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Insider: November 7, 2019

- Manoush Zomorodi is the new face — voice? — of the TED Radio Hour - NYT's The Daily picks up its first DC staffer - NPR's Up First is expanding to six days a week

Welcome to my TED talk. Manoush Zomorodi has been announced as the new host of TED Radio Hour, beginning her tenure in the spring. Her appointment is presumably the result of the “national search” for a new on-air lead that co-producers NPR and TED kicked off back in July when incumbent host and editorial director Guy Raz announced his departure from the show. (He continues to work with NPR on How I Built This and Wow in the World.)

Zomorodi will be known to many Hot Pod readers as the host of the WNYC podcast Note to Self, which she helmed there from 2012 to 2018, and then relaunched on Luminary earlier this year. She’s also a co-founder of Stable Genius Productions, which makes the ZigZag podcast with Radiotopia and explores new funding models for media (including cryptocurrency). Also — and this feels especially relevant, given her new gig — her 2017 TED talk “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas” has been viewed over three million times.

Back in the summer when the news of Raz’s departure from TED Radio Hour first came out, Nick wrote about it in terms of the mechanism of “star power” in podcasting — which is mostly seen via the importing of celebrities from other spheres to host podcasts and bringing their existing fanbase with them. This appointment is interesting precisely because the new host isn’t someone who is being ported in from another kind of media, let alone a celebrity with no broadcasting experience (which could have been a route for this show, it’s one of NPR’s biggest podcasts and thus probably an easier pitch for a famous). Zomorodi is a podcaster of many years’ standing, a former reporter for the BBC and Reuters, and she has a substantial personal following for her existing audio work. It’s intriguing to see that star power as a concept is perhaps beginning to have some meaning within the podcast world as well as beyond.

Staffing up. The Daily has recruited a new senior audio editor, who will be based in Washington DC. Dave Shaw joins from his role as leader of audio for Politico, and has also previously worked for Scripps and in the Washington bureau for NPR’s Marketplace. Shaw will be the NYT podcast’s first dedicated editor in DC, although the press release notes that assistant editor Mikayla Bouchard has been the interface between the New York City based Daily team and the Washington reporters up until now.

Of course, it makes sense that the NYT is staffing up in DC given where we are in the electoral cycle, and that there is now a full time role in managing contributions and interviews from reporters and politicians there. A reminder: The Daily now has over two million listeners a day and in September hit one billion downloads since its debut in 2017.

Six days a week. In further daily podcast news, NPR’s morning news briefing Up First is extending its run to Saturdays, with the first Saturday edition dropping on 9 November. The official release says that this is “the latest step in NPR’s commitment to providing short-form audio that listeners can easily fit into their daily routines”.

The weekend is becoming an increasingly contested space for current affairs and daily podcasts — when Vox launched Reset, a new thrice weekly tech show from its Recode brand back in September, the Sunday episode was specifically designed to go after weekend listening. Whereas publishers have traditionally seen the weekend as not a particularly fruitful time to release podcasts (listeners being out of their weekday routine, spending time with family and friends rather than commuting, say) the wisdom seems to be shifting on that. Liz Kelly Nelson, Editorial Director of Vox.com Podcasts, told Nick when Reset launched that “To us, the weekend is white space,” and it seems like others are waking up to this fact too.

A laugh a day. In further further daily podcast news, Sony Music and The Onion have announced a strategic partnership. The first co-created project will be a daily satirical news podcast called The Topical, launching in January 2020.

Up in the air. The American airline JetBlue has announced a deal with Spotify which will see Anchor, Gimlet, Parcast and Spotify Studios podcasts appear in the inflight entertainment system. To note: this is an exclusive partnership between the two companies, so no podcasts from outside the Spotify family will be available on the airline’s systems. This follows a similar deal last month with Delta.

Why isn’t Alexa better? Interesting piece here from The Verge’s James Vincent to mark the fifth anniversary of Amazon’s Alexa. Although the device has become a household name and has shipped a lot of units, Vincent isn’t convinced that the assistant is improving over time. For instance, of its shopping capabilities, he says: “It’s just not reliable in a way that encourages repeat use.”

Vincent also lays out a few other areas where new functionalities haven’t really expanded what he wants to use the smart speaker for. From a podcast perspective, I have a similar feeling — a couple of years ago, all the publishers I spoke to were telling me how smart speakers were going to be a complete game changer for them and so on, and they’ve since gone a bit quieter on that. Hmmm.