The New York Times Acquires Serial Productions

Serial logoThe New York Times Company announced that it would acquire Serial Productions, the company that produces the groundbreaking Serial podcast. In addition to the acquisition, The Times also announced that it had entered into an ongoing creative and strategic alliance with This American Life that will enable it to continue to collaborate on long-form audio stories with Serial Productions and to collaborate on marketing and advertising sales with The Times. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Serial Productions is a team of audio’s best and most successful long-form journalists and narrative storytellers led by Julie Snyder, Sarah Koenig and Neil Drumming. Each episode of Serial’s first season was downloaded 20 million times on average and is credited with igniting the current podcast boom. This American Life is the iconic, long-running, weekly public radio program, founded by host and executive producer Ira Glass.

As a Times company, Serial Productions will commission and edit its own stories and they will now be amplified by The Times. The acquisition will allow the Serial team to tell more stories and produce more series than they had previously.

With The Daily, Serial, and the strategic alliance with This American Life, The Times has now brought together three of the most important audio brands in the world. Along with other chart-topping shows and series, including 1619, Rabbit Hole and Caliphate, as well as the recent acquisition of Audm, The Times will continue to build new listening habits across a range of formats. Creating a strong audio report aligns with the company’s broader goal to help audiences understand the world around them through journalistic storytelling.

Meredith Kopit Levien, chief operating officer of The New York Times Company said, “We’ve seen the power that audio can have in building deeper connections with our audience and we’re committed to bringing listeners the best audio journalism in the world. What better way to show that commitment than by acquiring Serial, the most celebrated and innovative podcast series ever produced and by partnering with This American Life, a program that quite simply transformed the genre. We launched The Daily in 2017 and it has quickly become the most listened to news podcast in the country. Our goal is to continue to evolve our audio offerings and to chart a sustainable course for high-quality, immersive audio journalism.”

Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor who oversees Times audio said, “We have been enormous admirers of This American Life and Serial for years and their work has inspired and informed our own. We feel confident the Serial and This American Life teams share our desire to continue to find groundbreaking ways to tell stories, grow listenership and help more and more people better understand the world. They are as mission-driven as we are and we’re so excited to welcome them to The Times family.”

Julie Snyder, the executive editor of Serial Productions said, “We’re incredibly proud of Serial and wanted to find a home where we felt shared values, one where we would be supported and resourced to tell more stories, of the highest quality. We’re thrilled to be joining The Times, where they have demonstrated a commitment to pursuing the possibilities of audio and long-form narrative journalism.”

Ira Glass said, “For years now, when people ask me to recommend a podcast, the first one I mention is The Daily. Effusively. Gushingly. It’s so impressive, how The Times jumped into audio journalism, and made a show that uses the medium so well. I also love how The Daily and the other Times podcasts are narrative journalism, like our show. They tell stories, with characters and feeling, and, of course, because they’re The Times, a lucid analysis of the world around us. I can’t imagine a better partner for the journalism we and Serial do than The Times, and look forward to continuing to invent this still-young world of podcasting with them at our side.”

As Serial Productions joins The Times, the team plans to produce a number of shows and series under The Times and Serial Productions banner. The first, Nice White Parents, will bring listeners along with award-winning reporter Chana Joffe-Walt as she examines the role white families play in shaping public education. You can listen to the trailer now, with the first two episodes available on Thursday, July 30 on or wherever you get your podcasts.

This American Life remains an independent company and will continue its weekly broadcasts on public radio and its podcast.

This American Life Wins First Pulitzer Prize for Audio Journalism

This American Life announced they won the first Pulitzer Prize ever given to audio journalism, for “revelatory, intimate journalism that illuminates the personal impact of the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.”

This American Life has more details about the episode:

The episode that won, “The Out Crowd”, ran last November. When we started putting it together, we knew that elements of the “Remain in Mexico” policy had been covered by the press. But a lot of that coverage had come out in drips and drops, as the wonky specifics of the policy changed. Most listeners – hell, most of our own families and friends – had not put together what the policies really meant: tens of thousands of asylum seekers stranded on the other side of the border in shelters, on the streets, and in makeshift encampments. Many get kidnapped by the cartels, in areas the State Department classifies as violent and unsafe as Syria and Iraq.

