Slate Debuts The Gist with Mike Pesca – It’s Good News for Podcasting

On Monday Slate Magazine debuted its newest podcast, The Gist with Mike Pesca. The host left his high-profile position as NPR sports correspondent earlier this year to join Slate. Next week the company will premiere its second new podcast, Money, hosted by former Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon.

Slate’s investment in podcasting is good news for the medium. In particular it’s exciting to see Slate attract strong talent like Pesca and Salmon to host these new shows.

New York Times reporter Leslie Kaufman covered Slate’s podcast expansion this past Sunday. Now, if you had caught Slate editor David Plotz’s interview on The Wolf Den last month, then you would have already been privy to the company’s plans. But it’s great to see the Times giving serious coverage to this important story for on-demand audio.

The article reports that Slate’s most popular show, the Political Gabfest, has grown from 70,000 to 120,000 downloads an episode over the last year. Plotz reiterated a point he also shared with Jeff on the Wolf Den, that Slate podcast listeners “are absolutely our most devoted and fierce fans.”

Andy Bowers, executive producer of Slate’s podcasts, said that podcasting is entering “a new golden age.” He went on to say, “In podcasting, a rising tide floats all of our boats.” (Listen to Jeff’s The Wolf Den interview with Bowers from June, 2013.)

I couldn’t agree with Bowers more. Slate’s big investment in podcasting this year reflects the larger trend that the medium is the new home for fresh, exciting and innovative ideas and approaches to audio news and information, in addition to entertainment. Equally significant is the fact that publishers like Slate believe these investments will be profitable, as well as popular.

It’s also notable that The Gist is one of the very few daily general news podcasts that isn’t focused on a particular industry or sector (like tech), and also isn’t a podcast version of a broadcast radio or television show. It also stands out by not principally being a discussion and opinion program, like most of the pure-play podcasts that top the iTunes news and politics category. It’s closest cousin is probably DecodeDC, hosted by another NPR alum, Andrea Seabrook, which is weekly and not daily. DecodeDC also relies on more reportage than The Gist (so far). But they are more alike than not.

Pesca and Salmon starting podcasts at Slate–as well as Seabrook launching DecodeDC–fit in with the recent trend of well-known journalists breaking free of traditional news outlets to start new, more dynamic ventures. I’m thinking of Nate Silver‘s new FiveThirtyEight, Glenn Greenwald co-founding the Intercept, and Ezra Klein launching Vox. While these ventures are getting more hype than the podcasts, that doesn’t diminish the fact that the podcast medium is giving these experienced journalists the opportunity to stretch out and push the admittedly strict boundaries of radio news.

Podcasting is a personality-driven medium, more so than digital news sites or public radio. So it only makes sense that this medium should attract strong personalities in news and journalism looking for a fresh venue offering more flexibility and a more intimate connection with listeners.

Again, this is all very good podcasting. I’m excited to see what happens next.

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