Issue 226,  published September 17, 2019

Reset: Vox Media Podcast Network’s Next Big Swing

This has been in the works for a while, but it’s finally coming out soon. On October 15, Vox Media will officially launch Reset, its upcoming technology news podcast that was originally announced back in February as part of what Axios described as a “multi-million dollar deal” expanding the partnership Vox Media struck up Stitcher that originated Today, Explained, the former’s daily news podcast. The podcast falls under the Recode brand, which was rolled up into the larger Vox.com operation earlier this year.

Details, for the discerning: Reset will publish three times a week — Tuesdays, Thursday, and, intriguingly, Sunday — with each episode, dropped in the early mornings, designed to clock in at around 20 minutes. The show will be powered by a production team befitting a robust news operation, though a search for an executive producer is still underway. Hosting duties will be held by Arielle Duhaime-Ross, most recently the climate change correspondent for VICE News Tonight, the weekly documentary cable news magazine program. The appointment marks a return for Duhaime-Ross, who, prior to joining VICE, was science reporter for The Verge. (During her original tenure at Vox Media, she won the 2015 Herb Lampert award for her story on a most radical idea.)

As you would expect, Reset will be tasked with carrying out the goals of Recode 2.0, newly reconstituted with Vox.com’s DNA of policy-minded explanatory journalism. This generally translates to a coverage framework that emphasizes reporting on the spaces in which technology, politics, culture, and society rub up against each other… but frankly, given that we’re living in some approximation of a post-”software eats the world” epoch, that framework pretty much accounts for everything. The recruitment of Duhaime-Ross as host, I’m told, was to some extent informed by a wariness of bringing on a more dyed-in-the-wool tech journalist, and an intent to establish somebody who could communicate issues in the tech world while effectively standing outside of the tech world bubble.

A genetic bond with Today, Explained is to be expected. This is how Liz Kelly Nelson, Editorial Director of Vox.com Podcasts, phrased the relationship to me:

Where Today, Explained might cover, say, Brexit from a political perspective, Reset would try to approach the story from how technology would come into it: how social media shapes the process, how some members of parliament use technology to frame their arguments, or, on a larger scale, how some tech companies will get completely screwed up because Britain would be leaving the EU.

For trivia-related purposes, here are two other random points of connection: firstly, both Arielle Duhaime-Ross and Today, Explained host Sean Rameswaram are Canadian, and secondly, Breakmaster Cylinder will also score Reset’s theme song, as they did with Today, Explained. Is anybody running a tally of podcast theme songs by BC? Should some enterprising podcast technology platform just hire BC full-time to crank out music libraries? (I hope so, and probably.)

It’s worth noting that there will be some differences in approach between the weekday and Sunday episodes. The Tuesday and Thursday dispatches are meant to be newsier, perhaps more in line with what you’d expect from a standard daily news podcast execution. The Sunday episodes, meanwhile, are being designed to accommodate more enterprise, agenda-setting reporting — think 60 Minutes, or something of the sort. “Pegging one of our episodes to Sundays would give us more time to produce more vigorously reported stories,” Nelson said. “It puts us in a better position to break news.”

Gotta say, I’m pretty psyched about the show’s plan to go after the Sunday morning slot. It’s always been surprising to me that more publishers haven’t attempted to go after weekend listening. Of course, I’m aware of the conventional arguments levied against programming for the weekend, which appears anchored by the belief that people are busy doing fun weekend things and thus aren’t typically in the mood to listen to podcasts, or whatever. (This is a distant cousin to the strategy of not publishing big swings during the summer, because folks are off doing fun vacation things.) I suspect these assumptions fall from a mindset that primarily views podcast listening as secondary experiences, i.e. “the thing you do when you’re doing other things.”

To which I favor two counter-arguments. Firstly, weekends also feature activities conducive to secondary media consumption: working out, driving around, making big meals, miscellaneous busywork like compulsively scrubbing the bathroom walls and/or stacking the week’s receipts, yadda yadda yadda. Secondly, and more importantly, why let audience behavior fully dictate publishing strategy? To some extent, as a maker of things, you’re supposed to be setting trends, and what better opportunity to set trends than the chunk of the week when defined by want-to-dos than need-to-dos?

On this second point, the production team seems aligned. “To us, the weekend is white space,” said Nelson, before evoking comparisons with Sunday magazine inserts, those glossy print products that come bundled with the Sunday edition of newspapers, where the expectation is that readers will spend a good amount of their Sunday morning leisure time to leaf through. “We see it as an opportunity to work hard at helping our listeners create a new habit.”

It’s exciting ground to break, representative of the production’s overall marginally experimental feel. From the outside, Reset feels a little blurry with formal categorizations — of form, sensibility, approach. Not a daily news podcast, though not quite a news magazine. Not quite evergreen, though not necessarily newsy. Not quite of the technology community, not completely separate. I haven’t heard any early cuts, so I can’t speak to the actual feel of the show, but I very much appreciate the not-particularly-straightforward nature of this production. We’ll see how these things play out when the first episode drops next month.