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Feb. 1, 2017, 9:46 a.m.
Reporting & Production

With its new daily podcast, The New York Times attempts to break away from “reporting from on high”

“I think people are craving intimacy, and the honesty of a format in which journalists talk not just at them about the story, but are grappling with it in real time and are talking about the process they went through.”

The New York Times’ new weekday podcast, The Daily, dropped this morning at 6 a.m; the first episode is here and focuses on Donald Trump’s pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. I spoke with Michael Barbaro, the show’s host, about logistics — “it’s not meant to be a headline recitation show where, if something happens at 5:45 AM, we’re gonna bust into it and rewrite everything” — the show’s plans for texting, and the Times’ move away from “voice of God” reporting.

Laura Hazard Owen: How is this different from the daily news programming that’s already out there?

Michael Barbaro: I don’t think we see an on-demand morning news audio program like this out there. That observation was a starting point, joined by the reality that we employ a thousand journalists who are really smart, really well sourced, and who are really good talkers. Those are the two most powerful factors.

When we look at the landscape of what does exist, it sounds really different from what we want to be. It’s voice-of-God, it’s presentation, it’s formal. Sometimes, I’d argue, it’s stale. We’re seeking to be is conversational, probing, informal, and really transparent. To be clear, no one watched more voice-of-God newscasts growing up than I did — I had a little CNN cutout over my window, I watched all the NBC news programs and interned at NBC Nightly News one summer in college. I have a deep respect for that kind of storytelling.

The Times was once in the business of doing reporting from on high. We’ve come a long way from that, and I think audio is a step in that journey.

Owen: What made you want to do this?

Barbaro: On election night, inside the studio of The Run-Up, we brought together Nick Confessore, Maggie Haberman, and Jim Rutenberg, and the rawness of the reaction — the emotion, the open grappling with what happened, what we as a news organization did right and wrong — was nothing like anything you could read in print the next morning. There was something singular about it. That, for me, was the mission of The Run-Up, and why I got really excited about doing this daily show.

I think people are craving intimacy, and the honesty of a format in which journalists talk not just at them about the story, but are grappling with it in real time and are talking about the process they went through. The pilot episode has a clip with [Al Qaeda and ISIS correspondent] Rukmini Callimachi where she took her phone out and we talked through how she spends her day on these chatrooms where terrorists reside and talk to each other. That’s a different conversation from Rukmini coming on and saying, “here’s what I learned today,” as I think she would if she worked for public radio.

We’re creating the kind of show that I would want to listen to, that’s peeling back layers and talks to you and with you in a way that I think we would talk about news among ourselves.

Owen: New episodes are released on weekdays at 6 a.m. When do you record them? How do the logistics of that work?

Barbaro: There may be iterations of this, but generally, we’re planning to make the bulk of the show the day before, in the afternoon, and we are kind of finishing the touches in the evening. The show will be very responsive to the news, but it’s not meant to be a headline recitation show where, if something happens at 5:45 a.m., we’re gonna bust into it and rewrite everything.

I think our trailer is a very good representation of how we’re thinking. The opening was live audio from an airport from the protesters over the weekend; there was live audio of Trump’s executive order, and we talked to a reporter who’d been at JFK for 19 hours over the weekend. We will be very much on top of what’s happening. A lot of the rigor and challenge of the show is finding the right way to think about and tell the story.

Owen: [White House correspondent] Maggie Haberman recently did a really popular tweetstorm about Donald Trump’s personality, and we saw some reaction to that, wondering how the Times could capture the value of that on its own site instead of on Twitter. Is the podcast a possible place for that kind of thing?

Barbaro: Personality, biography, psychology — there are a lot of corners and edges of [the Trump] story that, for one reason or another, are not captured in any news organization’s approach, and we’re going to try to find those and tell them. For The Run-Up, we did a two-part episode with five hours of audio from his biographer that no one had heard before, and it was our single biggest episode in terms of downloads, because it was such a psychologically rich way of understanding him. Nobody had told that story before, and when you finished listening to those two episodes, you understood and saw Donald Trump as you hadn’t before.

Owen: Unusually, texting is also going to be a component of the show. Listeners can sign up to get texts from you. How is that going to work?

Barbaro: We are going to be sending texts to people who subscribe to them — I don’t know how many a day yet. I will write them, and they’ll be my take on the news of the day. I’m trying to figure out exactly what that will look like, how it should sound, how often people want to hear from us, and what they want to hear from us. We’re really eager to hear feedback on that. The Times has done this with a couple of previous projects — one was the Olympics where we had a reporter covering the games via text, and then my colleague Nick Confessore did something on Facebook toward the end of the presidential campaign that was an instant-message kind of relationship. Our feeling is that it creates a really special bond between the recipient and this show, and me as a host.

Photo of The New York Times building by Scott Beale used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 1, 2017, 9:46 a.m.
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