Elsie Escobar Part 2 | Inside Podcasting - February, 19th 2020

Inside Podcasting (Feb 19th, 2020)

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Dear Reader,

Last Friday Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez announced the formation of The Podcast Academy, "a new membership-driven not-for-profit organization of independent podcasters and industry professionals dedicated to elevating awareness and excitement for podcasts as a major media category and advancing knowledge and relationships in and around the business." While Lopez is leading the charge, the Academy's founding members include Donald Albright (Tenderfoot TV), Erik Diehn (Stitcher), Anya Grundman (NPR), Kerri Hoffman (PRX), Courtney Holt (Spotify), Christy Mirabal (Sony Music), Rekha Murthy (Independent), Lauren Spohrer (Criminal), and Alia Tavakolian (Spoke Media). The Podcast Academy will host an awards show called The Golden Mics in 2021. [Note: membership in the Academy is open to individuals, not companies or organizations.]

The reaction to a tweet announcing the news was mixed. While some applauded the effort to create an organization that could help elevate the industry, others wondered whether Lopez was aware of the similarly-named Academy of Podcasters, which held a (now-defunct) awards ceremony for years, and still inducts long-time podcasters into a Hall of Fame (despite skipping a year, inductions will resume soon). None of the Hall of Fame inductees were contacted by Lopez prior to the announcement and many expressed shock that they were learning of it on social media. Adding fuel to the fire, while The Podcast Academy's current leadership includes independent podcast-makers, virtually all of them hail from the world of radio, not podcasting. It didn't help that a Bloomberg article announcing the Academy's existence described the medium as having been "born in the halls of public radio." 

She Podcasts co-founder and Hall of Fame inductee Elsie Escobar was one of the first OG podcasters to speak up, eventually publishing a Twitter thread that should be required reading for everyone in the industry. "Podcasting will not stay the quirky, anti-establishment, fringy industry that we, old-schoolers fell in love with BUT as the industry gets all glammed up, we must acknowledge it's roots, luminaries and pioneers and give credit where credit is due," she wrote. Lopez was quick to respond and the two decided to speak by phone yesterday. I caught up with Elsie after the call and have included our exchange below. 

Skye

Pictured: Escobar's induction into the hall of fame in 2017. And how's this for irony: as you can tell from the signage, Wondery sponsored the event.

You felt hurt after learning about the formation of The Podcast Academy. Can you explain why?

It wasn’t because of the formation of The Podcast Academy. My initial hurt was based on the wrong assumption that the Academy of Podcasters Hall of Fame was erased. That was not true and clarified by Dan Franks.

Tell me more about what the early community of podcasting was like.

It was creative, supportive, innovative and full of passion.

In 2005/2006 it felt like podcasters from creators to those in companies providing services for podcasters were all in some way equal.

Everyone was figuring things out together, hacking things together, finding new tools and accessories to record and publish.

It felt like everyone was on someone else’s show at some point, either as a guest or by sending in audio feedback.

I discovered so many podcasts by listening to the podcaster talk about another podcaster, even if they had nothing to do with their own show.

I guarantee folks that sent in audio feedback to their favorite podcasts at some point either ended up creating their own show or becoming a co-host on that show.

Dialogue and connection to the listeners led the way.

Meetups happened all over the world, then un-conferences like PodCamp appeared and then the Portable Media Expo…I worked and lived in Hollywood during that time and saw a bunch of celebrities at the restaurant that I worked at (because duh…of course) but I was truly star-struck when I attended that first conference, where I got to hang out with those people that were in my ears.

The kicker was that in meeting them, I never felt like they were better or knew more than me. They immediately included me, supported me and helped me.

Why do you think national media/big industry players have largely ignored the accomplishments of OG podcasters in the past?

Because they didn’t know we existed.

Podcasting was covered here and there, locally-worldwide, meaning local communities throughout the world published stories, in their respective city newspapers.

That’s as far as the coverage went.

My first podcast Elsie’s Yoga Class was covered in the news in 2007 by journalist Dave Malkoff for one of the LA TV Stations.

I know there were other snippets of coverage like this TV news report. [A must-watch!]

Podcasting was essentially an outlet for those of us on the fringe (shout out to Lance Anderson of Verge of The Fringe — now called Verge of The Dude — and founder of the L.A. Podcasters).

Insert the type of fringe that you identified with and podcast about it, that’s what connected us.

So think about this, here is a group of people that are all like Hermey from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and they all found a place where they could BE a dentist (or whatever their thing was). ūüėÖ 

With money

With no money

Whatever race

Whatever sexual orientation

From hardcore Catholics to Atheists 

From highly produced shows like [Leo Laporte's] TWiT and [Adam Curry's] Daily Source Code, to those podcasting WHILE running (shout-out to Phedippidations), to the legendary BTS Battlestar Galactica podcast from Ronald Moore (not sure if it’s even available anymore).

Shows that had a corporation behind them like CNET’s Buzz Out Loud had a rabid and loyal audience that was often featured on the show and served to be jumping-off points for some of the most respected and beloved journalists and podcasters in the space: Molly Wood, Tom Merritt, and Veronica Belmont.

All that to say that even though the content and the community was creative, engaged, and producing amazing content, mainstream and legacy media didn’t know what to do with it, nor, let’s be honest, frequented in the fringy circles ūü§≠

I mean, y’all are probably rolling your eyes right now!

All and all, out of sight, out of mind.

