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Insider: March 12, 2021 — Infinite Dial 2021, And I’m Your Host (and Producers)… of Self Evident

NICK NEWS. Yo yo, Nick here, jumping in for a bit with a few things…

Infinite Dial 2021. The annual survey report drop is always cause for occasion here at Hot Pod, and I plan to write this up more fully on Tuesday’s newsletter. In the meantime, though, here are the five things that struck me the most on the podcast front…

  • Continued growth on almost all audience sizing metrics. Podcasting familiarity is now an estimated 78% of total US population 12% (est. 222 million), up from 75% last year; monthly podcast listening is now 41% (est. 116 million), up from 37%; and perhaps most strikingly, weekly podcast listening is now 28% (est. 80 million), up from 24%.
  • Here’s the more granular measure of habit: this year, US weekly podcast listeners is found to average eight podcast episodes in the last week, up from six podcast episodes, which was what last year’s survey found.
  • US podcast listenership has become more ethnically diverse, with the report noting that it “now very nearly reflects the diversity of the US population,” with particular gains among Hispanic listeners. The report also observed that “the composition of female listeners reached an all-time high” this year.
  • So, I find this pretty interesting: in terms of the age of monthly podcast listeners, the 12-34 age bracket and 55+ age bracket grew in terms of their shares of the overall monthly listenership, while the 35-54 bracket shrunk compared to five years ago. Hm!
  • Finally, a finding that reflects off the broader state of play: “Spotify has solidified its spot as the largest single-source for online audio, and has played a role in the growth of podcasting (especially with younger listeners).” The Swedish audio streaming platform leads in all important categories: Online Audio Brands Listened to in the Last Month (29% of US population 12+, with Pandora in second place at 20%), Online Audio Brands Listened to in the Last Week (25%, with Pandora and YouTube Music sharing second at 14%), and Online Audio Brand Used Most Often (31%, with Pandora in second at 18%).

Keep in mind: all this should be read through the lens of the Pandemic Year.

Okay, again, I’ll blurb more on Tuesday. In the meantime, go through the whole report here. My nerd brain cells are tingling.

One more thing… From the website formerly known as Business Insider: “Amazon’s ad boss, Alan Moss, told advertisers that the e-commerce giant plans to roll out ads in podcasts.” I still don’t have a sense if they have a clear plan, but I’d take them at their word very, very seriously. Amazon advertising is the darkest of horses.

Okay, onto Aria.And I’m Your Host (and Producers)… of Self Evident. The podcast Self Evident serves to interrogate, expand, and explore what it means to be Asian American, and before one even listens to the content, details about the show support a consistent idea — that many voices are needed to accomplish this task. Not only does Self Evident rely on a group of advisors in addition to its nine-member team; there’s also space on the show’s site to credit past members alongside current ones. There are many voices, and the team has made room for them.

Each of these elements on its own signals a collaborative creation, and there’s yet another part of Self Evident that supports this: a multi-hundred-member panel that the show’s creators consult for input and feedback. But even taking in the vast differences that these members bring to the table, the creators acknowledge persisting gaps, and they say as much: “While we also intend to present stories from Pacific Islander and indigenous communities, we acknowledge that these stories are immensely diverse in their own right,” the site reads, before inviting both listeners and reporters who belong to these groups to collaborate with the Self Evident team, in pursuit of the most comprehensive coverage possible.

Read on to learn about the people behind this show. I think you’ll find that, both in and beyond the team’s choice to collaborate on this exercise, the ethos of Self Evident is everywhere.

Note: This interview includes mentions of anti-Asian violence.

Hot Pod: What’s a question you always find yourself asking sources that feels unique to your approach to telling a story?

