Robert Quigley had a job opportunity – so he called up a long-time friend to get her advice.
He met Katey Psencik Outka on a warm early October day in 2020 at Radio Coffee in South Austin. They sat on the patio to do what they had been doing for years – bounce ideas off each other. In 2012 and 2013, Outka had taken Quigley’s classes at the University of Texas when she was a journalism student, and they had remained friends after she graduated.
During their coffee, Quigley told her he was looking to hire a full-time staff member at The Drag Audio Production House. He had founded The Drag in early 2019 and saw huge success in the organization’s first longform true crime podcast “The Orange Tree.” He needed someone who could help guide students while also growing the organization, and he thought Outka would have some thoughts on potential candidates. When Outka suggested herself as a candidate, Quigley told her to apply.
Several weeks later, Outka got the job. Quigley could not contain his excitement, or his relief.
“I told her that she was hired like a week before she got married that fall to Ryan,” Quigley said. “And I went to the wedding and a lot of her friends didn’t know yet or if they knew, they didn’t know who I was or anything. And she was like, so he is going to be my new boss. And all I could think of is, can you start tomorrow?”
Now, a little over two years later, Outka is taking over leadership of The Drag by stepping into the role of managing director. To Quigley, this decision is similar to the one he made when he hired her in 2020. It just made sense.
“It became pretty clear to me, I think within, like, the first six months or so, that she was eventually going to run The Drag,” Quigley said.
Outka said Quigley’s decision to step down came as a surprise to her, but she deeply appreciates Quigley’s unwavering belief in her abilities. She said she is grateful for his constant support in various roles, including as her professor, mentor, friend and boss.
She said she is feeling a bit “flabbergasted” yet grateful for the opportunity to take on a new challenge.
“I’m feeling appreciated and honored that Quigley has recognized how hard I’ve been working and has been so pleased with that work because he’s someone that I respect so much,” Outka said. “For him to offer me this unpromptedly is surprising, but it’s very exciting and a little scary.”
Quigley started The Drag as a part of the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment at the University of Texas at Austin. It began with a very small team of students, limited equipment and a passion for telling stories through audio in a fresh and captivating way. Quigley’s career has followed this same pattern. It’s what he knows best: looking for the next change in the industry. Quigley said creating and running The Drag was a passion project.
“There’s nothing I’ve cared more about in my career, as far as work stuff goes, there’s been nothing I care about more than The Drag,” Quigley said.
In its first four years, The Drag has grown into a successful program, with a full staff of around two dozen students, nine released podcasts and many more in the works. It is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon that has unfolded on the bustling campus of UT. At The Drag, students and faculty alike have revolutionized what it means to produce a podcast in a university setting.
Outka was new to audio storytelling when she started at The Drag, but Quigley vividly remembers her dedication and attention to detail from her first days on the job. During meetings, she would study his work and take notes when he helped students with scripts. Her eagerness to learn and adapt to the audio production environment impressed Quigley in the same way her work ethic and innovation impressed him while she was a student of his a decade ago.
“She just soaked in everything I had learned in two years in, like, a month and was as good as I was, if not better,” Quigley said. “She just has this incredible capacity for learning something new and then mastering it in a real hurry.”
Quigley said Outka is a people person, and an excellent teacher, journalist and role model for students.
“She’s so sympathetic and understanding and relatable and has all the qualities of being a good leader that I think students naturally already kind of saw her as the boss,” Quigley said.
One specific quality he pointed out was her selflessness.
“She’s not looking to take the glory. She would much rather see a student celebrate a success than herself,” Quigley said. “She strives to do everything to the best of her ability, and her work is consistently impressive.”
After consulting with School of Journalism and Media Director David Ryfe and seeking approval from Moody College of Communication Dean Jay Bernhardt, who has been an advocate for The Drag, the decision to hand over the reins made perfect sense.
Quigley’s respect for Outka’s compassion and competence holds true in their friendship, too. Apart from Outka’s role as a work colleague and former student, their friendship is most important.