Media is built on relationships. In the same way that the old guard in podcasting supported each other and helped each other out, so did the old guard in legacy media organizations. You cover people that you know, or want to know or are powerful and influential.

OG podcasters didn’t have power nor influence in established models or industry, nor did we want to, that’s why we were podcasting.

I find now, looking back, not fighting hard enough to correct the record back then, was probably our biggest mistake.

Most of us had no idea how to even go about doing something like that. 

Social media was starting to be a thing, again, only for first adopters, geeky, non-conformist types. 

No reporters were on Twitter! 

There is NOOOOOOOOOO way the CEO of a company like Wondery would have EVER reached out to me because of something I said on social media.

What is the distinction between the independent producers Hernan has already included on the governor’s board and the larger independent community of podcasters, as you see them?

The vast category of independents that are currently not represented in the governor’s board are podcasters that started podcasting first because they had a message to get out.

No broadcast degree.

Little to no prior audio production expertise.

Little to no prior experience behind the microphone.

No desire to get into radio or established audio broadcasting models.

It’s easier to give examples than to qualify what the requirements are:

In 2005, Greg and Jennifer Willits established one of the very first podcasts that became a non-profit called the Rosary Army. From there they founded another non-profit podcasting network, started a video series, were hired by Sirius Satellite to do their show, and are now podcasting full time and have their own network.

Podcasters first.

Jennifer Briney from Congressional Dish who decided to start reading the congressional bills - yep - those congressional bills, because she LOOOOOVES politics and such. Her audience values what she does SO MUCH that she now makes a living at it. Wut?  

Podcaster first.

And here is a modern independent: Darius Hicks from While Black who felt deep in his bones he needed to communicate with his people because he had a couple of impactful life experiences about his culture that broke his heart a little bit. He needed to connect, inform and affirm. Podcasting became the conduit. Keep an eye on him because he’s gonna be shifting the earth a little bit here soon. 

Podcaster first.

And that’s a particle of representation of indie podcasters. Most, if not all, break all the rules of radio and public media.

Most if not all started sounding like ūüí© and through the years have slowly started up-leveling their audio prowess in skills and hardware - on their own - failing often, getting back up and primarily supported by other podcasters that had a couple of years of experience ahead of them.

I guarantee that they all know what an RSS feed is, what show notes are and have some kind of audio feedback line set up to establish a dialogue with their listeners.

You and Hernan spoke on the phone yesterday. What was that like?

It was refreshing and kinda nerve-wracking.

In all honesty, I was afraid I was going to burst into tears earlier in the day because this industry has been my life for 13 years. It was so meaningful to me.

This felt like a turning point of sorts, internally, for me.

Hernan was kind, down to earth, receptive, and emphatic. So, no need to have been so nervous!

Do you feel like Hernan understood your point-of-view?

I believe he did his very best to try and to listen and understand.

Might I have been clearer at times? Possibly. 

My hope is that he recognizes that although he, the folks at PRX and the current independents on the board of governors identify with the spirit and ethos of the independent podcasters in truth, they don’t quite know, know.

90% of independents don’t make money, nor do we have a team, and maybe don’t want a team, and we may or may not want to get better at editing, and we may or may not want to have ads on our shows, and we may or may not want to do this as a hobby and we may or may not want to use podcasting as a tool to get to whatever else is next.

And we may or may not wanna get better at storytelling and the craft of podcasting because we just.wanna.get.the.episode.out.

We have limited time and resources so there’s only so much that we can do.

But we all have something to say, now.

What do you think will happen (if anything) as a result of your discussion?

My hope is that there is space - a breath taken - to figure out what the Podcasts Academy wants to be, regardless of the awards. 

Who is it really for?

Is it truly for all podcasters?

What is the vision that this board of governors can get behind so that they can impart that to their respective communities?

And lastly for a recognition of what I’ve been referring to as a cradle podcaster, one that was essentially born into audio through podcasting FIRST.

What do you think the best outcome of this dialogue could be?

The best outcome would be to have the current board of governors or at minimum, the founders, really get curious about the OG podcasting scene outside of what they know.

Possibly even go back to listen to some of those OG podcasters out there, however wonky the audio, or style of the show. The great thing is that some, not all of those podcasts are still available out there. 

Maybe even start by going all the way back to the first episode of Podcast411.  That would be a great outcome.

What are the next steps?

Next steps?

Patience.

Space.

Listening.

Simmering. 

Dialogue.

Kindness.

Respect. 

And lastly, clarity.

I’m also talking to all of you independents that I know and love. 

We all need it.

— Elsie Escobar 

This newsletter was written and curated by podcast junkie and recovered publicist, Skye Pillsbury. Over the years, Skye has crafted digital media strategies for brands like Yahoo! and Microsoft and worked regularly with media outlets such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone and NPR. Skye was famous for 49 minutes when she and her son were featured in an episode of Gimlet Media’s Heavyweight podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SkyePillsbury.


We're at work on Season 2 of the Inside Podcasting podcast and hope to have more to share soon. In the meantime, you can catch up on the first season which included interviews with:

Ian Chillag, the creator of Everything is Alive 

Jessi Hempel, who hosts Linked In’s podcast Hello Monday

Martine Powers, who hosts Post Reports from the Washington Post 

Leon Neyfakh, the co-creator of Slow Burn, who is now the host of Fiasco 

Madeleine Baran, the investigative reporter behind In the Dark

and Inside CEO Jason Calacanis, who hosts This Week in Startups

You can find the show wherever you get your podcasts. Let us know what you think!

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