James Boo, Managing Producer: Honestly, my most frequently repeated questions are the least original. I mean simple follow-up questions that create more room for the other person to sculpt and fill, like “What do you mean by that?” or “But why? I’m not sure I understand.” But one thing that does feel specific to us is almost every recording takes place between Asian Americans, for an Asian-American-owned show. Even with all the diversity the term “Asian American” entails and often obscures… when Cathy or I get into a recording with someone, we try to create space for a kind of self-representation that isn’t centered on white people, spokespeople, or solutionism. I hope that leads to more real talk and enables less self-censoring and code-switching and myth-making than we might hear if I were working for a more entrenched show or trying to productize Asian identity. I think the interviews and conversations we recorded when covering community responses to anti-Asian hate, in particular, enabled some really lived-in moments — a son summoning the warmth of his recently deceased mother, or old friends joking around on the emptied streets of Chinatown — that I feel like we earned.

HP: If someone asked you that same question, how would you answer it?

JB: If someone’s encouraging me to share a deeply personal, potentially painful, or exposing experience, then I expect them to guide me pretty thoughtfully with their follow-up questions, because who actually wants to dissect any of the hard stuff unprompted? For example, one fact about myself I’ll sometimes share is that a gang of neo-Nazis once attempted to stab me to death. I actually use that as an exercise when coaching hosts, to see how they handle converting a “live grenade,” so to speak, into an insightful exchange. I personally would never proactively go into detail on this, because that’s pretty exhausting. But if the person who’s talking with me has a compelling motivation for wanting to hear more, then they’ll reveal that motivation in how they ask the next question and pursue details. Then I’ll decide how to respond. To dig into someone’s life like that means you will be judged by how you make the request. Nobody wants their trauma to be extracted, but everyone appreciates when space is created for them to do a little breathing through something that made them feel. As interviewers, we should do more of the latter.

HP: Which story that you’ve reported have you been the most attached to?

Cathy Erway, Host: Definitely the fruit episode, “Saving the Seeds,” for Self Evident. It’s a topic that I had wanted to report on in some fashion or another for a long time, and I love how the podcast format gave so much insight into the people in that story that I would have never gotten otherwise.

Julia Shu, Senior Producer: Hmmm… our second episode, which unpacked the term “Asian American,” was hard because of how personal and critical it felt. I think in some ways, our whole podcast is constantly rehashing what “Asian American” means or doesn’t mean, because it’s such a powerful and yet such an insufficient term. I was super stressed about trying to show so many different experiences and perspectives and say something meaningful about it all. That episode is definitely far from perfect, but producing it got a whole lot easier once I started thinking about it as the beginning of our conversation on the topic, not a comprehensive history or definition.

HP: Who’s made you the most nervous to interview?

CE: For Self Evident… I think it was our very first interview guest, Rani Bagai, in our very first episode, “Whose Dream Is This Anyway?” because she has been so important to sharing her grandparents’ story. Her grandfather, Vaishno Das Bagai was written about in Professor Erika Lee’s book, The Making of Asian America and plays a poignant role in the history of Asian Americans. Her grandmother, Kala Bagai Chandra, played an even more pivotal role over the decades and actually just recently had a street named after her in Berkeley, California. I am going to leave it at that, for you to look up why that is… or better yet, listen to the Self Evident episode and check out the South Asian American Digital Archive to find out!

JS: One time I was working on a story about abortion access and had an interview scheduled at a pregnancy counseling clinic (the kind that just exists to obfuscate real information about abortion). I was so nervous about the interview, but when I showed up, mic and recorder out, they turned me away at the door and refused to talk. So… not great for my story! But I didn’t actually have to face the interview.

HP: Ask yourself one question that you want to be asked. Then answer it.

CE: Hm, let’s see. I would love to be asked what it’s like to be mixed race, because purely on a cultural level in America, I feel like this is not discussed enough. I feel that people who are mixed race still feel very alone, very alienated, and very pressured to choose sides, because when it comes to a national discourse on race, we still talk in terms of black and white, largely. It is complicated talking about mixed heritages in almost every category of media you’re going to encounter, so I understand why! But yeah, asking people who are mixed is a start, I guess!

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James Boo is an independent story producer and good work guy who still listens to third-wave ska with a deep and abiding sense of liberation; Cathy Erway is a food writer and podcast host whose books include The Food of Taiwan and Sheet Pan Chicken; and Julia Shu is a freelance podcast producer and editor who knits late into the night while listening to scifi and fantasy stories.Revolving Door. Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.