There were three notable entrants into the podcasting world in the last week. As I’ve written before, I don’t feel compelled to cover every new podcast or network that comes on the scene. In part this is because of the sheer volume of new shows, but also because I like to keep a focus on the big picture for podcasting, and not get trapped on the “here are all the news shows this week” treadmill. Thus, it should be obvious that I think these three debuts are worthy of coverage.
Play.It from CBS Radio
First, CBS Radio launched its Play.It podcast network on January 7, after my Podcast Survivor feature had already gone to press, so to speak. I covered Play.It in a separate post, noting that while the debut received underwhelming publicity, it is nevertheless an unexpected investment in podcasting by a major radio broadcaster that includes some original born-digital content in addition to on-demand versions of terrestrial shows.
Upvoted Tells the Stories Behind Reddit Stories
The social networking site Reddit released the first episode of its new podcast, Upvoted. According to a blog post by Reddit co-founder and host Alexis Ohanian, the purpose of the show is to dig deeper into some of the stories that appear on the site.
For those unfamiliar with Reddit, the site is not unlike the original incarnation of Digg, where users submit stories, links and other content, which is then discussed and can be “upvoted,” promoting it to the top of the queue. The site has hundreds of subreddits which are dedicated to specific topics, and some stories can be upvoted all the way to the front page of the site.
I find the launch of Upvoted significant because of Reddit’s place and influence in the culture, and because it appears to be the first entry in a new wave of podcasts from digital publishers cut from a different cast than a Slate or ESPN. Buzzfeed and FiveThirtyEight also have recently hired on experienced audio producers, so it’s likely we’ll see new podcasts from them, too.
Upvoted is also a little more ambitious, eschewing the typical discussion-based format so common in podcastcasting. Ohanian says explicitly that he intends the show to be “Part This American Life and part ESPN 30 for 30.”
After listening to the first episode this influence is unmistakable, though the show falls short of that admittedly high standard. It follows the story of a redditor who started using the site while on house arrest on a drug charge and ended up finding a supportive community before being sentenced to jail, which also sustained him while he was incarcerated.
It’s an interesting story with a few nice twists that certainly deserves to be told. But the approach on this episode is overwrought. Missing is the light hand which This American Life uses to treat most of its subjects. In contrast, Ohanian, as host, plumbs hard for significance and meaning, amidst overdramatic music that detracts rather than supports the narrative. The last five minutes make the show sound more like an informercial for Reddit than anything else.
At thirty-four minutes the episode also feels too long for just this one story. If this were a This American Life segment it would merit something closer to twelve minutes. The Upvoted crew would benefit from a close listen to ReplyAll which mines similar territory–telling the story behind the story–without weighing things down with manufactured profundity, all while keeping episodes under 20 minutes.
Putting aside these criticisms, it’s a good idea for a podcast and I’m sure many listeners will enjoy this first effort from Reddit. To be fair, it suffers from expectations that are half due to the fact that it comes from a site as big as reddit, and half due to Ohanian’s stated ambitions. Another new podcast from a different producer would probably have the luxury of working out the kinks over several episodes before attracting so much attention. So, I do look forward to hearing how Upvoted develops after a dozen episodes or so.
Invisibilia and a New Way at NPR
NPR broke new ground with the launch of the new show, Invisibilia. The show had the most affiliates ever signed up to carry the first episode last Friday. It also was released simultaneously online and for stations, which deviates from common practice where many terrestrial-first public radio shows aren’t available as podcasts for a day or more after they first air on radio. The approach is a sign that public radio is working actively to find a workable middle-ground that acknowledges the importance of the digital audience, without also devaluing the affiliate stations.
Originally conceived as a podcast, the show is also one of the first national programs from NPR that didn’t go through a drawn-out preproduction process. As Current reports in a December profile of the show,
"According to (NPR VP of Programming Eric) Nuzum, the old model involved developing a concept, piloting it in secret, marketing it as an amazing new show, investing millions of dollars and hoping to build an audience.
The new model is more like this: Make quality content and then ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks(.)’"
I have to admit that I haven’t yet listened to the first episode of Invisbilia, which is dedicated to our darkest thoughts. I was listening to Upvoted, instead.
More Podcast Medicine for Serial Withdrawl
Finally, we have a few additional podcast recommendations for those suffering from Serial withdrawl. They come from reader (and podcaster) Heather Ordover who recently submitted a comment to our “Podcast Recommendations for Serial Addicts” post.
- ChopBard from In-Your-Ear-Shakespeare – Ehren Ziegler hosts this long-running podcast which is very much a “Cure For Boring Shakespeare”. He takes listeners through all the obscure language and buried dirty jokes, making the watching of Shakespeare to be an easy and joyful experience.
- Forgotten Classics – another long-running podcast where host Julie Davis reads long-lost books that were all the rage in their day but have been forgotten by modern readers. They’re a lovely public domain audiobook option (free and somewhat obscure) and Julie has gotten permission from some modern authors to read their books on her podcast.
CraftLit: an Audiobook with Benefits Podcast for Busy People – Similar to Chop Bard, CraftLit takes modern listener/readers through the context we no longer have for some of history’s great literature – making sure we can all get the jokes IN the book as well as modern jokes based ON the book (This is Heather’s podcast -ed.).
Thanks for the recommendations, Heather. Happy listening everyone!