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Tracking: March 2, 2021

Selected Notes

Erik Diehn, CEO of Stitcher, is “winding down” his role at the organization as of this week, just a little over four months after Stitcher’s sale from E.W. Scripps to SiriusXM was made official. He will remain an adviser to SiriusXM, at least through the coming months. Diehn’s departure comes amidst a broader executive restructure at the podcast division, which sees members of Stitcher’s leadership team more directly integrated with SiriusXM management.

In addition to reporting fourth quarter earnings last week, iHeartMedia announced a new business operating structure. Notably, the company’s digital audio business, including podcasting and the iHeartRadio digital service, is now broken out into its own group led by Conal Byrne, previously the president of what was called iHeartMedia’s Podcast Division. This segment, called the Digital Audio Group, is made distinct from the segment that houses the company’s linear broadcast and events businesses. More in the press release.

My big interest in last week’s Spotify event was all about the technical stuff, but for most everybody else, it was in the Obama x Springsteen collab, Renegades. And in the wake of that surprise debut, there’s been a ton of tasty reading. Writing for CNN, the historian Nicole Hemmer — who you can also find on This Day in Esoteric Political History — argues that the podcast’s conceit reveals a key problem, in that it’s a light performance of the “bridging divides” thesis of work that doesn’t actually truly reckon with the forces eroding American democracy today. NBC News’ Jon Garelick argues that the podcast “betrays its mission by using an exploitative platform.” Lauren Michele Jackson, a contributing writer at The New Yorker, pondered the slight hollowness of this media-specific aspect of Obama’s post presidency. Slate doubled up: Willa Paskin locates the Obamas’ Spotify projects within the broader trend of politicians entwining politics and content creation, and takes a scalpel to it, while Christina Cauterucci dissects the volume of beverages that seem to be present in the recording setup.

Apropos of everything that’s happening lately, James T. Green — senior producer at Transmitter Media, documentarian, and artist — wrote an essay that provides a personal account of his time as a contractor at Gimlet Media, prior to its acquisition by Spotify. It’s quite a window.

Digiday published a report last week looking at the pandemic podcast trendlet, and this bit stood out to me: “Commercially, buying ads around coronavirus coverage on podcasts might be tricky for brands…. Hilary Ross, VP of podcast media at Veritone One, said she isn’t seeing a large number of advertisers seeking out coronavirus-centric podcasts, though in the past they have placed some ads on a few. The topic is difficult to avoid in daily news podcasts, many of which have begun to cover the pandemic.” For what it’s worth, I’ve heard the same thing about advertising and podcasts tackling difficult topics in general, including a lot of resource-intensive investigative pieces. Some exceptions, however, around true crime.KCRW under fire. Last Monday, the independent LA Podcastpublished an interview with a former producer who made allegations of “blatant racism” during her time working at the Santa Monica-based public radio station.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the former producer, Cerise Castle, said that her time at the station was “marked by microaggressions, gaslighting, and blatant racism starting when I was physically prevented from entering the building multiple times within my first month of employment.” She also criticized the organization’s lack of diversity. Her accusations come as the station rolled out its #MyBlackLA community archive project last month.

KCRW management, which wasn’t contacted by the LA Podcast prior to the publication of the interview, has disputed some of Castle’s claims in a statement published on Tuesday.

More details to be found in the Los Angeles Times report, and another angle can be pulled from this Twitter thread from LA Podcast co-host Scott Frazier.

In tomorrow’s Servant of Pod… WAMU’s Jonquilyn Hill and Crime Writers On…’s Rebecca Lavoie are on the show this week with a roundtable talking about true crime and Hill’s new project, Through the Cracks — which, by the way, you should be checking out. It’s really good.

You can find Servant of Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or the great assortment of third-party podcast apps that are hooked up to the open publishing ecosystem. Desktop listening is also recommended. Share, leave a review, so on.