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Podcasting battles East Coast bias

“Podcasting as an industry has to be bigger than New York. And we have to be intentional about making it so.”

I’m a Metrocard-carrying New Yorker, so I say this from a place of love.

In 2019, New York, and by extension the East Coast, will have to accept that it simply cannot be the center of podcasting if we want our industry to grow and thrive while avoiding the pitfalls legacy media still faces because of its East Coast bias.

[Ducks for cover.] Hear me out.

The fact that New York has always been a mecca for creatives is a big part of why so many industries congregate there: fashion, music, theater, visual arts, culinary arts. But that gravitational pull often results in a type of reinforced groupthink that can stifle inclusion, repel difference, and alienate swaths of the country. (See any New York Times headline that includes the word “we” and the choral response that follows.)

I was part of New York media for many years, so I know the insulating effect it can have on writers and editors, on reporters and producers. Most of the time, our insularity only leads to the rest of the country rolling its eyes and calling us elitists. But in recent years, that East Coast bias has had serious consequences, like leaving most of us blindsided by the election of Donald Trump.

Establishment media wasn’t paying enough attention to what the rest of the country was saying, how they were aligning locally, what resentments they were harboring, and where they were misplacing blame for their lifes’ woes. Most outlets were focused on the usual powerful suspects in politics and eager to cash in on the clash of titans that they believed would inevitably end in the swearing in of the first woman president. But we know how that story ended.

As its ranks grow, podcasting seems to be on course to repeat this New York-centric mistake. City officials have declared it the podcasting capital of the world. They created a podcasting certification program. They’re challenging anyone who steps up for geographic supremacy. As a marketing ploy, it’s admirable.

But podcasting as an industry has to be bigger than New York. And we have to be intentional about making it so.

We have to embrace and celebrate producers from all parts of the country and from all social strata. We have to seek out the unusual suspects telling stories from unexpected places. We have to put them in our “best of” lists, tell our listeners about them, get behind their social campaigns, recognize them with awards, and make room for them on our conference panels.

And we have to do this for our industry as much as for ourselves. Podcasting has the potential to be a much more democratic medium than any before it — but that won’t happen by accident. And it won’t happen if we start off copying standard practices of legacy media.

Thankfully, we’re off to a promising start.

Pockets of podcasting greatness have already popped up around the country. Boston is a standout with PRX’s Podcast Garage, RadioPublic, and the wonderful Sound Education Conference at Harvard. Denver’s been put on the map in a big way by the brilliance of House of Pod. The Bay Area has scores of gifted producers and is home to the inimitable Reveal. My new home, Washington, headquarters NPR, the mothership of public radio, and will soon welcome a its own Podcast Garage.

While I’m optimistic that podcasting is already more welcoming and geographically inclusive, I also see how it sometimes recreates old patterns born out of a decidedly East Coast point of view. So I encourage us to be intentional about seeking out, including, celebrating, and partaking in worthwhile work everywhere it’s happening. We’ll be better for it, and so will our beloved industry.

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