YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS: I’ve learned that Apple has acquired Pop Up Archive, the Oakland-based online platform focused on building tools to transcribe, organize, and search audio files. Among its suite of tools was the podcast search engine Audiosear.ch, which wound down operations on November 28, presumably in the wake of closing the acquisition.
Pop Up Archive was founded in 2012, and has since grown off an extended series of seed investments and grants from sources like Bloomberg Beta, 500 Startups, and the Knight Foundation, among others. The company also has a close relationship with PRX; in 2012, the two organizations partnered up to build Pop Up’s original web-based archive system.
A quick disclaimer: I’ve collaborated with Pop Up Archive on live events in the past, and have worked extensively with its CEO, Anne Wootton. But I don’t have any additional insight into the move. (Not at this point in time, anyway.) The only official statement I could get from Cupertino said: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
That said, I’m pretty sure you can put two and two together with what’s on paper: Apple, long the dominant hands-off steward of the podcast universe, has acquired a technology dedicated to increasing the knowability and sortability of the hundreds of thousands of shows distributed through its Apple Podcast platform. This, as you can imagine, has widespread implications for the ecosystem. Apple is believed to still drive somewhere between 50 to 70 percent of all available podcasts downloads, depending on who’s measuring — it’s near impossible to quantify this with any precision — and it’s further worth noting that this news comes months after Apple’s original announcement of in-episode analytics, which was scheduled to roll out around this end point of the year following the introduction of iOS 11 in September. (Indeed, it’s entirely possible that this has already been happening, perhaps in batches.)
I’m reminded of an old Chris Morrow quote in that New York Times piece from last May: “I think everyone who’s seriously involved in this space, they’d at least like to know what the endgame is… People think there’s another shoe that’s going to drop.”
System failure. Sexual harassment allegations continue to rock the public radio system. Last Tuesday, NPR circulated a memo that NPR chief news editor David Sweeney was no longer at the network, according to Current. This development comes after Sweeney was initially placed on paid administrative leave on November 16, following allegations of sexual harassment were filed by two current staffers.
On Wednesday, Minnesota Public Radio announced that it was ending its relationship with The Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor after “recently learning of allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.” As part of this termination, MPR will end distribution of “The Writer’s Almanac” and rebroadcasts of “The Best of A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor.” This move took place a day after the Washington Post published a column by Keillor defending Al Franken against the Minnesota senator’s own sexual misconduct allegations. The Post had a syndication arrangement with Keillor for his weekly columns; that arrangement has since been ended. Keillor’s dismissal has prompted financial complexities for MPR, as outraged fans pushed back against the organization for the move, according to write-ups by MPR News and The Washington Post.
And late Friday night, John Hockenberry, the former host of WNYC’s The Takeaway, was accused of sexual harassment and toxic workplace conduct in an exposé by the investigative journalist Suki Kim, published in New York Magazine’s The Cut, where she documents her experiences — along with the experiences of several others — with Hockenberry over the years. Hockenberry hosted the WNYC show for ten years until this past August, when he departed the show for “unspecified reasons.”
Kim’s accounting is detailed and damning. She wrote:
The stories I heard can be separated into two broad categories. First, there were unwelcome sexual overtures, physical and verbal, directed at the younger women who worked on the show as low- to mid-level producers, assistants, and interns. For the most part, these women did not report their experiences to WNYC management for fear of endangering their jobs. The second group of grievances came from the women of color who served as Hockenberry’s co-hosts — The Takeaway was explicitly founded, in 2008, to bring more diverse voices to public radio. These women, his putative equals, didn’t describe sexual run-ins with him but bullying behavior that undermined their performance.
The piece contained detailed stories from several former staffers and co-hosts of the show, and highlighted acute failures in WNYC’s leadership to adequately protect its employees. Kim’s reporting also depicts a more distinct failure of the overarching public media system: one that not only allowed Hockenberry’s behavior to proceed, but is more fundamentally rooted in severe power and labor inequalities that take place along gender, racial, socioeconomic, and generational lines. This failure can, and should, be further interpreted as intimately connected to other policies and trends that create and strengthen inequities within the station and system, from low wages for interns, permalancers, and younger employees — the station only started giving fair wage assurances after a petition campaign last summer — to a lack of diversity within the decision-making power apparatus. (Even if the organization is led by a woman, as in the case of WNYC whose president, Laura Walker, has been the station leader for over two decades.)