The Pultizer Prizes website points out that Episode 668: The Out Crowd was an episode created by Molly O’Toole, who is an immigration and security reporter based in the Los Angeles Times’ Washington D.C., bureau. It was also created by Emily Green, a Mexico City-based journalist reporting on Mexico and Central America.

This American Life wrote: It’s an honor to be recognized this way by the Pulitzers. And exciting to win their very first prize for audio reporting.

I agree! The fact that the Pultizer Prize has been given to a podcast episode really opens up the possibility for more podcast episodes to be considered for the prize. I find that inspiring.

Shortcut is Now Available for Any Podcast to Use

As you may recall, This American Life, from WBEZ, created Shortcut. It was designed to allow people to share a short clip of a This American Life episode with their friends. Now, Shortcut is available for all podcast creators to use.

Stephanie Foo, a This American Life producer, explained more about Shortcut in a blog post. She points out that Shortcut was made to allow This American Life listeners to turn their favorite podcast moments into videos that can be shared online. It’s like making a GIF, but for audio.

Thanks to funding from The Knight Foundation and the developers at Feel Train, Shortcut is now open sourced. What that means: If you’re a podcast creator, you can set Shortcut up to let your own listeners share their favorite moments of your show.

Feel Train has put together a blog post with a log of helpful information for podcasters who want to allow their listeners to use Shortcut. There is a wiki for podcasters who want to get their bearings. Another link is for developers who want to jump right in with implementation. Those who try this out, and have support questions, can reach Feel Train on Gitter.

This American Life wants podcasters who use Shortcut for their shows to let them know about it, so they can spread the word. You can do that by tweeting @ThisAmerLife.

Shortcut App Makes it Easy to Share Podcast Clips

shortcut-logoHave you ever listened to a podcast, and wished you could easily share one, short, clip from it with someone? This American Life from WBEZ has created a solution. It is called Shortcut.

Shortcut is a new app that you can use to turn your favorite podcast moments into videos that you can post onto social media. It’s kind of like making a .gif, but for audio. You can access the app on your desktop or on your phone.

Shortcut is currently in beta. Shortcut will work on any This American Life episode. Use Shortcut to quickly and easily turn your favorite podcast moments into personalized, animated, and transcribed videos that can be easily shared to social media with just one click.

The Shortcut About Page includes the Shortcut Team’s reason for creating it. They had a desire to make creating and sharing audio content as easy as sharing visual content.

Most people discover video and print online by way of small segments that are easy to share on social media: gifs, reaction images, highlighted and screencapped sections of text. We believe the fact that podcasts can’t easily be snipped and shared online is inhibiting the growth of the podcast industry, and Shortcut is a prototype that explores how we can make that process intuitive, easy, and fun.

Shortcut was conceived at This American Life’s Audio Hackathon 2015. The prototype of Shortcut is based around the archives of This American Life.

The Shortcut Team includes:

  • Stephanie Foo – Project Lead
  • Courtney Stanton – Project Manager
  • Darius Kazemi – Developer
  • Jason Sigal – Developer
  • Jane Friedhoff – UX Designer
  • Dalit Shalom – UI Designer
  • Eve Weinberg – Motion Graphics.

The codebase for Shortcut will be open-sourced, meaning that any podcast creator can set it up for their own archives and allow their fans a new avenue to express their fandom.

This American Life is Now on Pandora

This American Life LogoPandora, as you may know, started streaming the amazingly popular Serial podcast in October of 2014. Now, Pandora has added another well known podcast, This American Life. New episodes of This American Life will go live on Pandora on Mondays and can be enjoyed via iOS, Android, tablet, or on the web.

This American Life first went on the air in 1995 in Chicago. Since then, it has expanded to become a popular weekly public radio show broadcast nationwide. Episodes have been heard on over 500 stations and downloaded by more than two million people each week.

