On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Michael Barbaro joins Kafka onstage in front of an audience to talk about the genesis of his hit podcast, The Daily. Barbaro talks about the creative process, the challenges of a daily broadcast and how the New York Times is supporting his efforts.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me, I’m part of the Vox Media podcast network, I’m speaking to you from Vox’s New York headquarters, but I’m just going to be here for a minute, because we’re going to go live, on tape, to Joe’s Pub. This is a show I did this week. We talked to Michael Barbaro, he’s the host of the New York Times’ mega hit podcast The Daily. He’s great, the audience is really great, they loved hearing him. You will like hearing from him too, so let’s go to Joe’s Pub right now.
Who here listens to podcasts besides Recode Media? Who listens to the New York Times The Daily podcast? I have good news. We have the host of The Daily’s podcast, Michael Barbaro. Come on out, Michael. Here he is.
Michael Barbaro: Hello. Hi Peter, thank you so much.
Sure, how are you?
I’m nervous. I mean, Samantha Bee? Cable TV?
I’m sorry. But we did tell you in advance.
Listen, we also, I got a bone to pick with you. We talked, we said we don’t want to overthink this, but you asked me, “What are you going to wear?”
“Because I’m going to dress very casually.” I said, “I’m wearing a jacket.” you said, “Great.” Now ...
No, you look great.
Well, thank you.
I would like the guests to sort of dress down a little bit. But thank you for coming anyway, thank you for coming on an evening. You often are working this time of night, right?
Putting the show together?
We had to rush the whole show, we had to change the whole news cycle just for you. We had to ask the president not to make any news.
Thank you. We were talking about this backstage.
We were talking about this onstage, with Sam about sort of what the bar for a Trump story is.
You’ve changed. So, Twitter fight with Bob Corker ...
Corker didn’t make it tonight.
Broke up with Jeff Flake, Jeff Flake broke up with him, does that ...
Flake made it in.
That made it in. What else is in tomorrow’s podcast?
So tomorrow’s podcast is fascinating. It’s a conversation about what really happened in Niger with those U.S. servicemen who were killed. This is kind of classic Daily. What we do is we took the concept of that news conference in the Rose Garden that the president had last week, where the question from a reporter was, “Could we ask you to talk about what happened in Niger?” And if you listen really carefully, the president was asked to talk about what had happened in Niger, and he went on a tangent and took it to the subject of his phone calls to servicemen and began to compare that with President Barack Obama, and made a bunch of dubious claims about that.
We just rewound the tape and said what if we just start that news conference all over again and answer the original question from the reporter, which was, “Can you talk about Niger?” We ask the question “What really happened there?” And my colleague Helene Cooper — who covers the Pentagon for the Times — talks about that. Like any great Daily segment, it has an idea embedded in it, which you can ask me about.
I do want to ask, I’m just, I’m running through my head, so is this going to be a New York Times story as well? Then you guys are gonna talk about that?
No, great question.
This is ... It’s very funny, when I ask questions of guests and they say, “Great question,” I can’t tell if they’re flattering me.
I find usually when someone says, “Great question ...”
Yeah, “I don’t want to answer your question.”
Yeah. Such a good question.
It’s a polite way of saying “fuck you.”
I don’t know about that. By the way, that was a great question.
I get that more often. All right.
No, in The Daily, which is a podcast, it’s now seven months in at the New York Times, I think when we envisioned it, was going to be pretty consistently teeing off and tethered to a story in the New York Times. As we evolved, and as we did with this episode for tomorrow, we started to tap into the wisdom of Times journalists beyond what they might be writing for the paper.
They are, in and of themselves, mini newspapers, mini New York Times on their beats, who know their subject so well that you can draw them in and have a conversation about something that they’re not writing a story about. That’s what we did with Helene Cooper, tomorrow, she has been investigating what’s happening in Niger, she goes to all the news conferences, she’s talking to sources and having constant conversations, and she has a way of talking about it as a human being, being curious about it, admitting what she doesn’t know about it, that makes you have an appreciation for the story as well as the storyteller, the journalist, that I think often is missing from a newspaper story.
I think it’s fascinating, New York Times, paper of record, right, now is encouraging its journalists, or some of them are doing it, and going out and saying, “This is a story I have not reported in the New York Times.”
First of all. Two, “I don’t know a lot of the answers I’m talking about,” or, “This is not a definitive version,” this is a, sort of, almost my working notes, right? Was it a big culture shift to get them to do that, or did they want to do it right away, as soon as you offered them the chance to come in and talk about something that you have not yet figured out?
I want to be clear, oftentimes they have figured something out. But sometimes they’re in the middle of figuring it out. I mean, we’re trying to talk to someone like Peter Baker, who’s a White House reporter at the Times, or Maggie Haberman, White House reporter at the Times, in the middle of their working day, so their thoughts are evolving, their journalism is accumulating.
The biggest evolution, I would say, was the organization recognizing, and I think it had, I think that’s why The Daily exists, that your relationship with the New York Times was, for the most part, predicated on this idea that tablets were being handed down to you every morning, and they were very authoritative and omniscient in their voice, and that all of our relationships with journalism are really changing, and that the idea of omniscience itself is held in doubt, and that it may not have ever really existed, that it was more of a conceit.
So The Daily says that journalism is this fast-evolving thing, that journalists can say what they know and say what they don’t know, and talk very openly about their process. It creates a lot of transparency that I think people crave right now.
