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Insider: January 14, 2021 — More Follow-up to Caliphate, Descript raises $30 million Series B, Revolving Door

Quick thing. The Third Coast Festival’s fundraising campaign is still taking donations for one last day. At this writing, it’s slightly under $10,000 off the base goal, so if you’re able, consider chipping in.

Obviously, I believe in Third Coast as a great resource and community focal point, and like many other live conference-oriented businesses, they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic.(Yet more) follow-up to the Caliphate story. A few things on this front.

Here’s number one. After Hot Pod’s drop on Tuesday morning, I was made aware that the New York Times had issued a response to the letter sent by more than twenty major public radio stations expressing their concerns about the Caliphate scandal and its personnel connections to The Daily.

I added that update to the web versions of Tuesday’s newsletter, but in case you missed it, here’s what I wrote:

Shortly after the newsletter went out, I received a copy of the response sent back to the PRPD group from the New York Times, which was issued earlier this morning.

“We believe we’ve handled what was a significant journalistic lapse with accountability,” the letter read. “We are deeply committed to continuing to pursue ambitious audio journalism and have already begun implementing changes that will make our audio report even stronger.”

It went on to contextualize the post-findings episode that went into the Caliphate feed as an audio version of an editor’s note, not an accountability interview, and asserted the contemporaneous interview with NPR’s David Folkenflik as part of the accountability process. It also acknowledged the chatter around Mills, noting “You also referenced allegations of Andy Mills’ misconduct, which we take very seriously. We thoroughly review all complaints received, and will take any appropriate corrective action.” The letter also pegs its acknowledgment of the Mills-Daily situation to the timing of the episode. It does not appear to commit to any other specific actions.

I tweeted out screenshots of the full letter on Tuesday, which you can read for yourself here.

Here’s number two. Because some readers asked about this, here’s the full list of stations that signed onto the PRPD letter, at least based on the latest version that I was able to see:

Southern California Public Radio, KCRW, WBEZ, KERA, WAMU, Georgia Public Broadcasting, KUOW, MPR News, WUSF, Oregon Public Broadcasting, WFAE, CapRadio, KUER, Nevada Public Radio, KUT & KUTX, WCPN, WWNO/WRKF, Alaska Public Media, WFDD, Boise State Public Radio, Blue Ridge Public Radio, Vermont Public Radio, NHPR, and Lehigh Valley Public Media.

The Public Media Journalists Association also signed onto the letter.

Again, for context, almost three hundred public radio stations across the United States syndicate The Daily over their broadcast airwaves, the distribution of which is handled by American Public Media.

Here’s number three. At this point, it’s unclear to me what comes next in this saga, but you should probably keep tabs on what happened at Houston Public Media. The station, which is said to reach over 1.5 million listeners, has dropped The Daily from its broadcast schedule “until further notice.” In a statement sent to Current, the station said: “Houston Public Media strives to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” If you have a subscription, you should check out the Current write-up, which provides a little more detail into the drafting of the PRPD letter.

Here’s the last thing. Steven Perlberg had a pretty interesting write up of the story for Business Insider, distinct to me for unearthing new numbers on the Times audio business.

A “Times employee with direct knowledge” told Perlberg that in 2019, the audio division generated more than $29 million in revenue — almost all of it from advertising — off just over $8 million in expenses. In other words, the audio division is pretty damn profitable, and I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume its revenue only continued to grow throughout 2020… and that the standing up of the sister Times Opinion Audio business further adds to those margins. All of which is to say: the Times’ audio operations are an increasingly prominent point of business, making these controversies even more meaningful in weight.

Anyway, if you have a subscription, check out Perlberg’s piece, which is additionally valuable for offering a look into the Times’ broader internal culture is responding to all this… and to the growing audio business more generally.Descript raises $30 million in Series B. You know, I find it increasingly hard to efficiently describe the platform, but I’ve taken to calling it  “that one editing tool that lets you manipulate media files by moving words around,” which is a description that only gets you about halfway there, because doesn’t really cover the full length of what it’s able to do, what’s made it so popular, and frankly, why I like using it so much. I lean on Descript a lot for transcriptions, but I’ve also been dicking around with it a whole bunch in my downtime.

Anyway, the company’s raised more money now, and it comes not long after Descript expanded out from just being an audio editing tool into video editing back in October. That feature expansion into video opens a heckuva wider pathway for new users, given that it essentially positions Descript as being a viable tool for YouTube creators market, long-proven to be lucrative from a user base standpoint.

And from the sounds of things, Descript has eyes for more beyond YouTube creators. From TechCrunch:

Andrew Mason, the CEO and founder of the company, said in an interview that the plan will be to use the money to continue building out tools not just for mass-market and individual professional and amateur creators, but also, increasingly, organizations that might be using the tools for their own in-house video and audio needs, a use case that has definitely grown during the last year of global remote working.

“We see ourselves… as an all encompassing platform for all media needs,” Mason said…. Mason said that it’s also now seeing startups and bigger businesses using video for communication also adopting Descript tools, especially in cases where it makes more sense to visualize the answers, but the content could still use the ability to be edited.

Another thing to note about this story: the expanded pool of participants in this investment round includes Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg, Patreon CEO Jack Conte, Medium CEO Ev Williams, and Apple Podcasts’ Jake Shapiro. (Men men men men men men)Revolving Door.

  • I’m told that Keisha “TK” Dutes is joining Spoke Media as its new co-executive producer, where she will be executive producing multiple new projects and aid in the company’s efforts to grow its staff. Dutes was most recently freelancing — credits include working on Here to Slay with Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom —  and she was previously worked as a Senior Audio Producer at Glitch.

Got a new job? Tell me, would love to Let The People Know.Miscellaneous Notes… 

  • From the press release: “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has awarded Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) a two-year grant of $500,000 to advance the growth of LAist Studios, SCPR’s podcast development and production division, and its mission of addressing the content needs of young and underserved audiences.” Disclaimer, of course, that my show, Servant of Pod, is an LAist Studios program.
  • I’m told… “The Deadline Club’s journalism competition, one of the most prestigious in New York, is open for entries starting today, Monday, January 4, 2021. The 2021 contest covers work that was published or broadcast in 2020 by news organizations in the New York metropolitan area.”