Issue 181,  published October 16, 2018

The National Local

Next Monday will see the release of Believed, a new limited investigative series by NPR and Michigan Radio, the state’s network of local public radio stations. The podcast will examine the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal, one of the largest serial sexual abuse cases in American’s history. Michigan Radio reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith will host the series. Here’s a great Elle write-up outlining the show.

Here’s something that this NPR-Michigan Radio collaboration is making me think about: this scandal was originally vaulted into the national consciousness by The Indianapolis Star, the Gannett-owned daily news organization in neighboring Indiana. Gannett, of course, also owns the USA Today Network, which recently launched its own nationally-oriented podcast platform that intends to use Gannett’s ecosystem of local publishing entities as pipelines for potential investigative projects.

I bring Gannett’s national podcast initiative up to highlight what seems to be a noticeable increase in the trend of local-national podcast production partnerships. For some reason, my gut tells me that this isn’t a particularly new development, but I can’t seem to find very many similarly-structured productions going back over the past four years. (In other words, hit me up with examples I totally missed.)

Anyway, here are two other contemporary productions that I see fitting into this mold:

(1) Gladiator, a limited series that debuted yesterday from the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team in collaboration with Wondery on the former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted of murder and later took his own life in prison. This project continues Wondery’s strategy of partnering with local news organization to produce feverish, nationally eye-catching podcast programming that can be then packaged off as adaptation IP — see: the Los Angeles Times’ Dirty John, now an upcoming Bravo series starring the great Connie Britton. (Give! Connie! Britton! More! Roles!)

Speaking of which, the LA Times is apparently developing two follow-ups to the aforementioned Dirty John, or so the company announced at the recent NewFronts West event. Here’s some info for those projects, as described by AdWeek:

The first new podcast project, tentatively titled Big Willie, will follow a local street racing veteran and Vietnam veteran, examining his eccentric career and checkered legacy; the second, Room 20, centered on an unidentified car crash victim who has been in a coma for 17 years, will piece together clues about the man’s life.

Note that they are both true crime projects. True crime: if it works for them, it works for you.

(2) Last week also saw the release of Underdog, a new weekly podcast documentary from Texas Monthly and Pineapple Street Media tracking the closing days of the Democratic senatorial campaign of Beto O’Rourke — pronounced Beh-to, not Bey-to, as I learned from the first episode — as we crawl into the midterm elections.

Local-national production partnership aside, here’s why I’m in on this show. As I, armchair political analyst Nick Quah, told Fast Company:

 [O’Rourke’s] fight with Ted Cruz is increasingly a stand-in for a bigger struggle about the heart of America… I know [O’Rourke] said otherwise, but he’s probably a viable 2020 [presidential] contender for the Democrats [if he wins]. I’d listen the crap out of a Beto-Cruz podcast.

But also: I remain fascinated by Pineapple Street’s continuing adventures with political media and podcasting. Underdog is a strictly journalistic product co-developed with a widely respected monthly, but Pineapple Street is also the shop that produced With Her, the official Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential election campaign podcast that’s essentially a longform political ad/branded podcast, and Stay Tuned with Preet (Bharara), an interview show-slash-ideas platform for the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. There’s some line straddling here, but nonetheless, I’m very interested to see where else the boutique studio will take political podcasts, already a vibrant and saturated genre.

Midterms, everyone: it’s a mere three weeks away.

One last local podcast bite —

Last week also saw the final dispatch of WBEZ’s 16 Shots, which sought to document the Laquan McDonald police shooting trial in semi-real time. The production was the latest in a line of similarly-structured efforts by MPR News with 74 Seconds, which followed the Philando Castile police shooting trial, and WHYY with Cosby Unraveled.

Betsy Berger, the station’s director of communications, tells me that they’re considering 16 Shots a success “from a journalistic perspective, as a partnership with the Chicago Tribune and critical acclaim.” She noted that it was promoted heavily on social media and through the station’s email newsletter, and that the project garnered more than 30 media placements. However, they declined to share download numbers.