Steven Thrasher, a writer-at-large for The Guardian, laid out a version of this argument over a Twitter thread. Here’s a partial quotation: “I’ve always felt public media is the most racist and bigoted media (because the low wages only employ rich white liberals). This story shows another ugly thing: that the NICENESS and smugness of outlets like WNYC makes them hide sexual harassment and racism… white people — stop giving your money to public radio. As employers, outlets like WNYC are mostly a whites-only, men-only bastion of bad labor practices, exploitation and denigration for workers, especially Black women.” Between Thrasher’s point here about what listeners should do with their support money and the donor push-back dynamic in the Keillor story, we can see one other crucial front to watch: the role, complicity, and agency of stations’ audiences, whose response to the episode could potentially drive a significant push for accountability.
On Monday morning, WNYC News published an investigation by Ilya Marritz following up on the case, which provided additional accounts from more staffers of negative experiences with Hockenberry, more context that includes a parallel dip in Hockenberry’s job performance, and details on the leadership’s response since Kim’s piece went live. (A WNYC spokesperson responded to Marritz citing “the station’s policy of not disclosing details of confidential personnel matters.”) The WNYC News report also highlighted the station’s public push for greater participation by women and people of color in public media, which includes the women in podcasting festival, Werk It.
That same morning, Suki Kim appeared for segments on the Brian Lehrer show and The Takeaway to discuss the matter. “Those women who are in my story are incredibly brave — the ones who came on the record… the ones who are too scared to come on the record because they all need jobs in public radio,” Kim said on the Brian Lehrer show. ”Women shouldn’t live in fear like that. Let them do their job. All they wanted to do was walk into this institution, WNYC, and just do their job, and in every possible way, they were derailed.”
Two of the women named in Kim’s piece, Farai Chideya and Kristen Meinzer, were invited to be on The Takeaway, but refused, stating that station leadership should make an on-air appearance first. The request recalls what happened when the Michael Oreskes allegations first broke following the original Washington Post story, in which NPR CEO Jarl Mohn agreed to be interviewed on-air by Mary Louise Kelly.
WNYC CEO Laura Walker is scheduled to join the Brian Lehrer Show this morning, which starts 10am ET.
RadioPublic pushes forward. In what CEO Jake Shapiro calls “the first of several updates to come,” the PRX spin-off announced that it has secured a new round of investment totaling $1.2 million, bringing on WGBH, Companyon Capital, Detour founder Andrew Mason (who is also an investor in Gimlet), and George Overholser as investors to join an initial list that includes The New York Times, Panoply owner Graham Holdings, American Public Media, the Knight Foundation, and Homebrew. RadioPublic’s seed financing level is now up to $2.8 million, about a year into its existence.
WGBH’s involvement is prominently positioned in the announcement. The public media organization’s COO Ben Godley is joining RadioPublic’s board as an observer, and RadioPublic strongly indicated its interest in further experimenting with WGBH’s “Contributor Development Partnership” initiative, described as “a national data reference file of 20 million public media contributors and a suite of fundraising services that WGBH manages on behalf of more than 200 public TV and radio stations across the country.” The thinking here is that RadioPublic is well-suited to serve as the technological link between audiences and successful member support campaigns within the podcast ecosystem. This is reflected in the company’s experiments with in-app direct donation pathways, interest in the medium’s “latent link economy,” and continued insistence on collaborating with public media organizations.
According to Shapiro’s announcement post, his company holds the vision of “creating a universal podcast platform to help listeners discover, engage with, and reward creators of podcasts.” That’s the broad view. In my mind, RadioPublic has intriguingly placed itself in a position to rapidly work on all the things NPR One seems to be playing around with with the benefits of the stretching room that comes from working outside the system as an independent venture. Which is to say, this theoretically makes RadioPublic a workable acquisition target for a public media organization — be it WGBH, NPR, or somewhere else — that’s serious about closing the gap between podcasting and the public media business model.
Anyway, it’s been an interesting year for podcast apps, or app-led platforms. As a reminder, short-form audio app 60dB was acqui-hired by Google in October, only two years after its founding, and Anchor raised a whopping $10 million in September not as a Twitter-for-audio play but as… a starter podcast hosting platform, I suppose? This entire scene is made a little more interesting with whatever’s going to happen to Apple Podcasts, and it’s something to definitely watch in the new year.
Gimlet announces three major hires. They are:
- Mimi O’Donnell joins the company as its Head of Fiction. She was previously the Artistic Director of New York’s Labyrinth Theater Company, where she served for seven seasons. The role was previously held by Eli Horowitz, who oversaw scripted programming during the company’s development of Homecoming, which is now being adapted for television. Horowitz has moved over to that television project.
