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Insider January 20th, 2022 — Chicago’s media merger is a go

Plus, findings from successful Apple subs

Whaddya know? These past few days have been chock full of new initiatives at big companies. A handful are focused on internal change, and others are attempting to make it easier or more enticing to be a customer.

Some of the internal changes have me worried about the fate of the workers involved, and I think you might agree? I’ll start with the most positive stuff, though, then ease you into the bad. I’m not a monster.

Hot Pod Summit is almost here! We’re hosting the invite-only event on February 24th in Brooklyn, New York, as part of On Air Fest. You can see this year’s On Air Fest lineup and buy tickets here. We’ll have more to share on programming and ticketing for Hot Pod Summit in the coming weeks.

Chicago Public Media gets green light to acquire the Sun-Times

On Tuesday night, Chicago Public Media’s board of directors voted to approve the acquisition of The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, an intention that was first tossed around back in October

To appease concerns that jobs would be eliminated or that CPM might impose ill-fitting styles or processes onto the Sun-Times, both teams have reiterated their plans to operate independently and to expand their reach and operations, not condense them. In fact, in addition to retaining their current teams, the two newsrooms will each soon hire an executive editor, which will be a new role for both outlets.

What’s of particular interest for Hot Pod is the newsrooms’ shared goal of diversifying the ways they make and share their work, particularly by using the podcasting and audio chops of CPM’s public radio station WBEZ. Betsy Berger, CPM’s vice president of communications, shared this example with me of a project the two teams had already done together to give an idea of the kind of thing they intend to do more of down the line:

“[Reporter María] Zamudio published a WBEZ investigation into Chicago’s water debt that documents Chicago’s water debt crisis and revealed how Chicagoans, especially in the city’s Black communities, have racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Our story included a WBEZ.org interactive web feature, data and visual journalism, and a three-part audio series that aired on WBEZ.” 

Berger adds that the story was then featured on the front page of the Sun-Times’ print edition, a shorter version was published on the Sun-Times’ website, and both newsrooms respectively promoted it on their social media accounts and in their newsletters, all in pursuit of being “able to reach those whose lives it impacts most.” Pretty neat.

NPR member stations to create shared handbook

Now, zooming out from the midwest, representatives from nine NPR member stations will soon begin work on a handbook to align decision making across stations, specifically regarding things that arise when you’re a geographically disparate network but are trying to create consistent-sounding products. As is detailed in this great writeup for the public-media publication Current, this means determining things like appropriate language for particular types of stories, as well as how much oversight should come from a university that licenses a station’s feed.

It all sounds super useful! I’ll also say that this public focus on editorial consistency is happening at the same time that many people are looking critically at NPR, specifically regarding the treatment and experience of its workers. I hope these types of actions are part of a larger goal of getting more voices heard and establishing equitable policies; this isn’t a one-to-one response to specific criticisms people have voiced of late, but it’s something.

Also, I suppose anything is better than ignoring workers’ rights and requests outright. Speaking of, are you following what’s happening at The AV Club?

Hamstrung AV Club staffers opt for severance

Seven employees of the site The AV Club have opted to take severance instead of relocating from Chicago to Los Angeles without any pay increase, which was the choice presented to them by The AV Club’s parent company G/O Media, according to a statement from their union. This relocation policy is said to be part of converting the historically nerdy and niche publication into a site that’s more broadly focused on entertainment, and many fans are mourning the loss of The AV Club’s ethos as much as the loss of the people who created it.

Let me just say: 1) Los Angeles is one of the most expensive places to live in the US; 2) we’re in the middle of a viral surge, during which reasonable people are staying home and not, you know, traveling across the country to look for a new apartment; and 3) people just… work remotely now? So a forced relocation sticks out like a sore thumb. All things considered, these workers believe the choice they were presented with was an empty one and that they were expected to quit all along.

The AV Club has been consuming and critiquing podcasts for over a decade — here’s a best-of list from all the way back in 2010. These writers’ recommendations and takes have historically been pretty alternative, and it sounds like there’ll be one fewer place for such quirky contributions to live online, even if the site itself isn’t actually shutting down. 

Anyway. This week’s headlines from Apple and Acast are much more in the vein of customer experience — and a lot less tumultuous.

Apple Podcasts shares findings from first months of subscriptions

Apple is sharing some takeaways on how paid subscriptions have been performing, informed by the shows that have done the best. The company says subscriptions grow an audience, do better with a consistent release schedule, and perform best on a network’s bigger shows.

But the findings are inherently a little patchy: most takeaways are limited to data from the shows that have racked up the most subscriptions, so when looking at all podcasts that have introduced a paid option through Apple, it’s not actually broadly true that “one in five subscriptions enjoy an adoption rate of more than 10%,” because it’s a trend only seen in the 25 shows with the most subscriptions, an Apple spokesperson confirmed.

I suppose there’s still something to be learned from the success stories, though. For example, “[e]arly and exclusive access are the best performing subscriber benefits” — who knew? That seems like a useful thing to learn for those who might be dead-set on just offering ad-free listening, nothing else.

And Acast wants to coach you toward a podcasting future… 

… a future in which you might then use Acast to host your show? Through Aclass Essentials, a free digital resource that the company dropped on Tuesday, creators are now able to glean tips on things like interviewing and determining the proper length for their episodes, right on Acast’s site. There’s no condition that you owe your first-born podcast to the hosting platform in order to use the toolkit, but I bet some people will find the pipeline convenient and do it anyway.

Finally, what would a corporate-heavy edition of Hot Pod be without a “moves” section?

MOVES

Sachin Doshi — previously vice president of content for Spotify, then director of product for Twitter — has moved to Podimo, becoming chief content officer for the audio-subscription service. Not to be outdone, Spotify has appointed Kristiana Carlet, formerly vice president of international sales for Yahoo, to the new position of international sales chief. Lastly, Joe De Angelis has moved up the ranks of iHeartMedia to become senior vice president of promotions for the company’s markets group; De Angelis previously held several roles within iHeartMedia, including director of marketing and promotions for the New York division.

Whew. I’m personally exhausted by all this news. I promise tomorrow will be more fun. Kisses.