Issue 217,  published July 9, 2019

The Long Tail News Peg

When the first two of earthquakes hit Southern California last week, I instantly thought about two things. The first was Kathryn Schulz’s The Really Big One, which I’ve reread every six months for the past four years and which cross my mind at least once every other week. The second was, “Man, that KPCC earthquake project was really well-timed.”

I’m referring, of course, to The Big One: Your Survival Guide, KPCC’s service journalism-meets-speculative fiction project published earlier this year that endeavors to help listeners, in southern California and beyond, with earthquake preparedness and give them a tangible sense of what to do if the big one hits.

And well-timed it was. “We did see a spike in downloads, and there we were again in the top charts in Apple,” Arwen Champion Nicks, who leads KPCC’s podcast team, told me over email. “What was great to see was how many people who had listened to it tweeting about it and recommending it to people.” Indeed, I saw that last bit for myself. All across Twitter, spanning communities far outside podcasting, I spotted the podcast being passed around.

There’s a programming lesson in here somewhere. I think it’s this: “newsiness” as an editorial strategy tends to be associated with the bleeding edge. The infinite present: what’s happening right now, what happened in the last twenty-four hours, here’s what you need to know today. The Big One’s past week suggests that the strategy can possibly be re-interpreted as a series of forward-facing investments: here’s what people might need to know in the near future. “What to do when the coastline catches up to your house,” “what to expect for your community when there’s a constitutional crisis,” “how to prepare for the next recession.”

Morbid food for thought.