- Sara Sarasohn has been officially announced as an editor at the company, confirming what I first highlighted in the November 14th issue. She will oversee Startup, and will edit other shows in the network. Sarasohn was the original lead for NPR One, before leaving the public radio organization last September to work at a Silicon Valley startup that was still in stealth mode.
- Nathan Bashaw joins in the newly created role of Head of Product. Previously, Bashaw was the founder and CEO of Hardbound, a mobile reading app that was housed in Betaworks. (Betaworks, by the way, is also an investor in Gimlet.) According to an accompanying press release, Bashaw will “develop new technologies to reach audiences on new platforms and grow Gimlet’s listener base.”
Fire. Martha, the first episode of the new mini-series Slow Burn, is the best thing I’ve heard from Slate, perhaps ever. The reason is simple: I never knew how much I wanted to hear this, and I can’t wait for more.
The premise of the eight-part, limited run podcast is the definition of a gimme: to conjure a sense of what living through Watergate felt like, and to explore how that period maps onto the current moment. Following from that, the show will likely move to link the similarities in White House dysfunction, a volatile world, and a civil society on the brink of…something. The old nut lingers, about how history never repeats but rhymes, and seeing those connections rendered is a pleasure of a strange kind, though it’s certainly no comfort.
I’m just vibing off the opening salvo, of course. I can’t speak to how the rest of Slow Burn will play out, or whether its quality will hold up over the entire series. But my ears are perked for now.
Slow Burn is officially a production under the Slate Plus banner, Slate’s membership initiative that has thus far served patrons with additional writing, an ad-free podcast experience, podcast extras, and the occasional exclusive audio series like Slate Academy. Gabriel Roth, the editorial director of Slate Plus, describes the strategy around the podcast as follows:
With Slow Burn, the plan was: Produce a new limited-run series (with higher production values than a typical Slate podcast) and release it to the public, and make a full-length bonus episode every week for members only — basically a second podcast. We thought a Watergate series could have broad appeal, and we’re hoping that some of the people who love it will be willing to pay for more.
The podcast, then, is Slate’s own foray into windowing, an arrangement that’s becoming more common in the industry by the week.
Slow Burn is hosted by staff writer Leon Neyfakh — who, by the way, also wrote the 2015 book The Next Next Level, which I enjoyed — who worked on the project for four months in addition to his usual duties at the site. Andrew Parsons serves as the show’s producer, working with Slate as a contract producer since August.
New episodes drop Tuesdays.
Where the internet bleeds into the real world. Fresh off forging editorial relationships with The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, WBUR announced a new upcoming show with Reddit called “Endless Thread,” which will deliver highly produced stories uncovered and sourced through Reddit’s gazillion amorphous online communities. The show will be hosted by Ben Johnson, formerly of Marketplace Tech, and produced by Amory Sivertson, who previously worked on WBUR’s Modern Love and Dear Sugars.
It’s an intriguing collaboration, not least for the fact this is a straight-up editorial partnership and not, say, a branded content arrangement in the vein of what Pacific Content does for Mozilla or what Gimlet Creative does for Tinder. Here, Reddit seems to be treated as a community for Johnson and Sivertson to report on, which prompts a fundamental meta-question: how will Reddit’s corporate structure factor into the allowances of what stories can be told? Reddit, after all, has its fair share of controversies, from the role the platform played in misidentifying a suspect in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing to its housing of The_Donald.
Let’s see how WBUR walks that line. Endless Thread is scheduled to drop sometime in January.
Notes from North of the Border, Part 3. I’m going to wrap this series up with three quick snapshots of the CBC, Radio-Canada, and a freelance producer working in Toronto.
(1) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC, of course, plays a considerable role in the country’s budding podcast industry. It functions as the primary provider of jobs, and its various advantages in the space come from the long-established scale, reach, and branding via decades of its legacy in broadcasting. Last month, the CBC welcomed the third season of its true crime podcast, Someone Knows Something, which would go on to drive 2.3 million downloads in the first week. (It should be noted, however, that all six episodes were dropped at once on November 6, a move that’s being deployed more commonly nowadays).
I sent over a few questions to get a better sense of how the CBC is thinking about podcasts, and Susan Marjetti, the organization’s executive director of radio and audio, sent back some responses.
What is the CBC’s perspective on podcasts? Does it see the medium as part of the digital mix, or is it something that may replace broadcast operations one day?
In a multi-platform world, we’ve taken a multi-phased and multi-disciplined approach at CBC. Podcasting has become an important part of that CBC Radio and Audio offer. It’s one of the ways we live our content strategy to connect, reflect and engage Canadians on the platform of their choice.
