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Insider June 10, 2022 — Gossip is good, actually

Plus, it’s been a week of big moves.

I was 16 the first time I got in trouble for gossipping. The mom of the 10-year-old twins I babysat admonished me for “encouraging” them to talk about the kids in their class. (They were bored!!) “That may be okay in your house,” she said, knowing full well what a yenta my mom is (shoutout Babs), “but it’s not okay in our house.” I was more confused than ashamed because I had never once considered the distinction between gossiping and just talking and living and breathing. Maybe that’s why I became a journalist. (Who am I kidding, it is 100 percent why I became a journalist.)

Today, why gossip is good (for Defector, at least), industry moves, and what’s new with the Apple Watch.

Normal Gossip is a hit, and Defector is reaping the benefits

Defector, the worker-owned sports and culture outlet co-founded by former Deadspin writers and editors, has struck podcast gold. Features writer Kelsey McKinney launched Normal Gossip early this year, sharing juicy, anonymous gossip. The show is doing so well, reports Nieman Lab, that it is driving subscriptions at Defector and diversifying its audience.

It is really difficult for a podcast that is neither celebrity-hosted nor about murder to break through the noise these days, but Normal Gossip’s rise in the past five months is an exception. It currently sits in the top 100 of Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and Nieman reports that the show brings in 100,000 listeners per episode.

Last month, the podcast launched premium subscriptions. The $5-per-month tier includes bonus episodes and access to some Defector content, while the $12-per-month tier includes, among other perks, a full Defector subscription. It garnered Defector’s biggest one-week increase in subscriptions in over a year. That’s a big deal for an outlet that gets the vast majority of its revenue from subscriptions.

Normal Gossip is also changing the makeup of Defector’s audience. In 2021, the outlet reported that three-quarters of its audience are men. Nearly two-thirds of Normal Gossip subscribers, according to Nieman, are women. 

Big moves

There’s been so much big podcast news this week (thank god), that it took until Friday to get to the moves news. Here are the most notable:

  • Kara Swisher is expanding her relationship with Vox Media. Swisher sold Recode, the tech news outlet she co-founded with Walt Mossberg, to Vox in 2015. She previously hosted the podcast Recode Decode, which she left in 2020, to host Sway at The New York Times. (Disclosure: Recode Decode is now Decoder, which is hosted by my boss, The Verge’s Nilay Patel.) Even after she went to the Times, Swisher kept co-hosting New York Magazine’s Pivot with Scott Galloway. At Vox, she will host a new show connected to the Pivot franchise, in which she will interview business and tech leaders. In an interview with Bloomberg, Swisher did not disclose terms of the three-year deal but said she is “very interested” in owning IP. “I’m 60 years old this year, I’ve made a lot of stuff for a lot of people,” Swisher said. “I want to do what I want to do. I want to make whatever I want to make, and I think that’s a great thing.” Sway will end in July.
  • Juana Summers, an NPR reporter covering politics, race, and justice for the network, will replace Audie Cornish as co-host of All Things Considered. Cornish left the show earlier this year to join ill-fated streamer CNN Plus. (Cornish is fine — she is an anchor and correspondent for the linear network and will host a podcast for CNN Audio.) Summers, who has covered politics for CNN and The Associated Press, in addition to NPR, will start on June 27th.
  • Lisa Waks is the new senior vice president of digital partnerships and business development at audio giant Cumulus Media. Waks, who previously worked at Ted Conferences and Scripps Networks Interactive, will lead the Cumulus Podcast Network’s content acquisition and development efforts “with a focus on personality-driven brand franchises.” Cumulus’ podcast operation has, for better or worse, become best known for its partnerships with conservative hosts like Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, and Mark Levin. It will be interesting to see if the network doubles down on Waks’ watch or can find hits outside of the right-wing talk space.

Applications for Substack audio intensive are now open

As Hot Pod previously reported, Substack is hosting a month-long audio intensive for platform users this summer. Applications are now open until midday on June 21st, after which 10 participants will be selected. The company has also provided a few more tidbits on what to expect. Those who take part in the program will spend three to five hours a week in workshops, meetings, and discussions and will be given a $1,000 stipend as well as access to audio gear and services. According to Substack, applicants should have an existing audio project on the platform with at least six posts, 500 or more subscribers (or a following elsewhere than can be converted into subscribers), and “a growth mindset.”

You can now search for podcasts on the Apple Watch

The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this week was pretty light on podcast news, but there is one new podcast feature worth mentioning: on watchOS 9, users can search for podcasts by voice, swiping to text, or using the keyboard on a paired iPhone. For podcast freaks, it’s a big improvement over earlier versions of the Apple Watch, with which you could only access Apple Podcasts shows saved or followed in your library.

Have a great weekend! I’m gonna go visit some Labradoodles in Long Island in the vain hope that my husband will agree to get a puppy.