Issue 294,  published February 23, 2021

The Implosion at Reply All

So, this week was supposed to primarily hang on Spotify’s big livestream event that took place yesterday… and we’ll get to that in a bit.

But first, we have to hit the story that’s slightly overshadowing all of that, at least within a sizable portion of the audio community: the implosion at Reply All, which saw the abrupt departures of founding co-host PJ Vogt and longtime senior staffer Sruthi Pinnamaneni from the show.

There’s a good chance you already know about this, but let’s go over the details. Quick preface, though: This write-up specifically goes over the details of what happened last week. I’m working on a longer piece hoping to unpack its many layers, so keep that in mind. For now, here’s the accounting.

Earlier this month, Reply All launched an ambitious four-part miniseries called “The Test Kitchen,” led by Pinnamaneni, that sought to dig deep into one of the bigger stories about the media industry’s reckoning with toxic workplace dynamics and race from last summer: the downfall of Adam Rapoport’s Bon Appétit.

“The Test Kitchen” dropped its first episode on February 3, and the entry set the stage for a story about power imbalance, in-group out-group dynamics, racial inequity, pay disparity, and the hardship associated with efforts to push a workplace towards a more equitable culture and structure, often disproportionately shouldered by the most vulnerable workers. That first episode drew considerable attention, most positive in nature, as did the second episode, which was published on February 12. The miniseries seemed to strike a chord with a good number of people who lived through their own experiences with toxic workplaces. That a production team with an accomplished track record — from one of Spotify’s biggest shows, no less — was taking on the thorny and complicated topic with substantial resources boded well, and felt exciting.

Which made what happened last week all the more whiplash-inducing. It started a few days after the second episode hit podcast feeds, when Eric Eddings, a former Gimlet staffer and co-host of The Nod (originally a Gimlet show and then a Quibi program), published a Twitter thread specifically accusing Pinnamaneni, along with Vogt, of themselves contributing to a “toxic dynamic” at Gimlet Media that was “near identical” to the Bon Appétit culture depicted in the miniseries.

The substance of Eddings’ thread was primarily rooted in the stretch of time running up to Gimlet’s acquisition by Spotify, around late 2018 and early 2019, when a group of staffers at the company began to organize to form a union. That effort involved building out a platform of demands, which included diversity efforts, meant to advocate for a more equitable culture and structure at the organization. The thread’s focus narrowed on the Reply All team, and specifically on the conduct of Pinnamaneni and Vogt, who were described as engaging in antagonistic behaviors that strongly contributed to a toxic environment at the company.

Eddings alleged that this environment brought suffering to himself and others, and though stances and circumstances might have changed within Gimlet and Reply All in the years since, he argued that the fact that Pinnamaneni and Vogt are now leading, overseeing, and shaping a narrative about power imbalances at Bon Appétit is still highly inappropriate, and likely to be compromising to the story. “The focus should be on BA and what they experienced, but this series feels like an effort to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of colleagues at Spotify and the ones who have left,” he wrote.

(It should be noted that Brittany Luse, Eddings’ fellow co-host on The Nod and a former Gimlet staffer herself, had also published a Twitter thread the day before, hitting on similar critiques about “The Test Kitchen” miniseries.)

Eddings’ thread went viral shortly after its publication on the afternoon of February 16. It provoked tremendous response on social media, the bulk of which directed criticism to Vogt and Pinnamaneni. That pushback led to near-instantaneous impact: The next evening, Gimlet managing director Lydia Polgreen, who joined the company last March, sent out an internal email — which I obtained and published later that night — announcing that Vogt had “asked to step down from his role on the show and take a leave of absence,” and that Pinnamaneni was also stepping back from the show immediately.

The decision seems to have been prompted from them, and both would later publish apologies on Twitter. Polgreen’s email noted that “The Test Kitchen” had previously been slated to be Pinnamaneni’s final story for the show, and Vulture would later learn that Vogt’s departure from Reply All will be permanent. At this writing, it remains unclear what happens to the rest of the miniseries, though Reply All as a whole is expected to continue operating.

So that’s the accounting for now. More soon, hopefully. In the meantime, some additional notes:

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Ray interviewed Eddings about the Twitter thread before the Vogt and Pinnamaneni’s departures were announced. This piece has more detail on Eddings’ side of the lead-up to the thread. You can find that here.
  • This event has provoked a fair amount of introspection among the audio community, some of whom are working to publicly articulate paths forward. One such example is this Twitter thread from Bethel Habte, a current staffer at Gimlet Media, which is being passed around quite a bit.

I run this thing.