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State of the Crooked Union

I guess we should start with the news peg: in what is both a sign of the times and a nod towards times to come, Crooked Media is preparing to launch daily podcast to further satiate the ravenous appetite of its substantial constituency.

Billed as the progressive media company’s “first daily audio news podcast,” the show is called What a Day, and sharing hosting duties will be the comedian Akilah Hughes and the political journalist Gideon Resnick. It will feature bite-sized episodes, with each installment running around fifteen minutes or so. The first edition is slated to drop on October 28.

The podcast shares a name with the popular nightly newsletter that the company launched in 2017, and the nature of its design follows suit. Like the newsletter, the podcast will operate within the “news recap, aggregation, and expansion” lane — note to self: come up with a better name for this subgenre — and it will lean on the work of the broader Crooked Media news team.

According to Sarah Geismer, Crooked Media’s Head of Creative Development and Production, the daily podcast is a product of popular demand. “Lots of our listeners have been asking us to make a daily news podcast for a long time,” said Geismer, whose chief responsibilities involve overseeing podcast development and the company’s further expansion into television. “We’ve been developing this show for about a year, because we wanted to figure out how exactly we could do it in the ‘Crooked Way.”

And what does that mean, exactly? “The core of all our podcasts is a desire to entertain, to inform, and to inspire, and our hope is to guide people to different ways that they can get involved in the political process and advocate for some kind of structural change,” Geismer tells me. “But at the same time, we want to do that in a way that makes the experience as fun and breezy as possible… I think, for a lot of people, if the news feel too hard or anxiety-producing, they’re just going to turn the TV off. And so what we’re trying to do is to provide those people different ways to access the process, whether it’s through storytelling, emotion, or comedy.”

What a Day, the podcast, is one of Crooked Media’s biggest projects for the year, and it extends the company’s sprawling audio portfolio up to thirteen shows. As is customary, they declined to share specific audience or revenue numbers at this time, but they offered the broader metric that its podcasts “have been listened to over 890 million times.” (A flashy marketing number, though I don’t particularly doubt that the company is doing quite well.)

The daily podcast will lead Crooked Media into 2020, which, of course, will be defined by the upcoming US presidential elections. And the company is making preparations to meet the heavier year ahead. Along with tightly focusing its core shows — Pod Save America, Pod Save the World, Lovett or Leave It — on the elections, Crooked Media is also working to build upon its experience with The Wilderness and develop more attempts at the audio docu-series. The bigger picture with this focus should be familiar to many Hot Pod readers: should those audio docu-series, they can ultimately be repackaged to feed the company’s nascent television business.

“We also have a few new talk pods in the works, some of which will be more focused on entertainment than others,” Geismer added.

When we spoke over the phone last week, I wrapped the conversation by bringing up what I felt was the main critique — as far as I know — that has long been levied against Crooked Media: specifically, what’s perceived to be the company’s part in contributing to the facilitations of “media bubbles.” (The broader topic is much-discussed. See here, I guess, among many, many other write-ups.)

Anyway, I thought the response was interesting, specifically as it pertains to podcast stuff. “I think, to that, I would say: there are other forces at play keeping people within their bubbles that are so much more powerful than the way someone is choosing to listen to a podcast — which is an entirely voluntary activity,” said Geismer. “This is neither here nor there, but I feel like the reason we’re siloed is more for reasons like where we live and how we are presented information on our phones through algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, and things like that.

She added: “With podcasting, there’s not much personalization on something like the iTunes app in terms of what you’re listening to — not yet, anyway — and so I feel like if people are coming to Crooked, they have a sense of what they’ll be getting.”