The Update Issue: Gimlet, PRX/Radiotopia, Kasama Collective, and More
Plus: Arielle Nissenblatt on Blue Checkmarks, Where #PodcastTwitter Goes From Here, and Her Most Viral Tweet
Over the past few weeks, several potential stories have come my way. If I find that they’re worth pursuing, I may take a short break from producing this newsletter on a weekly basis. That said, I’ll only take that break if reporting on those stories will ultimately serve you, the reader. (Regardless, I’m definitely taking next week off to honor The Great American Tradition of placing the remains of a half-eaten turkey carcass in my freezer — “next week’s turkey soup will be delicious!” — then promptly forgetting about it until the following Thanksgiving.)
Given the above, I’m dedicating the majority of this issue to tying up a few loose ends regarding previously reported pieces, but I’ve also interviewed Very Active Tweeter (and head of community and content at SquadCast) Arielle Nissenblatt to find out whether she’ll pay for a blue checkmark, where else podcasters are gathering online, what makes something “Twitter language,” and for old times’ sake, how she came up with her most famous viral tweet.
But first, some quick housekeeping/self-promo:
I was interviewed by the one and only Sam Sethi on an episode of Podnews Weekly Review (formerly Podland); come for the debrief on my Class Photos issue; stay for the awkward drama in part two of our interview!
If you missed the all-virtual Multitude Podcasting Conference that took place earlier this fall, you can still watch it here. I interviewed Tracy Clayton and Nichole Perkins about their work as hosts for hire and moderated a panel of podcasting entrepreneurs including Shameless Acquisition Target’s Laura Mayer — but that link unlocks an entire day of programming featuring Lauren Shippen, Keisha TK Dutes, Rose Eveleth, Ashley Carman and many more. Best part? Pay only what you can afford.
If you make audio and have been featured on a podcast discussing your work, please hit reply on this email and send me the link! I would like to listen and potentially include it in a future issue. I just listened to Flyest Fables’ Morgan Givens discuss immersive storytelling (and his former career as a cop!) on this episode of Audience and it was glorious!
Alright, let’s get to the updates —
Gimlet Media founder Alex Blumberg has finally called it quits. One of the sources behind my Oral History of Gimlet’s Slow Demise had this to say:
Leading a company is hard already, but leading a media company full of people with so many ideas and opinions on how things should be run is even harder. Gimlet attracted a lot of these people, and in many ways it’s what made their shows so great.
But when everyone has an opinion on how leadership should be doing things, it’s tough. Alex wears his heart on his sleeve. At some point everybody started to see him as the problem — not him specifically, but he was the head of the company. People were like, Alex, why aren’t you making this better. I think he took a lot of the criticism personally.
I think Alex realized he didn't want to be leading the company anymore. I never heard him say that, it was just in his actions and behavior. He seemed to want to take more of a backseat position. When Lydia [Polgreen, former Gimlet Managing Director] came over, he was ready to be out of the spotlight. He was just tired of it.
Alex and Matt kind of had to play the game; they couldn't let their true feelings be known. At that point, they were pretty embedded in the Spotify team. If Alex had said, “well guys, this was huge a mistake; turns out Spotify is the worst!” we would have all given up. And even though things weren't going well, we still had hope that Spotify would figure things out.
Sometimes it felt like “kind-of Gimlet,” because people who had been with Gimlet before the acquisition were still there. But ultimately, the company had turned into something that Alex wasn't excited about and my guess is that he wanted to get back to the simple life of making podcasts.
If you have intel on Blumberg’s future plans, please hit reply and lay it on me!
In my story Unpaid Internship Rebrands as $4,000 Training, I wrote that Kasama Collective co-founders Nate and Laura Davis “had chosen the word ‘Kasama,’ which means ‘together’ in Filipino, as a tribute to the culture and people of the Philippines, where the couple had lived for one year.” I added that some might view the use of the word Kasama as an example of cultural appropriation.
I’ve recently learned that since that story appeared, the couple decided to change the name. This time the Davises chose the unimpeachable moniker “Narrative Podcasts.”
Narrative Podcasts still offers the Davises’ self-paced course (previously called “Kasama Labs,” now straightforwardly renamed “Course”), but according to a LinkedIn page, its more intensive program — the one formerly referred to as an apprenticeship and later as a training — is on hold as the couple applies for 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
The Davises have also ended production of their flagship show Shelter in Place and are currently developing a new podcast “about people who have lost everything but hope, who kept going when everyone expected them to stop.”