“I’ve always thought of her as a protégé,” Quigley said. “I felt like we had very similar personalities in so many ways. We’re both very driven. But then also we both have this side of us where we’re easily self-doubting and we have a side of us where we’re both super creative and wanting to be in creative spaces.”
Even once their roles change at The Drag, Outka and Quigley will continue to bond over video games, TV shows and podcasts. They will meet for dinner with their spouses and play shuffleboard. Their appreciation and respect for each other will continue to guide them in their professional and personal lives.
As The Drag transitions to this new era, Quigley will be taking on more of an advisory role. He will also continue full-time teaching at the School of Journalism and Media.
“I will forever be so proud of The Drag and what the students do and the content we’ve produced. And I’ll forever be involved in some way, whether it’s just giving advice to Katey or being a producer on a podcast,” Quigley said. “I feel like this isn’t retiring, it’s more like giving somebody who earned it the recognition that she deserves.”
The change in leadership will also bring a change in structure. The Drag is joining Texas Student Media, which comprises various student-produced media properties, including The Daily Texan newspaper and KVRX 91.7 FM. It previously had been a part of the journalism school.
Outka said one of the main advantages of moving to TSM is the established organizational structure. While The Drag has been operating with a startup mentality, TSM has a blueprint for how student media organizations should run.
“It is like we’re getting acquired by a media company. You kind of lose a little bit of that ‘we’re just going to figure things out’ mentality. But that’s really not a loss, because really it’s a testament to our success that we managed to hack this thing on our own in the Wild West,” Outka said. “And that we did so well that now we have the opportunity to have all of this support.”
The goal in combining the two approaches is to create an efficient and effective organization that benefits student voices. This includes bringing on more students and offering them leadership opportunities, similar to what The Daily Texan has done for years.
Outka said she loves to work with as many students as she can, which she describes as both her strength and curse.
“The more students I get to talk to and work with, and help and mentor – that’s the more fun part of the job,” Outka said. “I’m really excited to be exposed to a new group of students who will hopefully bring some fresh energy to The Drag and help us not be static.”
Although the move to TSM will provide support to The Drag, TSM will also benefit, said TSM director Gerald Johnson. He said many of TSM’s properties are traditional media entities – newspapers, radio and TV – and The Drag will help modernize TSM by bringing new and innovative forms of storytelling to the organization.
The Drag will be able to collaborate with TSM’s 15 full-time employees who focus on everything from advertising and marketing to business and operations. Johnson thinks this change will provide support for The Drag’s employees, including Outka and students.
One of TSM’s priorities is protecting student voices – Johnson is supportive of students having complete control over the content they create without worrying about censorship from university leaders. Johnson said he aims to provide that shield for The Drag, too.
“I think it makes it even more concrete by moving it to the space on campus where students are allowed to kind of call the shots,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that even when The Drag was a concept, the dean was already thinking it should join TSM.
“I think he wanted to allow kind of an incubation period to let it grow and blossom,” Johnson said. “They’ve been doing amazing things.”
With many podcasts in the works and releases coming soon, The Drag will continue to do what they know best: Audio storytelling. The excitement around this pivotal moment for The Drag is evident. It is the beginning of a new chapter.
“I am grateful for what The Drag has been, because it’s been such a big learning experience for me personally. ” Outka said.
With the support of TSM in her new role as managing director, Outka has the opportunity to take The Drag to new heights.
“I don’t think there’s any job in the world that exists like this one,” Outka said. “It’s been a big adventure trying to figure things out on our own for the most part. But I’m very glad we don’t have to anymore.”
Outka is still putting the final touches on what “The Drag 2.0,” as she calls it, will look like. She’s been talking to her new colleagues at TSM to get advice on how to reshape The Drag. The move to TSM took effect April 1 and Outka hopes to begin the 2023-2024 academic year with the new plans in place.
“I want to re-energize and re-invigorate The Drag,” Outka said. “My goal for the upcoming academic year is for everyone on this campus to know and be excited about what the students at The Drag are up to.”