Illustration by Brian Rea
Every Sunday, readers flock to The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, where writers grapple with all aspects of love—from a woman overcoming a fear of small talk at an awkward mixer to an Indian-American woman whose breakup with her fiancé was predicted by a childhood horoscope. The column receives more than 7,000 submissions a year, and the most popular column has been read online more than 10 million times.
Now, “Modern Love” has expanded to add a free weekly podcast, with acclaimed actors reading some of the most compelling columns from the last 12 years. And three Barnard alumnae are responsible for the behind-the-scenes work to produce the program, which is created in collaboration with WBUR, Boston’s public radio station.
Jessica Alpert Silber ’03, the managing producer for program development at WBUR, handles the podcast’s production. Her colleague at WBUR, Adrienne Lavidor-Berman ’99, focuses on audience development and social media promotion of the podcast. Anya Strzemien ’01 is a deputy editor for digital styles and travel at the Times .
Actors Judd Apatow, Jason Alexander, and Emmy Rossum have read essays for the podcast, which also features a conversation among the piece’s author; the column’s editor, Daniel Jones, whose daughter is Phoebe Jones ’18; and Mehgna Chakrabarti, an anchor at WBUR. In January, its first month, the podcast was downloaded more than 1.4 million times.
A poignant essay by Dan Barry on how the death of his daughter’s goldfish—“the size and color of a Dorito”—forces him to recall his parents’ death is a humorously dark, existential journey narrated by Jason Alexander. Actor Stephen Bogardus reads “Finding Equilibrium in Seesawing Libidos” by Marc Jaffe, about how his wife’s medication for Parkinson’s disease has the unintended effect of amping up her libido. Each of the essays is transformed for the podcast by the team of audio producers and journalists at the Times and WBUR.
To listen to the podcast, visit wbur.org/series/modernlove.
JESSICA ALPERT SILBER ’03
Majors: Political science and Spanish
After graduating, Alpert Silber worked for the U.S. Justice Department and was a Fulbright Scholar in El Salvador before beginning her career in radio. Now she leads the production of the podcast at WBUR. She and her team begin by casting actors to read the columns and add music, sound effects, and sometimes silence. In her favorite episode, a mother has to sign papers giving her baby up for adoption. The team originally added the sound of a pen scratching on paper, but “it didn’t feel grounded,” Alpert Silber recalls. So she recorded the cries of all the babies of WBUR employees—“station babies,” she calls them—and layered the sound into the scene. “If you hear that baby cry, it just kills you,” she says. “There’s a human being that’s affected by this; it’s not just signing papers.”
Her Barnard Experience
“One thing I got from Barnard was the value of speaking up,” Alpert Silber says. “There’s the sense on campus that if you want to do something, you work hard and you can do it.”
ADRIENNE LAVIDOR-BERMAN ’99
After Barnard, Lavidor-Berman leapt into digital media right after the dot-com bust, finding success as a product developer focused on growing web traffic and as a social media strategist. She spent more than a decade at The Boston Globe before striking out as an independent consultant last year. Now she works with WBUR to increase the audience and social engagement for the podcast. Based on social media responses, Lavidor-Berman believes that many of the podcast’s biggest fans are longtime readers “who are getting reacquainted with columns from the past.”
Her Barnard Experience
Lavidor-Berman grew up loving radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines, and knew she wanted to work in media. Barnard helped her gain experience in journalism while still an undergraduate. “One of the best things about being a student at Barnard is great access to internships,” she says. During college, she worked at McCall’s and several other media companies.
ANYA STRZEMIEN ’01
Majors: Film and cinema studies
After graduating from Barnard, Strzemien held positions in interior design, but later went to work at Life and The Huffington Post before joining the Times in 2015 in the midst of a major digital push for the company. Now she’s the producer responsible for making sure the podcast gets published to the web and gets attention from editors. Strzemien promotes the podcast at the daily “Page One” meeting, where editors and producers advocate for their pieces to appear on the front of the website. “After a meeting filled with stories of politics, war, the economy, and obituaries, discussion of the ‘Modern Love’ podcast is welcome,” she says.
Her Barnard Experience
Strzemien credits her study of film at Barnard with helping her develop her love of storytelling. “I had incredible advisers and writing coaches, and that helped me tremendously later in my career,” she says. “Barnard really emphasizes a certain cultural literacy. Plus the sisterhood out of Barnard is pretty remarkable. You run into them everywhere. It’s a strong network of women.”