’s soundbites of newsreels, speeches, and beaches transform the listener’s timeline. Add and edit sounds for free using Audacity, then publish for free on Anchor:

Audacity, a “free, open source, cross-platform audio software”

  • https://www.audacityteam.org/

Anchor, a “free, beginner-friendly platform for podcast creation,”

  • https://anchor.fm/


Written by Kaelyn Warne, Teaching Affiliate at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching