Buzz No 21, Podcast News July 23-29

Each week in Buzz, we’ll give you a roundup of our favorite podcast reads from around the internet.

July 26, 2015: Dino Grandoni from The New York Times’ “Ads for Podcasts Test the Line Between Story and Sponsor”

The uptick in popularity has made podcasting a rare cause for optimism in serious journalism. Podcasting often offers an in-depth form of reporting that advertisers want to pay for and that is attracting talent largely from radio.

Behind much of podcasting’s growth, though, is the embrace of ads in which hosts gush over products or even do reporting for advertising spots. That has led to a clash between those coming from public radio and those with a commercial radio background, with some expressing concern that journalists, who rely on trust, are using their position of confidence to push products.

As a reader, if you’ve discovered native advertising in a magazine, it’s the equivalent of turning your beloved copy of Wired into an inflight magazine, a bazaar for hawking tech goodies. In podcasting, though, it’s a different animal. The ads run separately from content, rather than being the content. But the mere fact that they are read by the podcasters creates a serious bit of controversy, especially when it comes to unbiased reporting. I shrug my shoulders at most ads, and I skip nearly all television commercials, yet I frequently listen to host-read sponsor segments in podcasts. Advertisers know this about us, and it’s been written about a few million times before, but it’s still hard to find the grey place between ethics and a cash grab. For us to distrust podcast hosts, we must believe they’re reading copy and have somehow allowed the sponsor to creep into the editor’s office. The bottom line is that paid segments make hosts uncomfortable. They make listeners uncomfortable. Where does this leave us? 

July 28, 2015: Jay Allison from’“Advertising, Podcasting and Public Radio”

I confess, though, to feeling uncomfortable hearing public radio people in the role of pitch-person for product, since I’m counting on them for something else. It messes with their identities. Public radio has incubated human-scale sensibilities that are honest and real and even good-hearted. Advertisers are trading on this. I’m not so much worried about podcasters “tricking” listeners, but do worry about producers considering advertisers as their priority.

Radio producers and writers are hashing out the podcast advertising dilemma with a renewed intensity this week. Jay Allison, a long time radio professional and producer of The Moth Radio Hour, worries that the wall between podcast mission and host personality will crack. Shows may soon–if they aren’t already–tailor their content to specific sponsors and not the other way around. It’s a well argued point. Allison is plugged into the nuance of podcasting and how each show aims for something different. What he’s talking about here is the journalism in podcasting. He’s careful not to impugn entrepreneurs–such as people who have a comedy podcast that has nothing to do with journalistic integrity–yet the future of podcasts is inexorably linked to startups. To me, we should be clear that podcasts that report must be held to a higher standard. The others? I don’t think they should be lumped into the conversation. Also, it’s true that a fair amount of popular shows come from public radio veterans, but are they really a majority? Allison believes old guard radio people are holding the line on podcast journalism–they’re fighting the good fight against intrusion by sponsors. Allison is dead right about the importance of journalistic non-bias, but the whole argument about public radio versus startups is moot. Entrepreneurs have already taken over.

July 28, 2015: Linda Holmes from’s “Tina Fey Accidentally Explains How Netflix Is Like Podcasting”

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt producer and co-creator Tina Fey talked quite a bit during the session about the differences between working for broadcast TV (as with 30 Rock) and working with Netflix, and some of the advantages for creators of getting outside the boundaries of network TV.

In a talk at the Television Critics Association press tour this week, Tina Fey explained a few small beefs she had with traditional television. Now writing for Netflix with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fey no longer has to spend days editing down an episode to fit the network’s 21-minute sitcom window or field complaints from unsuspecting viewers offended by 30 Rock‘s riskier, publicly-broadcasted material. It makes sense to liken Fey’s comments to the differences between podcasts and broadcast radio, as Linda Holmes does in citing Serial and NPR. As podcasting comes into its own, people keep trying to create a clear definition of why it exists aside from public radio. Until recently, it was regarded as radio’s chatty in-law that wanted to be on air but didn’t quite have the chops. Now, though, people who could easily get a radio show–such as Sarah Koenig for Serial or Alex Blumberg for StartUp–are seeking out the podcast medium because it offers freedoms the traditional platforms just don’t. If you’ve been charting Netflix’s meteoric rise, it’s not too hard to imagine podcasting on the same trajectory. Podcasts might be late to the party, but fashionably late isn’t really late at all.

Spoken to host AMA-style discussion with The Allusionist‘s Helen Zaltzman

On Tuesday, August 4, 2015, Spoken will feature an online listening party with Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist.

In case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago, tech startup Spoken facilitated a discussion with podcast producer Benjamen Walker and listeners. We love the idea of creators and listeners interacting and geeking out about content. We caught up with Spoken’s Amir Shaikh this week to chat about their plans, and it looks like we can expect more of these meet-the-podcaster events. The next one will be this Tuesday, August 4th, at 3 pm EST with Helen Zaltzman, the host of The Allusionist (as well as co-host of Answer Me This!) to talk about her most recent episode, “Step Away” (which we enthusiastically recommend). We know from personal experience that Helen is a complete delight, so don’t miss this chance to spend a little time with her and find out how she creates the magic.

Cast Party and Tape Fest kicked off this past week

This week podcasters escaped their sound-proof production studios and ventured out onto the mainstage with two live events: Tape Fest and Cast Party. If you were lucky enough to catch either show, you now know that their creativity extends beyond making radio. We have a lot to say about these outstanding events, and we’ll have a full wrap-up on the site soon. In the interim, we’ve loved to hear what you thought!



Author Description

The Timbre brings thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis to podcasts and the larger culture of podcasting.