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Insider January 13, 2022 — Slate Podcasts gets a new boss

Moves, moves, moves

Hello again, happy Thursday. We’re fully back into the swing of things in the podcasting world, no more holiday break. We’ve got a people-moves-heavy edition, so let’s get into it. 

Gabriel Roth, Slate Podcasts’ editorial director, is leaving

On Tuesday, Slate staffers received an email saying Gabriel Roth, editorial director for Slate Podcasts, is leaving the company after six years to “pursue other opportunities.” His last day is tomorrow, and Alicia Montgomery, executive producer, will take over to run the podcast network. Roth didn’t provide a reason for his departure. In a comment to me, Roth said he had nothing to announce about his next move but that it’s “been a great privilege to work with so many talented podcast makers on some of the smartest and most engaging shows out there, and I know the place is in good hands.”

Slate’s spokeswoman declined to comment further.

The news comes only a week after Jared Hohlt, Slate’s editor-in-chief, stepped down. “We both decided this move was the best way forward,” wrote CEO Dan Check in an email announcing the Hohlt decision, according to The New York Times

Does this mean there’s broader change afoot at Slate? Let’s quickly recap the past year: The company laid staff off in September, which, from what I heard at the time, involved one person on the audio team. Leading up to that, Mike Pesca, who hosted The Gist, parted ways with the company following an investigation into his use of the n-word and him debating employees on Slack about using the slur in various contexts. 

We at Hot Pod naturally focus on Slate’s podcasting repertoire, but we have to remember the company also runs a digital publication, a space that’s recently been hot with acquisitions (Vox Media with Group Nine — disclosure Vox also owns Hot Pod — and Axel Springer with Politico… we’ll get back to that) as well as companies going public (BuzzFeed doing so through a SPAC). It’s a tumultuous time in all facets of the media industry. Scale’s the word, as always, as is revenue diversification. I would think Slate’s podcasting endeavors represent a sunny spot in the financials, particularly because the work not only relies on ad revenue but also Slate Plus, a subscription product. 

It’s entirely possible Roth does have another opportunity to pursue, and there’s nothing to see here, but if you think something else is up, you know how to get in touch.

Speaking of moves…

WNYC’s president and CEO Goli Sheikholeslami leaves to be CEO of Politico Media Group

Goli Sheikholeslami, CEO and president of WNYC for the past two years, is taking over at Politico Media. Her last day is February 1st, and among her tasks at the new organization is pushing it into an “expansion phase,” she told The Washington Post. She comes off of a sometimes fraught tenure at WNYC.

As the Post points out, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists filed a complaint this past May with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing her chosen WNYC editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper of waging a “coordinated and aggressive campaign” against internal critics. Prior to that, around the Cooper hire, The New York Times published a story about tensions within WNYC over diversity efforts or lack thereof. Also during her tenure, and this past year, WNYC leadership fired Bob Garfield, host of On The Media, over his violating an anti-bullying policy. (Per the paper, Garfield defended himself by saying he was just yelling.) Anyway! Lots of drama over just two years, and the organization now promises a “national search process” to find a replacement. Will it yield another Times story?

Doctors and scientists ask Spotify to take down a Joe Rogan episode

In an open letter published yesterday, more than 200 scientific community members, including nurses, doctors, and professors, called on Spotify to remove a Joe Rogan Experience episode that spreads COVID-19 misinformation. 

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” they write.

The episode in question is one we previously covered after YouTube took it down, featuring an interview with Dr. Robert Malone in which he compares the US vaccination push to Nazi Germany. 

“Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications,” the signees write in response.

I’m typically not a betting woman, but if I had to guess, the episode stays live. I again point out how interesting it is that YouTube took it down — the episode crossed its moderation line — while Spotify, which is monetarily incentivized, kept it up. (Keep in mind that one episode is likely millions of coveted ad impressions.) We’ll see!

More NPR fallout and another departure

The NPR story keeps on going. This time, the company’s own media reporter David Folkenflik is giving us the inside tea. There are a lot of moving parts to the story of prominent hosts leaving, but Folkenflik boils it down in this paragraph:

“Hosts have complained to the network’s leadership of pay disparities along racial and gender lines. Some say the network does not keep its promises and makes contract negotiations unnecessarily contentious. And several hosts concluded they were made to be the public face of NPR but did not have the network’s full support.”

He also touches on the hosting job losing its allure and unhappiness with NPR’s pay structure. It’s worth a read if you want a lot more detail about what’s happening and how NPR’s executives are thinking about retention.

Folkenflik mentions another NPR departure, too: Tonya Mosley is leaving as host of Here & Now to work on her own podcast, Truth Be Told. She’ll remain a correspondent on the show until August. “I love public radio, I 100 percent still believe in the mission,” Mosley wrote on Twitter. “This moment offers us a great opportunity if we choose to take it.”

Social audio roundup

We haven’t had one of these in a while, so I’m putting together some stories from over the past week or in the social audio world. We’ve got to stay on top of it.

  • Rest of World says Clubhouse is thriving in South Asia. The publication points out various use cases for the app abroad and neat groups forming, like an Urdu poetry club. Things aren’t all that different, though. Apparently, in Nepal, users talk about stocks and trading on the Nepal Stock Exchange.
  • LinkedIn forges ahead with live audio and video events. The company, as it’s been saying it will for months, is officially launching live, interactive audio events in beta. Video is to follow this spring. The events will be free, for now, with no plans for ticketing. The platform feels like the natural place for live audio to exist, although I’m sure anyone connected with lots of sales folks wanting to do live demos will have to log off.
  • The Twitter Spaces team is building enhanced recordings. Although the feature has yet to widely launch, Twitter says those who have access will now see how many people joined live and how many joined on the replay. Nothing super monumental but also numbers I appreciate having to assess the platform’s reach.

Facebook is apparently removing copyrighted music from podcasts

In a Medium post, Pagan music podcaster Christina Szeman discusses her experience uploading episodes to Facebook. After doing so, she realized the platform “muted 41 minutes of it,” primarily places where she plays licensed music, which she says she pays to use. Though Facebook hasn’t commented on this issue (we’ve reached out for more), I’m not entirely surprised to hear this. Music licensing rights issues spring up on every platform, including Twitch, YouTube, and even Peloton. Facebook itself has dealt with these problems and signed deals with labels. The broader story strikes me, though, because, in terms of the platform wars, this is a leg up for Spotify. The company debuted its music podcast feature in 2020, which allows Anchor creators to insert copyrighted music into their shows with no extra licensing cost. Win for Spotify, loss for Facebook.

And as a final parting bit, we have…

iHeartMedia commits to the metaverse

I hope this one speaks for itself, but if you simply must have more, iHeartMedia is specifically committing to the metaverse in that it’ll be hosting live music events in Roblox. I’m waiting on the first Roblox podcast recording.

That’s all! Aria’s here tomorrow and for all of next week. Ta-ta!