In part two of my series on PRX, I provided a brief historical rundown on the creators behind Radiotopia, PRX’s podcast network. As part of that, I asked readers to chime in if they understood why some Radiotopia shows appeared in the network’s “Radiotopia Presents” feed (previously called “Showcase”) instead of having a dedicated feed, like most Radiotopia shows. Three sources, who prefer to remain anonymous, provided insights on the matter. In an effort to keep them anonymized, I’ve threaded their responses into the following excerpt (if this update makes no sense to you, please go back and read my series on PRX, beginning with part one):
When I asked what makes a show a part of Radiotopia or Radiotopia Presents, the answer from leadership was “we'll know as we talk to the producer about the show.” But since Radiotopia also was resistant to specifying the difference, it did feel a little like it was just “whatever we feel like” which is the classic way to define a gatekeeper.
It seemed like the “limited run” piece was probably the most important defining characteristic. But I think a non-limited run series could end up in Radiotopia, if some undefined thing was somehow right about it.
In fact, [non-limited run podcast] The Stoop was added to Radiotopia after they presented a series in Showcase. I don't know why they didn't invite them in as a Radiotopia show in the first place. That said, I was always told that Radiotopia Presents shows weren’t considered “less than” other shows in the network. The way it was explained was Radiotopia Presents is part of Radiotopia, so these series were Radiotopia shows.
Originally I did think Showcase (and later, Radiotopia Presents) was a smart way to build an audience for limited run shows, which is incredibly hard to do when you're independent. And the thought was that the Radiotopia brand would help get more ears on this kind of content as well, since that recognition would help more people find these curated limited series.
But the lack of transparency around what Radiotopia Presents actually is made knowing what kind of show would be welcome there even murkier, which feels like it's the opposite of inclusive. And the lack of commitment to what Radiotopia could be or what PRX could be, like it was holding onto some kind of past, makes it feel disjointed and confusing to the outside world.
Another issue is that Radiotopia creators think of themselves as having a very shared sensibility; it's like, very precious, like we're making these shows that are special and intimate. Many of those shows did feel special. But that dynamic also prevented Radiotopia people from being able to see that this shared sensibility was also shutting people out and making it so that certain shows couldn’t be successful; certain ideas were not even entertained.
The big picture here, is that PRX has white supremacy so baked into what it is and how it operates, that it is almost impossible to change the fundamental things without pretty much dismantling the whole thing and rebuilding from scratch. And what that would look like is drastic: removing producers from a network, removing people from positions, restructuring so many things— and I fear that it won't happen because it's too deeply rooted.
One more thing on PRX: toward the end of my reporting for the series, a source posited that maybe one of the reasons they (and I) can’t stop thinking about the ongoing issues at PRX is because we hold the organization to a hire standard. We clearly see the potential, the what-could-have-been, and it’s hard to let that go. We practically expect fuck-ups from iHeart or Sirius, but when PRX makes a mess of things, our hearts drop. Is that fair? Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Despite reporting on MPR’s shuttering of APM Reports, along with its flagship show In the Dark months ago, I continue to receive emails from the now-defunct division alerting me to various audio projects. According to an MPR spokesperson, “we still have some shows tied to the brand that are in production and that is why you and subscribers continue to receive the APM Reports newsletter today. We are currently in the process of integrating various parts of APM Reports into MPR News.” According to the same spokesperson, there are no updates to share regarding the station’s efforts to find a new home for In the Dark.
On a related note, a reader shared some of the challenges she faced when her station produced a hit podcast:
When the podcast became a big hit, our fundraising staff had no fucking idea what to do with it. They were not only unprepared, but dismissive and threatened by our ideas because they didn't put our station in the foreground. The success of our podcast was treated as a nuisance rather than an opportunity, in large part, due to WHO we hired in those roles - individuals wed to the old, "safe" model. Fortunately, our station is small enough that we were able to go rogue and move forward with some of our ideas, but we squandered so many opportunities to earn revenue that would have benefited everyone in the station and, ultimately, the community! The whole experience was demoralizing. My colleagues and I felt like a crew of Cassandras shouting into the void.
For extra credit, check out the Transom-published Indie Audio Maker’s Manifesto, in which Hub & Spoke founder Wade Roush puts forth his solution to solving an industry-wide problem that can result in “successful public media podcasts, like APM’s acclaimed investigative show In the Dark, [being] canceled with no notice.”
Interview: Arielle Nissenblatt, Very Active Member of Podcast Twitter (And Squadcast’s Head of Community & Content)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Skye: Let’s dig into your most famous viral tweet. How did that happen?
Arielle: It was July of 2021. My dad asked me some ridiculous question and I just tweeted it. I didn’t think anything of it, but the format of that tweet is very hot in Twitterland. It's not quite a statement, it's not quite a sentence. It's Twitter language, right?
A few months before the big viral tweet, I had 2000 followers. A year later I had 10,000 and now I have about 15,500. I'm trying to build up my profile. I want to be the person that people think of when it comes to podcast marketing or podcasting or podcast recommendations. One of my goals is to be a keynote speaker; I would love to be able to charge to speak at conferences around the world.
Skye: So you have all these followers. How did you feel when you first heard Elon Musk might buy the platform?