Ira Glass is the host of This American Life. The podcast is produced in collaboration WBEZ Chicago (who are also the creators of Serial). Each week, the producers choose a theme and present various stories that fit that theme.

Pandora has put a This American Life Station together for Pandora users who are new to the podcast. Pandora has a selection of past episodes for users to explore.

Interestingly, there is no mention of exclusivity in the press release Pandora released about the addition of This American Life. (When Serial was added, it was said to be exclusive to Pandora.) It is possible to find the newest episode on the This American Life website or to subscribe to it via iTunes.

Audio Hackathon 2015 is Coming

This American Life LogoThe term “hackathon” is fairly self-explantory. Take a bunch of like-minded people, put them together in the same place over the course of a day or two, and see what they create. Hackathons are nothing new in the software development world. And now, the producers of This American Life are bringing the concept to podcasting with their first-ever Audio Hackathon. From the Hackathon website:

Quality content deserves quality technology. Captivating stories deserve an incredible listening experience. Better tech could make it easier to access, share and discover great stories and great moments within stories. We want your help brainstorming and implementing new and exciting ways to hear the world.

We are inviting developers, coders, designers, producers, sound designers…anyone who has skills and ideas to offer to join us. We will group you into teams, and after introductory talks by audio professionals, you will participate in a two day hackathon. Afterward, teams will present their creations to our speakers and to employees from our partners, who will evaluate and critique their work.

The event will host some notable speakers:

  • Ira Glass of This American Life
  • Alex Blumberg of Serial
  • Daniel Alarcón of Radio Ambulante
  • Dana Chivvis of Serial
  • Sean Rameswaram of Studio 360
  • Anne Wootton of Pop Up Archive
  • Andrew Kuklewicz of PRX
  • Kristin Calhoun of PMP
  • Stephanie Foo of This American Life

Audio Hackathon will take place in New York on September 19th and 20th. The Hackathon website doesn’t state whether or not the event is open to the general public.

Ira Glass Takes Complete Ownership of This American Life

This American Life LogoA recurring thread in podcasting news as of late is NPR and its ever-changing relationship to the medium. This trend continues as it was announced this week that This American Life founder Ira Glass has taken complete ownership of the show. Previously, This American Life was co-owned by Glass and Chicago Public Media. But the new arrangement gives complete ownership over to the show’s creator.

Chicago Public Media will still receive a percentage of revenues generated by This American Life (underwriting, station carriage fees and listener donations). All of the show’s staffers will have their employment transferred from Chicago Public Media to the production company owned by Glass.

Glass explained that the main reason for this change is it’ll allow his company to freely explore new creative opportunities. Under the previous arrangement, everything had to be go thru a committee at Chicago Public Media. This caused a lot of friction anytime This American Life producers wanted to get a new project off the ground. And after the breakout success of Serial (a show that was spun off of This American Life), Glass and his staffers are likely eager to launch new and potentially ambitious projects without having to gain permission from public media’s overlords.

Given the success of outlets like Gimlet Media, a company that was founded by a former NPR producer, it’s likely that we’ll see more of these types of transitions in the public media landscape. More and more, these producers are stepping outside of the confines of public media and terrestrial radio and realizing the benefits of going independent.


This American Life Gets New Distribution

This American Life LogoLong-running NPR favorite This American Life has switched its primary distribution point from Public Radio International (PRI) to Public Radio Exchange (PRX). This is relevant to podcasting for a couple reasons. First, the show will now be distributed primarily via the Internet instead of NPR’s satellite system. Second, This American Life will now be able to seek out its own podcast sponsors and potentially make more money.

Under PRI, This American Life was paid by NPR stations that chose to carry the show. And overall, NPR had more involvement in the business side of the show. Thru this new deal with PRX, the show is essentially going independent. It’ll still be heard in all of the same places, and the changeover should be seamless to most listeners. And while This American Life has a huge audience to build from, the change doesn’t come without risks. According to the CNBC article linked above, the show is foregoing a guaranteed seven-figure income with its old PRI deal. Under the new system, This American Life host Ira Glass and the show’s producers will be directly responsible for managing the show’s marketing and monetization efforts. From that CNBC article:

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