View from the UK. I’ve spent much of the last few days reading, donating, and thinking. From where I live in the UK, I’ve watched the protests and the police brutality going on in the US on my screens, and talked to friends and contacts in the industry here about what we can and should be doing better.
When you see events like this unfold from a physical distance, there can be a temptation to turn that into a mental distance too. I’ve seen people here making the argument on social media that the UK is different — that what is happening across the Atlantic right now has no relation to how we live here — and I’ve looked on in horror as even the Metropolitan Police in London tweeted in solidarity with those seeking “justice and accountability” for George Floyd.
But as reporters like Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi are showing in their vital work: “In Britain, we have our George Floyds too”, black people have been killed by police or prison officers who then faced no sanction or charge. We’re not separate from this. We’re not exempt from justified criticism of how meaningless diversity initiatives have sought to obscure the fundamental inequalities in British society and, since this is a newsletter about podcasts, in our audio industry.
As Nick noted yesterday, the current situation has seen shows about race like NPR’s Code Switch and the audio edition of the NYT’s 1619 project climb back up the Apple Podcast charts, as people recommend these podcasts as part of resource lists for those wanting to educate themselves on race and oppression. In the UK, along with these shows, a couple of British series have made a notable reappearance: Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, the experimental podcast in which George Mpanga blends fiction, reporting and sound design to tell stories about black life and culture, and About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge, a non fiction series from 2018 which sees the author and activist unpack the nature of racism today.
It’s this latter show that I wanted to dwell on for a second, because its backstory shows us something the huge amount of work still to be done to eradicate racism and prejudice in the British audio scene. About Race was produced by Renay Rich, founder and CEO of the Sony-backed production company Broccoli Content, although when she was making it in 2018 she was working freelance and independently. When we featured her in Hot Pod’s Career Spotlight back in November 2018, she explained how her new venture got its name from the response she received when pitching About Race to potential production companies and outlets:
“I learned the term ‘broccoli’ when I was pitching a series that I later made independently. The series was About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge, and while pitching it, before Reni’s bestselling book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race was published, I was told the idea was ‘broccoli,’ meaning ‘it’s good for you but no one wants to eat it.’ I was also told that it would have to be geared toward a white audience.”
Rich persisted in the face of this deeply disappointing response, and ended up making the show with a grant from Arts Council England and releasing it independently — and as far as I can see, two years on it’s still the only audio documentary series of its kind from the UK. The show’s subsequent success — and the fact that it’s now topping the UK Apple Podcasts Charts two years on — I think reveals how blind all of those who Rich pitched were to its potential and importance.
Even after About Race won awards and made waves, no other production houses followed on to make their own series in this space as they might usually be expected to do when observing a runaway independent hit. To me, that speaks to the existence of a blind spot that cannot be allowed to persist any longer.Equality in Audio update. Rich has also been spearheading the Equality in Audio pact this week, as we covered yesterday. The list of companies that have signed up to it is now over a hundred strong, and this afternoon there’s been a very significant development: BBC Radio has agreed to it too (James Purnell has done a blog!). That’s significant both because the BBC is such a major source of funding and prestige when it comes to audio commissions in the UK, and because historically the BBC has not been the most fast-moving institution when it comes to embracing structural change.
The pact is not limited to UK entities, so if you run a shop that wants to take part and do better, I encourage you to sign.BBC appoints new Director General. The BBC has today announced the appointment of Tim Davie as its new Director General. Davie was an internal candidate for the post who currently occupies the post of chief executive of BBC Studios — that’s the commercial arm of the public broadcaster that both makes programmes and generates revenue by monetising BBC properties overseas. In that role, he was arguably the BBC’s most senior executive and was also the highest paid. Last year, he reportedly turned down an offer to leave the BBC and run the Premier League.
From the sources I’ve spoken to so far, there’s been a somewhat mixed reaction to Davie’s appointment both from within the BBC and outside. Most expressed disappointment that in Davie, the BBC has chosen its seventeenth white male Director General (this one also happens to have been educated at private school and Cambridge). There were four candidates supposedly in contention for the job, of which Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s current director of content, was the only one who isn’t a white man. To put it mildly, this feels out of step with the current moment.
Davie’s lack of editorial experience also came up a lot in these early conversations — his background is in marketing, having previously worked at Procter & Gamble and Pepsi. Previous roles at the BBC include a stint managing the audio and music operation and a period as acting director general at the end of 2012 when George Entwistle resigned over the Jimmy Savile scandal. Others also had positive stories of working alongside Davie while he was overseeing audio, citing his championing of radio particularly as a standout.
Regardless, the new DG inherits an unenviable task, with the corporation facing funding difficulties, a younger generation that no longer considers the BBC the default for news and entertainment, and a thorny relationship with the current government. There is some indication that Davie might be more politically aligned with Downing Street than his predecessor (he has apparently previously served as deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative party) but he will still have a formidable inbox to tackle when he takes office in September.Four more quick things to flag before I go:
(1) Infinite Dial Canada for 2020 is out, and it shows that 37 percent of those surveyed are monthly podcast listeners, the same figure as in the US report. Peruse all the data here.
(3) Audible has signed up Steve Coogan, in his recurring role as Norwich-based media personality Alan Partridge, to make a podcast called From The Oasthouse (his name for his shed). It’s an interesting conceit that we haven’t seen a ton of in the UK yet — roughly equivalent to the Ron Burgundy podcast, I’d say, in terms of spinning a new audio property out of a beloved and longrunning comedy character.
(4) The BBC has debuted its own voice assistant called “Beeb”, which reportedly has a “northern male accent”. At the moment it’s only available via beta on Windows desktop, although potential future uses include the BBC Sounds app. I… can’t with this one right now.