‘The Orange Tree’ hosts set sail for new endeavors

Tinu Thomas and Haley Butler pose with a green background
Photo by Jesus Acosta

The Drag would not be what it is today without Haley Butler and Tinu Thomas.

In January 2019, they became The Drag’s first-ever podcasters at the start of their last semester in college. Between classes, the pair began crafting a podcast called “The Orange Tree.” It was to be a longform true-crime podcast about the murder of Jennifer Cave in 2005. 

For the next year and a half, the pair conducted interviews close to home and across the state. They created outlines and wrote scripts. Even when the pandemic hit, Butler and Thomas continued recording audio and editing soundwaves on their computers.

By July 2020, the podcast was ready for the world to hear, and the world listened. When the first episode aired, more than 82,000 people downloaded it. A month later, hundreds of thousands of people were listening to “The Orange Tree” each week. Today, the top-charting podcast has been played about 2 million times. 

In addition to producing “The Orange Tree,” Butler and Tinu helped give back to students within The Drag and the UT School of Journalism and Media. They guided their fellow podcasters and led teams of capstone students.

Butler and Tinu are leaving UT for new audio storytelling endeavors. Before they go, they have a few words of advice for young storytellers:

Take time to figure out what it is you truly want to do.

When you’re in college, you get so wrapped up in finishing this thing that you started that costs a lot of money and has a lot of pressure from all these older adults and professionals that you forget what your own passions are. If you’re at that point right now in college, take some time to yourself to try to really get back to the root of why you started in journalism to begin with. What kind of stories do you like to tell? Then every day, try to do something to get to that point. 


Wait for the right story.

Everybody is meant to tell a story. If you’re a journalism student, you will find that story that you have the perfect voice for. Please don’t rush it. Just wait for the story to come up so you can take all the time in the world to do it


Sources are just people.

“Sources are just people,” was a mantra that we started saying early when we started reporting. “The Orange Tree” was obviously one of those stories where all of the sources are kind of heavy hitters. We reasonably and naturally had a lot of nerves going into a lot of these early interviews. But after Haley and I got done with the first two interviews, we were like walking with our heads tall. We felt so proud of ourselves because we had interviewed these people that we were really nervous about.


You’re not too young to go for the big story.

As long as you do your research and you’re passionate about a story, I would suggest, just go for it. Tinu and I could have done projects that were kind of insular and as close to home as something we would have done in the journalism school, but we decided not to do that — and it wasn’t necessarily because we have the best audio skills.

No matter what the story is, if you are passionate about it, if it’s as big as the Austin yogurt shop murders and you like true crime, and you want to tell that story and do it in a really responsible way, then do it. Nothing’s stopping you.


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