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Insider December 10, 2021 — Farewell, CYG

Hello, more dailies

Now that the word “girlfriend” is firmly planted in my brain, I thought this would be a good time to remind y’all to pitch me all things queer! If that describes you, if that describes your show, if that describes a trend in production that you’ve been noticing or have been a part of, I’m here to hear. Serendipitously, I already received a lovely one yesterday; keep ‘em coming.

Okay, now on to the friendly use of the word.

Call your girlfriend! That breakup is actually happening

A week ago today, the hosts and producer of Call Your Girlfriend shared their decision to end the show, and the announcement cast a gloomy hue. Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman, and Gina Delvac have been making the podcast independently since 2014, and Sow explained that the ideal balance of running one’s own show — creative freedom, a reasonable production pace, and life beyond work — has become less attainable over time, as both they and the podcast industry have continued to set higher standards for what a podcast should be. 

“The business has evolved. The space has evolved. The podcast space today is not what it was in — when did we start doing this? 2014? It’s professionalized in a way that, for me at least, for my own goals and how I like to be a healthy, whole human being in the world, is not for me,” Sow says during a 40-minute episode explaining the winddown.

Call Your Girlfriend has changed formats and sprouted derivative projects during its lifetime; importantly, though, that all happened without pressure from a stake-owning company or podcast network. Yet, it was still draining. One assumes that in an increasingly competitive and corp-dominated world, even more creators will be expected to expand and accelerate, but maybe increasingly out of feelings of necessity, rather than primarily feelings of interest. Over the course of seven years, Friedman and Sow’s public-facing friendship yielded a podcast, live-audience recordings, event appearances, a jointly written book, and a relatively gentle conclusion to it all — what will be the lifespan of teams in an increasingly pressurized field?

Obviously, it’s possible to skip corporate oversight; just because Roman Mars and Gimlet have new(ish) daddies doesn’t mean everyone will — or should. Shows can be independent or part of smaller networks and still make money if that’s the goal (though I personally think that should always be the goal, if only to reimburse people for their time, the way other work does). If you have a sunnier outlook that extends even beyond this, I’d love to hear from you. Optimism is welcomed.

More dailies try to make their mark

There’s been extra buzz about The Daily recently: amid Theo Balcomb stepping down as executive producer and the Times getting flak over Exxon’s ads, the podcast itself once again topped year-end charts. It’s fitting, then, that a couple other publications are taking this time to really commit to their own daily shows and strategize how to make them stand out.

Jazmín Aguilera, formerly of The Cut, is the Los Angeles Times’ new head of audio as of last month, and she’s been tasked with molding and growing the publication’s daily show that just launched in April 2021 (and has the mouthful of a title The Times: Daily News from the L.A. Times). Aguilera was recently quoted in a Digiday article as saying that “a tone and a vibe that isn’t so stressed and harried and so intense” is missing from the current daily-news landscape, and it’s what could make a newer show stand out. Since that’s the vibe that’s associated with the West Coast, she says it puts her team at an extra advantage.

Meanwhile, Reuters is planning its own daily show and ostensibly taking a different approach. John Hyland, global editor for “packaged video,” wrote on LinkedIn that the company will start recruiting people in 2022 to produce a new daily news podcast that he says will be “high profile,” and since Reuters is known for its international scope, I predict that will be its trademark.

Someone’s voice went viral — now what?

There’s no monetization system for viral audio on TikTok — but maybe there should be. As Kate Lindsay pointed out in the newsletter Embedded on Tuesday, some users started to take issue with this lack of payment, particularly because of the story behind one recent viral sound. The audio, which gained enough popularity for Lil Nas X and Avril Lavigne to lip-sync to it, features a man named TJ, who is experiencing homelessness.

People did eventually “compensate” TJ in a way by making a GoFundMe campaign to help rehouse him, but that makes the situation pretty anomalous. Lindsay posits that maybe paying TikTok audio creators should be the norm, with TJ’s situation sparking a conversation about the idea of credit and compensation. It’s yet another recent example of people asking to be paid for specific contributions to spoken-word audio.

I’ll generally note that, while TikTok is a newer thing, the story of TJ is reminiscent of a very gross trend from last decade of taking news recordings of Black interviewees talking about local events or crimes, then turning them into songs. It — at the absolute least — perpetuated inaccurate assumptions about non-white neighborhoods, and it yielded fame and respect for the remixers, but generally not the original sources. A recent episode of the podcast Endless Thread focused on a man named Charles Ramsey, who went viral because of a video by The Gregory Brothers called “Dead Giveaway.”

More Hollywood types move in

The production company Imagine Entertainment now has a podcast division, with six series coming in the next two years through iHeartMedia. The studio produces film (Apollo 13, The Nutty Professor) and television (Arrested Development, Empire) and, importantly, also documentaries, which are the most aligned with what they’ll be doing next since the forthcoming podcasts are said to be unscripted. Add this to the cinematic roster joining the podcast industry: Ava DuVernay and J.J. Abrams also recently announced podcast commitments, both exclusively in partnership with Spotify.

And some (non-Hollywood) moves 

… though the first one definitely has a Hollywood tinge. Melissa Srbinovich is the new senior director of institutional fundraising at PRX, coming from a similar role at the Sundance Institute, the nonprofit that puts on the film festival. Also at PRX, Brian Teague started as the director of prospect research, and Gina James moved into the newly created role of VP of strategic impact. For another newly created position, The Podglomerate hired Joni Deutsch; she will be the company’s first VP of marketing and audience development, previously serving as a podcast manager at WFAE, an NPR affiliate in Charlotte, NC.

Hope this gave you some stuff to chew on. If not, I recommend Trident — it’s the best for bubbles, for sure, especially two sticks at a time.