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Two Notes on the News Podcast Front

Two Notes on the News Podcast Front

(1) Unless you’ve been on complete media lockdown — in which case, why are you reading this newsletter? You’re on lockdown, bro — you probably heard the big news about FBI Director James Comey’s sudden and controversial dismissal on late Tuesday evening, and in a pattern concordant with strategies implemented during the breakneck-nonstop-why won’t it end pace of the 2016 presidential election cycle, various news podcasts moved to roll out emergency episodes to cover the breaking development. On my feeds, FiveThirtyEight and NPR Politics were the swiftest on the trigger, dropping episodes fairly late into the night.

I’m thinking about how all of this impacts the political podcast framework last summer, in the edition titled “Can a political podcast avoid being overtaken by events?” Specifically, I’m trying to work through whether how the value, limitations, and available moves of the political podcast — including their option of the emergency episode — have changed now that we have two daily morning news podcasts at our disposal — NYT’s The Daily and NPR’s Up First — which provides an additional layer to the choices I’m able to make as a listener that’s trying to process the chaotic, confusing news. I’m going to be thinking on this more and asking a few questions for next week’s newsletter, and if you have any opinions on this matter, I’d love to know.

Two further questions are also on my mind: how have download levels changed for emergency pods over the past year? And how do these emergency pods typically fare compared to the normal weekly episodes of the same show?

(2) While we’re on the subject of the NYT’s The Daily, I’ve been noticing some rumblings around the edition last week on the issue of free speech on college campuses, with particular emphasis on recent developments in Middlebury Collegeand UC Berkeley. It hasn’t quite been the swell of frustration I saw around that interview with the West Virginia coal miner — which warranted its own Slate article— but the critique has largely come from a similar place, in that the podcast episode seems to further the perceived errors/misunderstandings/issues that were present in the Times’ original print reporting of those developments: a certain move towards the famed position of journalistic objectivity that allegedly ended up lop-sidedly distributing power between the two positions, a framing that underplays the nuances of one side’s arguments, and so on.

The connection between the podcast arm — which is distinctly human above all of other platforms — and the news organization’s institutional voice/view is something that I’m watching closely over time, and I’m still forming my broad thoughts on that construct. But one thing that’s become apparent to me: when a podcast is done well, the person — or the institution — very much becomes more of itself, it seems.

A Reading List

I moderated a panel on Tuesday about the way in which a few recent major podcast projects — Missing Richard Simmons, S-Town, and Mogul — function as pieces of biography, and I’m told it went pretty well. I certainly enjoyed doing it, and I’m trying to turn the conversation into a write-up either for Vulture or for us here in Hot Pod depending on whether I can transcribe the conversation off the shoddy recording I set up by plunking my iPhone, with a recording app running, in the side of the room.

Anyway, in the meantime, here’s the reading and listen list that the panelists and I assembled for the benefit of the attendees, which I think is super interesting.

Some things I’m checking out…

  • Ben Thompson’s latest tackles the economics of local news, and true to form, it’s fantastic.
  • Amazon is apparently set to control 70% of the voice-controlled speaker market this year with the Echo, per TechCrunch. How does the Echo Show factor into all of this? The categories, they blur.
  • Only 46% of Americans’ “TV Screen Time” is spent on linear programming — that is, the traditional non-on-demand way of doing things, according to the IAB. That’s useful to keep note of.
  • Also, thirty years ago today: WHYY takes Fresh Air with Terry Gross national for the first time in its current form. Whip out the cake.