Arielle: I listen to a lot of Bridget Todds’ There Are No Girls On the Internet. She was talking about how Elon owning Twitter would be detrimental to minority groups, women, people of color. I was definitely been freaked out by that. But I don't think I'm going to leave. I’m going to be critical of it and I’m going to ask questions. I have started to build failsafes; I've been checking out LinkedIn, I founded a Discord for the podcast community, and I set up a Mastodon account.
But I still get the majority of my interactions on Twitter and I'm not willing to give that up. I’m seeing a lot of people threaten to leave and then not really leave. Some have, though; I miss Tom Webster’s commentary on there. He’s in the Discord and he posts there every once in a while, but it's not the same.
Discord isn’t a replacement for Twitter. You need to download something and you need to actively log into it in order to see things every single time. There are so many different things that you need to click.
Skye: What I love about Twitter is the serendipity of stumbling across someone I would never meet in real-life or going down some rabbit hole I couldn’t find anywhere else. And I agree that Discord isn’t really scratching that itch for me, though I am enjoying the sense of community there. Now that you have 15,000 followers, are you worried that everything you’ve created is about to go down in flames?
Arielle: Of course. I feel sad about that possibility, mainly because Twitter lends itself so well to collaboration between podcasters. To your point about serendipity, there are so many podcasters there, at all different levels, and on Twitter it’s possible that they can meet each other and interact and end up working together on something.
Skye: I saw a tweet from you saying you felt that you were getting less engagement in recent days. Do you think the Twitter algorithm has changed?
Arielle: I think there is reason to believe that if you don't buy Twitter blue, your tweets will be suppressed. And already, the notifications are split up into three sections: you have notifications from everyone, notifications from verified people, and mentions. And there are going to be some people who only want to receive notifications from their verified people.
I don't care about the vanity metric of the blue checkmark, but I don’t want my content to be suppressed either. People who are uninformed tell me that because I have 15,000 followers, my posts won’t be suppressed even without the checkmark. And to that I say, how the hell do I know what Elon is going to do next week?
Arielle: One thing that’s interesting to me is that this is forcing some people to rethink their social media game. Sam Sanders talked about this on a recent episode of Vibe Check. He was like, if this burns to the ground, maybe that's a good time for us to ask ourselves, what do we really want out of social media?
Skye: This is a good time to ask that question. For many of us, starting from scratch could be liberating. How are you spending your time on social media right now?
Arielle: I am spending three times the amount of time I usually did on social! [laughs] Now it's Twitter, it's Mastodon, it's LinkedIn, it's Discord. I am spending more time on LinkedIn than I ever have and I’m noticing some interesting patterns in the way that people interact on that platform.
Skye: Are you inspired by what you're seeing at Mastodon at all?
Arielle: Not yet. There are a few existing podcast related communities on Mastodon and I wanna dive deeper into those. I'm just on the general one right now.
Skye: Final question: who was the Twitter follow that gave you the biggest thrill?
Arielle: Rebecca Lavoie; I like everything she says. And when Rabia Chaudry followed me, that was fun and very validating.
That’s all for me this week!
Re: How we want to view PRX, that makes a lot of sense to me now for how you've been reporting on them. As if they're a scrappy grassroots organization or public university that you're pushing to be better. But especially after the merger with PRI, I saw them as the iHeart (or similar) of public radio distribution. Who else is there now, I don't even know? And even though they're a nonprofit, they don't have an Executive Director, they have a CEO, a CFO, etc. Looking at descriptions of those roles here: https://www.tronviggroup.com/executive-director-versus-ceo/, "as a nonprofit gets bigger, it may need more top-level management positions to handle the growth in team members, operations, and resources. ...compared to an Executive Director, a CEO is typically less hands-on operationally and focuses more on strategic decisions."
And that's how I'd see Kerri Hoffman and others at the top rung. They're businesspeople managing budgets, strategies, expansion, and everything else I know nothing about. And they hire people to manage staff at every level, because if they had to spend their own time on it, they couldn't make the business function at the levels they're working on it.
And from some people's perspectives, when Kerri actually tried to connect with people at lower levels of the org and even provide a personal, nurturing presence, it was not perceived as such, and my guess is that she retreated back to the business of running a big company then -- while obviously failing to respond to her staff in the way they needed.
Unrelated, any chance that sexism is at play here a tiny bit? We're wrapped up - rightly so - in diversity issues elsewhere. But I wonder if she were someone else if her businesslike/transaction-like soundbites that have been pulled wouldn't seem so heartless, since women are supposed to be more caring-sounding. I don't know. I'm playing devil's advocate a bit here. But I do wonder if she's been railroaded a bit and is doing what CEOs do, and is facing the wrath of the uber-liberal underpaid audio producer networks (of which I'm a part!) who would never think to/feel free to take a white person's side on an issue involving race.