Also, Clubhouse is back with a major pivot that largely says goodbye to live audio rooms.
This is Hot Pod, The Verge’s newsletter about podcasting and the audio industry. Sign up here for more.
Today I will cover a controversial ad campaign that has raised questions at LAist, a pivot at Clubhouse, and a group of late night hosts who are taking their podcast to Las Vegas.
Before I start with the news, one brief side note: Herb Scannell, the head of Southern California Public Radio, announced his retirement just yesterday. Nick Gerda of LAist does a good job of laying out what Scannell’s exit means for SCPR — which includes LAist 89.3 (formerly KPCC), LAist.com, and the podcast unit LAist Studio — in a reported piece that I suggest you read.
LAist’s union has issued a statement that condemns management’s decision to air audio ads promoting an event in Los Angeles hosted by The Free Press, which it accused of amplifying “harmful anti-trans rhetoric” and spreading misinformation on transgender youth. The union wrote that it would work to “make sure that this does not happen again and that our organization upholds its values across all platforms.”
“Our mission statement says we adhere to accurate, fact-based journalism that contributes to the health of our communities. We feel this move is out of step with that mission.”
Here’s some background: Former New York Times Opinion writer Bari Weiss, now the founder of The Free Press, is hosting a debate tonight in Los Angeles that is drawing (perhaps predictably) both negative and positive attention on social media. Weiss is currently the host of her own podcast, Honestly with Bari Weiss, and will be joined onstage by fellow controversial podcasters Anna Khachiyan of Red Scare, Sarah Haider of A Special Place in Hell, and Tim Dillon of The Tim Dillon Show. Also in attendance are Louise Perry and… Grimes? The event is entitled “Has the Sexual Revolution Failed?” and will presumably attempt to give us an answer to that question.
LAist has not provided Hot Pod with answers about how it decided to accept a sponsorship by The Free Press — or why it included and then quietly deleted the event from its weekly roundup. Hot Pod reached out to Shana Krochmal, the vice president of LAist Studios, who wrote that she would forward my questions to another party — but didn’t respond to any of them. Eventually, an external PR person reached out and offered to provide a comment “on background” that could not be attributed to them, LAist, or anyone else involved. I declined.
It makes sense that an audio ad promoting the event on LAist 89.3 rattled both staff and current readers, who are mostly based in the (mostly) progressive city of Los Angeles. Both LAist.com and LAist 89.3 have reported extensively on struggles faced by Southern California’s transgender community, including local murders of transgender individuals and the state of California suing a school district for a policy where it informs parents if students want to change their pronouns. Numerous transgender rights groups and individuals have appeared as guests on LAist’s podcasts and radio programs throughout the years. Meanwhile, transgender rights groups have accused The Free Press of promoting misinformation that is harmful to the transgender community. Weiss also hosted The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, a podcast that explores author J.K. Rowling’s critical views on the transgender movement — in what some trans activists say is an inappropriately sympathetic light.
Former LAist journalist Emily Elena Dugdale tweeted a transcript of what appears to be an audio ad for the debate. Dugdale noted in a later tweet that the event was included in LAist.com’s weekly roundup of events in Los Angeles, only to be pulled a few hours later with no correction note or update.
Three employees at SCPR told Hot Pod that most of the organization was not aware of The Free Press ad until it aired. A source with knowledge of the situation said that there was “a good deal” of pushback from many employees over the sponsorship — but in the end, leadership decided to approve it.
“I didn’t know about the promo before it aired, but apparently some colleagues did and expressed concerns. It was upsetting to me to hear that my workplace would promote an event related to a site that promotes transphobia and misinformation,” wrote one employee of LAist Studios in a message to Hot Pod.
The Free Press is planning on holding more live events in the future, according to Weiss. “We’re thrilled with the response we’ve gotten and so excited for the event. There’s a real hunger for in-person, unscripted conversations and debate,” wrote Weiss in a statement to Hot Pod. She said more events are planned in other cities.
Clubhouse has gone through an evolution — it is now a social voice messaging app. The company announced last week that it will focus on voice messaging. The platform will offer “voice-only” group chats, which will allow users to send voice messages to friends in private groups. Clubhouse will also allow users to message each other in private voice messages. For those who prefer a crowd, Clubhouse will still maintain its live rooms, but they’ve clearly been deprioritized.
“To picture a Chat, imagine if your group texts and your Instagram Stories met at the park, talked for hours, became best friends and fell in love. 9 months later, they gave birth to a new way of keeping in touch – one that lets you hear your friends’ voices, meet their friends, and spend less time typing,” wrote Clubhouse in a blog post announcing the move.
Live podcast events are really becoming a thing this year. Now it looks like the late-night hosts of the Spotify podcast Strike Force Five are taking their show on the road. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon will host a live, one-night-only event at the Dolby Live at Park MGM in Las Vegas on Saturday, September 23rd. Alas, it does not appear that John Oliver nor Seth Meyers will make it. Oliver’s excuse for missing the event, as stated in the press release, was “I’m not allowed back in Vegas until I’m cleared of all charges,” while Meyers said, “I WILL be in Vegas but unable to attend as I gotta play my slots.” Good for them.
The five late-night hosts launched the Strike Force Five podcast last month as a limited Spotify series that will consist of 12 episodes — with proceeds going to their writing staffs, who are on strike. The same will be true of the live event in Vegas. The podcast is currently ranked third on both Spotify and Apple Podcasts’ charts.
Tickets for the live event will go on sale on Ticketmaster this Friday.