CBC Radio remains strong but we are also seeing new and younger audiences increasingly engage with our content on line.
CBC is leading in podcasting in Canada. Podcasting builds on radio’s strengths. It’s imaginative. It’s portable. And if anything, even more intimate a form of storytelling because of the unique one to one relationship. You put on that headset and for a moment you are transported in time and place. Because podcasting allows for new ways to engage, it encourages new ways to innovate and play with story form, and perspective. Recent studies show it’s also complementary in that it brings in audiences in addition to radio and sometimes different to the core radio service audience.
What’s the general opinion at the CBC about opportunities in the media for young Canadians? One of the bigger trends I’ve noticed is talented young Canadians crossing the border a whole lot, and I’m wondering if the CBC is aggressively thinking about that dynamic and how it’s handling that outflow of talent.
Radio and audio remains an ideas business. To ensure a range of ideas on air and online, it’s important our workforce reflects authentically the makeup of our country and communities. To that end, we are always looking to ensure in our hiring that we are creating a workforce made up of different ages, perspectives, backgrounds, and overall diversity. The CBC has launched the careers of many. In fact many of our young audio producers are behind some of our top podcasts today. Their desire to innovate keeps our CBC original podcasts relevant, meaningful and vital to new and younger audiences. To my mind our podcasts are helping to keep CBC at the forefront of Canadian storytelling in an audio on demand world.
(2) Meanwhile, in Quebec. There is also, to be sure, activity in the Francophone region of Quebec. Tally Abecassis, the Montreal-based creator of First Day Back (now at Stitcher), was recently on a panel about “the invisible Quebec podcast,” and she was kind enough to share her notes from the festivities. She writes:
- “The franco Quebec scenes feels like where the US scene was 3+ years ago. There is a lot of buzz about podcasts, but there aren’t many yet that are made as podcast-only (as opposed to Radio-Canada shows that they throw online). Some of note: Les Mysterieux Etonnants (about comics), T’es ou Youssef? (a serialized show that looked into one young man’s radicalization). There are no companies yet selling or brokering ads.”
- “The one podcast in French that actually sell ads is one published out of business mag Les Affaires. It’s geared at entrepreneurs and called Les Dérangeants. The host Matthieu Charest was at this panel and he said it wasn’t hard to find sponsors who wanted to reach their listeners (like Desjardins Credit Union, for example). He said they are at 30,000 downloads.” Abecassis would later follow up on those numbers: “Les Dérangeants aimed for 30K downloads, but are at 40K over 13 eps.”
- “Otherwise Radio-Canada just released Disparue(s), a cold case mystery along the lines of what the English side did with Someone Knows Something. It has been a breakout hit and no doubt has done a lot to bring some of the radio audience over to podcasts.”
Radio-Canada, by the way, is the franco-wing of the country’s public broadcasting operations. I was able to get in touch with Xavier K. Richard, the digital innovation coordinator at the organization, who explained the structure to me: “As the Canadian Government is bilingual, there are a specific budget for English services and one for French services, and with such budget distinct strategies. CBC Montreal, for example, is part of the English Services budgets. Both CBC and Radio-Canada share local stations around the country, but French employees are quite centralized in Montreal (where is the RC HQ), in Ontario and in local stations of the Province of Quebec, as goes the demography for French Canadians.”
(3) Miscellaneous. As with all scenes, the ecosystem is made up of institutions and disparate independent projects. Over Twitter, Katie Jensen, a Toronto-based freelance producer, flagged two such productions she’s been working on: The Secret Life of Canada and Safe Space. She also highlighted a show by The Globe and Mail, Colour Code, by Hannah Sung and Denise Balkissoon. Thanks, Katie!
- On Tuesday, Planet Money launched a new spinoff: The Indicator From Planet Money. The show will feature really short episodes hosted by Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia (who came over to NPR from the Financial Times), and it will publish three times a week.
- Digiday has a piece up on what appears to be traction among branded podcasts. “Branded podcasts are a small, pricy purchase. A full season of a branded show requires a mid-six-figure investment, and one with high production values can cost quite a bit more.” (Digiday)
- The Hill is expanding its podcast output with the daily HillCast, which will be released with two editions — one for the morning, one for the evening. Everybody wants that daily money. The site is also rolling out a new weekly podcast, Power Politics, which is an interview show.
- Heads up, local news podcast watchers: “Cranford Radio partners with TAPinto Cranford to create collaborative local news podcast.” (Center for Cooperative Media)
- The Ringer is building a documentary film division to add on to its website and podcast network. (The Hollywood Reporter)