Issue 182,  published October 23, 2018

Midterms Snapshots

We’re exactly two Hot Pod issues out from the midterm elections here in these United States, and I was curious about how different news and/or political podcast teams were thinking through coverage. Here’s a sample of what I’ve learned:

Crooked Media. The progressive media company has been experimenting with podcast advertising technology to help out with voter registration drives. If you downloaded Pod Save America lately, you might have heard a voter registration call-to-action that’s specific to your state. Which is, you know, pretty cool; the production crew made different reads for listeners in different states, and used Art19’s dynamic ad insertion tool to geo-target.

Producer Mukta Mohan tells me that the workload to execute this campaign wasn’t all that heavy. “Our team already put together all of the info for each state (last day to register, if you can register in person on Election Day, etc),” said Mohan. “So we wrote copy for Lovett and Tommy to read when they did regular ad reads, then we just edited them down and used Art19’s tool to insert. It was really smooth.”

The company has also built a separate micro-site to focus on voter registration called “Vote Save America,” and developed a special episode on restoring voting rights to American citizens with felony records featuring voices from inmates at San Quentin State Prison.

The New York Times. The Times’ audio team isn’t producing a special standalone series for the elections again — hat tip to The Run Up — opting instead to funnel its midterm coverage purely through The Daily. “We do have a coverage plan,” producer Annie Brown told me. “It’s just that it may not be recognizable to listeners.” You can already see the strategy playing out with the podcast’s recent mini-documentaries like the two-part “The Battle for Missouri,” featuring national correspondent Sabrina Tavernise, as well as its more conventional episodes, like yesterday’s “Who’s Allowed To Vote in Georgia?”

For the team that views The Daily as a new “front page,” the corresponding challenges of emphasis, context, and spotlighting are familiar. “Our goal is lay out the stakes on general events while diving deep on the specific issues that are emblematic of what’s going on in the country,” Brown said. With their daily documentary structure, they’re trying to steer away from horse race coverage (“When you only cover the candidate, you tend to lose the point of an election”), and the target audience they keep in mind is a person who wants to be informed, but who may find in-depth race analyses far too dry.

NPR. The public radio mothership’s Politics Podcast are tentatively planning to drop several special episodes in the lead-up to the midterms, particularly in the week of the elections itself. That team is already well-engaged in a broadcast crossover called The Politics Show from NPR. Meanwhile, expect election-themed episodes from Hidden Brain and It’s Been a Minute, along with a timely investigation from Embedded on a ballot initiative that could restore voting rights for 1.5 million felons in the state of Florida, which syncs up pretty well with the previously mentioned Crooked Media special.

Also: StoryCorps will kick off an initiative called “One Small Step,” which “seeks to help people with opposing political views who don’t know each other have civil, personal conversations.” The concept is reminiscent of Dylan Marron’s Conversations with People Who Hate Me.

Slate. “We see the midterms as a play for audience development,” senior producer TJ Raphael told me. To that end, the company will be executing on a few special projects across its podcast portfolio:

  • The Waves, its podcast about gender and feminism, has struck up a partnership with Glamour magazine to build an episode focused on the upcoming election that will be released across several podcast feeds, including Trumpcast and the Political Gabfest. It will be a co-branded collaboration, and the two publications will engage cross-promotional efforts across social media and their respective sites.
  • The stalwart Slate Political Gabfest is planning for a special episode featuring guest David Axelrod, the transcript of which will be published on the website.
  • If Then, its technology podcast, will also build an episode around the midterms, focused on what social media companies have been doing in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections.
  • Slate will be staging a live show in Brooklyn on the Friday after the midterms, where several of its hosts and writers — including Jamelle Bouie, Dahlia Lithwick, Mike Pesca, and Jim Newell — will analyze and discuss the results.

Vox Media. The Vox Media Podcast Network is well in the midst of their own midterm coverage plan:

  • Since October 3, The Weeds has been publishing special editions on the policy and politics of the midterms every Wednesday, leading up to Nov 7.
  • Recode Decode is doing interviews pegged on the elections, including conversations with Hillary Rodham Clinton, LA mayor Eric Garcetti, and Rep. Ro Khanna.
  • The Ezra Klein Show, as well, has been building a series of conversations around the midterms. Guests include Rebecca Traister, Francis Fukuyama, Nate Silver, and soon, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
  • Today, Explained has already put out episodes on electoral strategies by the Republicans and the Democrats, plus a look at the O’Rourke-Cruz race in Texas. They will soon carry out issue-specific episodes, including a look at voter suppression as well as the felon voting rights restoration ballot initiative in Florida that will also be covered by Embedded.