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Insider: October 30, 2020

PRX investigation findings NPR podcasts to radio Political podcast spending... and more!

PRX’s external investigation has reported. An excerpt of an external investigation into allegations of systemic and specific racism at PRX has been published, and can be found on the organisation’s Medium page here. A reminder: this work was carried out by Boston law firm Prince Lobel Tye LLP at the request of PRX’s Board of Directors after a departing Black employee, Palace Shaw, shared a letter detailing her negative experiences while working there. I recommend refreshing your memory with our full report at the time, and reading Shaw’s letter in full again, alongside the investigation’s findings.

Bearing in mind that only an excerpt of the report’s summary has been made public, it is still possible to gather a sense of its contents. The independent investigators “did not uncover any evidence of unlawful discrimination or harassment” in relation to Shaw’s time at PRX, and stated that there “is nothing to suggest that Ms. Shaw was ever treated adversely because of her race or gender”. As for the point in Shaw’s letter stating that three other Black women had all left PRX because of similar experiences, investigators say that “no singular reason emerged as to why the Black women to whom Ms. Shaw alluded left PRX”.

Separately to the details of these specific incidents, the summary does record that PRX has problems around race at all levels of the organisation. This is the key bit:

The investigation uncovered signs of what can be described as unconscious bias and “microaggressions” that tended to make the work experience for some BIPOC employees difficult. These factors transcended education, job status, or time on the job; negative experiences were reported by BIPOC at all levels of the organization.

Finally, the summary concludes that “for now PRX is doing what is should be doing” and “improvements will not come overnight, but they will come”.

This investigation was a clear part of the process outlined in the Board’s “message to BIPOC staff at PRX”, published in August. Since then, one podcaster – Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist — has removed her show from the Radiotopia network, citing in part the desire to free up space and resources for the lineup of shows to become less dominated by white creators. That message from August also stated that this investigation was just one first step; observers will now have to wait and see what comes next.More NPR podcasts to radio. Two NPR podcasts, Throughline and Code Switch, are to become weekly radio shows from 2021. The former launches on 15 January and the latter at a date in the spring yet to be determined. Both shows have experienced record listenership as podcasts in 2020, which no doubt informs this decision to expand their reach through the radio network. This Hollywood Reporter profile of the Code Switch hosts from June noted that the podcast had seen a 270 per cent increase in downloads compared with its previous trends.Where candidates are spending on podcasts. Advertising analytics firm Magellan AI has put out an analysis of how the two presidential campaigns are spending in the podcast ecosystem, and there are some noteworthy points in there. From the Biden side, I was interested to see that overall the majority of their ads have been on comedy podcasts, although as the election approached more space was taken out on news shows. They’ve also been ramping up generally towards the election, while the Trump campaign’s podcast spending was concentrated much earlier in the year, in June and July, and centred around news and culture shows rather than comedy. Peruse all the graphs here.Revolving Door, writ large. The New York Times has dropped a comprehensive update on the new arrivals in its audio team, which you can see here. A few recruits that stood out to me: Alix Spiegel, formerly of This American Life and Invisibilia, joins the narrative audio team, along with Kaitlin Roberts, who used to work at Gimlet, and Soraya Shockley who comes over from working on Fiasco for Luminary. The narrated articles team is also staffing up — unsurprising, given the NYT’s recent acquisition of Audm — and sees John Woo join from Pop Up Magazine as well as freelancer Parin Behrooz.BBC social media policy fury. The new BBC director general Tim Davie took over at the start of September, and from the outset he indicated his intention to address the perception that the BBC was “biased” — an allegation that usually comes from those on the right of the political spectrum, but is sometimes thrown the other way, too. Part of his effort to do this was to be a new social media policy, which would restrict the kind of posts that BBC employees could make on their personal accounts, since that’s often where issues bubble up. Who can forget, for instance, how the corporation’s political editor last year kicked off a row via a social media video of her appearance on the Brexitcast podcast.

That policy has now been finalised and circulated, and it’s caused something of a row in the UK audio community and beyond, not least because some aspects of the policy can be applied to freelancers as well as staffers. BBC employees are asked to refrain from “virtue signalling” that could indicate a personal position on an issue, to refrain from criticising BBC colleagues, and to avoid opining on any current political debate.

The loaded nature of that phrase “virtue signalling” has drawn a lot of ire, and plenty of legitimate questions about whether calling out racism or anti-semitism, for instance, would fall foul of this policy. The BBC’s ongoing problems with racism — such as the recent resignation of a Black radio host over the use of the N-word uncensored on a national news broadcast —  complicate this issue even further. Last year, when BBC presenter Naga Munchetty said on air that Donald Trump had made a racist statement, her colleagues were able to support her on social media when the corporation’s complaints unit found that she had breached rule. Such solidarity would now likely breach the terms of this new policy.

In addition, BBC employees in the news division are asked not to attend protests, even in a personal capacity, in case their presence gives the appearance of bias. The Guardian has reported that managers have told staff this includes Pride events or Black Lives Matter marches, although Tim Davie has now issued a memo clarifying that “there is no ban on these staff attending Pride events. Attending Pride parades is possible within the guidelines, but due care needs to be given to the guidance and staff need to ensure that they are not seen to be taking a stand on politicised or contested issues.”

All of which is to say: substantial portions of the UK media are in uproar about this new policy, which seems to represent an unprecedented level of restriction on the personal behaviour of producers and journalists. I highly doubt we’ve heard the end of this.