The Podcast Drama that No One Is Talking About
The Podcast Drama that No One Is Talking About
Last year, one of my favorite podcasts stopped updating. I didn’t worry too much about it. Many podcasts are uneven in their production. They stop and start. I’m used to it.
But then, while trying to decide if I should go to Werk It Women’s Podcasting Convention, I looked at the list of speakers and saw the host of that missing podcast (Note to Self) was listed as the host of something else entirely (Zig Zag).
The Case of the Missing Podcast was both solved and begun, both in that moment.
I googled. I searched. I listened to the new podcast and read the few news articles I could find on the mysterious movements of podcaster, Manoush Zomorodi.
It felt like a scandal to me. The host of a popular public radio show abandoned it for the wilds of a startup corporation and/or business podcast! Isn’t this news?
I really thought there would be talk about it somewhere. But no one seemed to care.
Zig Zag was not nearly as good show as the show Zomorodi left. I listened to a few episodes and even though it was made by the same people as Note to Self, it just wasn’t interesting to me at all. The central premise of it seemed to be “Look at us crazy people leaving our secure public radio jobs to go out on our own, experiment with cryptocurrency and make something for money!”
They seemed to suggest that there was some #MeToo action going on over at their former job but they never came out and explained anything about what was actually happening there. It was all super vague for a couple of journalists with mad storytelling skills so it mostly felt like they left because they thought they could cash in elsewhere.
As a person who has never had a secure job, much less a public radio one, I couldn’t help shaking my head at the surprise these women seemed to constantly be experiencing out in the big bad freelance world. While I listened to Zig Zag, my brain just kept responding to it with, “No shit, Sherlock.” Newsflash! Starting a business is hard! Freelancing isn’t easy!
I felt like I should have been their target demographic. I was after all, a loyal listener to their previous podcast, a big supporter of women and advocate for creative life choices — but I found their new podcast ridiculous. And it made me a little mad, too.
Because the promise of public radio is that it is for the public. It is funded by the public. I myself contributed to Manoush Zomorodi’s public radio show. I wasn’t a regular donor. I couldn’t afford to be. But I really believed in what they were doing.
So when Zomorodi and Poyant went off to try the wilds of the crypto currency corporate world, I felt a bit betrayed. I put my trust in public radio and it just up and sold out. And weirdly, despite all of this happening within the news media, there was no news about it. Are podcasts still so niche? I don’t know. I’m not sure the millions and millions of dollars going to podcast companies now suggests a genre no one cares about.
Anyway — the cryptocurrency that Zig Zig focused on went nowhere and I guess the podcast did too. Next thing I knew, Zomorodi was hosting another show (IRL) that was very similar to Note to Self. Previously, I’d started listening to IRL — a show sponsored by Mozilla (a non-profit) and then all of a sudden the old host was gone and Manoush Zomorodi was hosting it. Turns out Mozilla had fired the previous host, (Veronica Belmont) and brought in Zomorodi, who had recently been a guest on the show. IRL basically became Note to Self for that season. So much drama! That no one was acknowledging!
So the body count thus far for this adventure included one public radio podcast and one non-profit podcast host. And maybe even a non-profit podcast? But this saga was not over, friends. No it was not. Because a few weeks ago, an announcement showed up in the Note to Self podcast feed. Note to Self was coming back. It had been bought by the podcast start up, Luminary, and it would be producing the show on its platform in association with WNYC Studios and Stable Genius Productions (That’s Zomorodi and Poyant’s media company created for the Zig Zag podcast.) Manoush is hosting. I don’t know what’s happened to the IRL podcast. Will Veronica Belmont get her job back?
Luminary is a private podcasting company that is putting all of its exclusive content behind a paywall. It’s spending lots of money to produce shows like Note to Self in the hopes that people will pay a subscription fee to listen to them.
So. A show that was developed with public money is now no longer public. It is still co-produced by WNYC Studios, which, if not the actual public radio station, is a part of it.
This has happened with multiple public radio shows. Gimlet Media (which Spotify purchased for over $200 million) was created by two former podcasters from WNYC public radio. I don’t feel great about public funds being the on ramp for corporate podcasting. I don’t begrudge radio folk making their money — but I’m starting to feel used and betrayed by this flight from public radio. I’m a lot less inclined to support it if it’s going to just disappear into the corporate stratosphere.
And while the one Note to Self episode that Luminary has released into the old feed is interesting and worth listening to, I’ll be damned if I’m going to pony up cash to a mega million start up company after being jerked around like this by the host over the last year.
As an indie podcaster myself I am concerned about the way the field is evolving. Are corporations gutting public radio?
Are they thinking public radio doesn’t matter anymore? Think again. In a Facebook group I’m in, someone asked for podcast recommendations and nearly every recommendation in the hundreds of comments was actually an NPR show. I hope all these mega mega corporate podcast companies realize and understand the debt that they owe to pubic radio and find ways to funnel a little something back to them. I mean, this indie one woman podcast maker would happily take a deal at Gimlet or Luminary or Wondry or wherever — but even I, who have never been on the radio, recognize that I owe a debt to the public radio that I listened to and from which I learned by example.
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on May 23, 2019.