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Google partners with PRX on… diversity?

The "Google Podcasts creator program" hopes to help "remove barriers to podcasting, increase the diversity of voices in the industry, and to make sure content is available for all audiences."

This is fresh out of the oven, as of 10am ET this morning: months after rolling out Google Podcasts, the search giant has announced a partnership with PRX to develop something called the “Google Podcasts creator program,” which was built with the hope to help “remove barriers to podcasting, increase the diversity of voices in the industry, and to make sure content is available for all audiences.”

According to the corresponding press release, a core element to the program involves a global podcast accelerator led by PRX — which has had some experience with these kinds of programs from its Project Catapult initiatives — that will “select global teams to receive seed funding, intensive training, and mentorship.”

Google is funding the program. The first round is set to begin in January 2019, and applications for that opens on November 18. You can find more information here.

So, I’m generally supportive about efforts like these, even if I’m somewhat wary of the slight ickiness anchoring the corporate context surrounding it. In this case, whether or not Google is truly sincere in its belief in the diversification of podcasting — which I’d like to believe is sincere! But here’s a link to Google’s annual diversity report, which remains not great — I still can’t shake the weirdness (or shadow of a trade-off) that comes with the fact that these efforts likely run in tandem to a bid to increase a feeling of goodwill around Google Podcasts among the podcast community. Not after a generation of publishers being flipped over by Facebook and, well, Google. The whole thing kinda has the feel of a foreign power building and funding cultural programs in order to boost of the image of that foreign power within the borders of another. That’s the sensitive side of me speaking, of course. The harder, spreadsheet-staring part of me says: who cares? Take the fucking money, and use it to build your own institutions.

Anyway, I offered my skepticism to Zack Reneau-Wedeen, the Google product manager and public face for the podcast initiative (who is a white dude, by the way, in case that’s relevant to you). He replied:

It’s a fair question. While there’s still a lot of progress for us to make as a company, as you note, that’s exactly why we believe this program is important. The podcast industry is just getting started, and because of this, it’s an ideal time to put initiatives in place which will help make sure future growth better reflects our world, and the people who will be listening to that new content.

We’re committed to working on this problem and continuing to improve over time. This is a big part of why we chose PRX to lead the program, alongside a committee of advisors from various backgrounds and geographies. PRX has a long history of helping promote underrepresented voices, and we’re looking forward to learning from them.

Speaking of which, PRX’s participation here will probably go a long way for the partnership. That organization — which recently merged with PRI, by the way, though that development probably doesn’t factor into this much at all, but is still worth keeping in mind — carries a ton of goodwill, as it has walked the talk on diversity lots of times in the past: a women-led executive team, a real thoughtfulness to its programming efforts, and so on. We’ll have to trust their judgment on this one, or we’ll just have to see where this trade takes them.

Anyway, separate and apart from this story, I suppose the thing I keep bumping up against with these diversification, education, and training efforts is a frustration that they tend to largely be specifically content or editorially-oriented — when, in fact, the key node of power in any media industry or context isn’t necessarily the stories or the product, but the business model.