That’s a really big shift. That is, I mean, we’ve seen media evolve that way for a couple of decades, right, since the web, in various forms, and on Twitter and Facebook, but the New York Times in particular, and a few other papers, said, “We’re not just gonna let people just randomly put stuff out.”
No, and we don’t.
“We’re still the New York Times. And what we do is meaningful, and the fact that it’s in the newspaper is a thing.” So the idea now that it’s sort of leeching out into other vectors is really interesting to me.
Yeah, and just to be clear, this is of course fact-based journalism, and it is authoritative, I think the most authoritative journalism in the world. The way that The Daily interacts with that journalism is to let the journalists talk about it in a really vulnerable, transparent way.
Can we talk about how you got to this. You had been at the paper, what, 11 years?
Did retail, business reporting.
A lot of politics reporting.
I covered all that.
I don’t mind asking where you got that. Last summer, you’re covering politics?
Is this a subway?
Yeah, I forgot that, in case you guys are hearing that now or later on a podcast, we are above a transit hub. So that’s maybe a D train? I don’t know, I’m not that good at.
Audience member: 4, 5, 6.
4, 5, 6, thank you. Very good audience here.
Did you raise your hand and say, “I would like to try a podcast”? How did that come about?
No. I was asked to do this. In fact, it’s a long, complicated story, I was not the first person to be asked, but I was asked to do podcasting at the New York Times. In the first iteration, it was a campaign podcast that was created by two people in the audience here, Lisa Togin, Samantha Heneg, thank you for recreating my career.
The Times got very excited about audio, hired some of the smartest people in audio, and the idea was that we could quickly create a podcast that would cover the uneventful final three months of the 2016 presidential campaign. We rushed into that, and we had an epiphany right away, which was that ...
Before you get to that ...
Sorry, am I racing?
It’s this historic election, they’re all historical elections, and now it seems evident, oh obviously you’d want to get into podcasts, but last summer, podcasting was still sort of a new idea, and especially with the New York Times, having an authoritative podcast was a new idea.
Did you say, “Well no, I wanna do the stuff that Maggie Haberman, everyone else is doing?”
I was doing — first of all, no one does what Maggie Haberman does, I just want to lay that out there. She’s a totally unique, genetic breed. I was covering the campaign as a writer of live debate coverage and election nights, primary nights, kind of moments and investigations, including of Donald Trump.
The idea was that I would split my time as a reporter and podcaster. As anyone will tell you in podcasting, it’s very time consuming, and so the balance quickly shifted to audio.
The way you do it. We just kind of knock these things out, actually. So it wasn’t you saying, “I’m going to give up the thing that I like.”
No, for a while it was the best possible scenario, and if you can do this as your work life, I highly recommend it, to take the risk of doing what you’re doing and trying something new simultaneously, and that was what I was able to do.
Then, when did you guys say, “Oh, this should be a daily podcast, and we’ll call it The Daily.”
When the run-up started, the epiphany that I was starting to refer to, I think when the subway came down, was that the Times reporters coming on were a bit like the hosts on the “Today” show, or on any of the morning shows, the kind of family units of mom, dad, son, daughter. You have your familiar relationships with them.
Suddenly we were realizing that if you had these highly compelling authoritative Times reporters on, whether it was Maggie Haberman or Nick Confessore or Patrick Healy, on and on, people wanted to hear them. They wanted to hear them every week. They wanted to imbibe this insider understanding of the campaign, this, in some cases, decades-long authority on the subject of the candidates, and we realized we could recreate that twice a week.
Then after the campaign, I think The Daily was the next natural extension. If we can do this twice a week and we can develop a significant audience, can we do it every day? That was a crazy leap, and I heard Samantha say how great it is to be once a week, and she is probably right, how great it is to be once a week, because putting out a daily show is incredibly taxing.
Let’s talk about the network schedule.
So you start what time?
We start in the morning, at 9:30, which is when the New York Times still has probably its most ancestral meeting in the morning.
So that’s the print schedule, right?
And they meet and talk about the news.
What is gonna be in tomorrow’s newspaper?
Exactly. Or on today’s website.
But that’s the premise of that meeting.
That’s the original premise of it, yeah. Now it really is a web-based meeting for the New York Times and our website, and we start there and we begin to brainstorm and collaborate.
So you sit in on that meeting and say, “Oh, this is what we’re working on.”
One of the members of our team, yeah, sits on that meeting, and we figure out what’s in the news, and then we tackle one subject or two subjects, and we find a reporter at the Times. Oftentimes we have to contend with massive time differences, reporters in, at the border of Myanmar need lots of advance notice.
The one thing I’ll say about my colleagues, and it keeps blowing my mind, is just how game they are at, no matter what time of night it is, to do these incredibly complicated things. If you’ve ever listened to The Daily, what you’ll never know is how many of these reporters get on the phone with one receiver to their ear, and then an iPhone to the other that is turned on airplane mode and they record directly into that one, and we call it self-syncing, and it means that the quality sounds really, really high. People do that under bedsheets, and behind curtains, and in all sorts of places and all sorts of countries.
But, they do it for a long time, right?
Oh, for an, I mean, we can talk to people for an hour and a half.
Right, because it’s a 20 minute show, and you guys are very deliberate about that, but I was talking to Jim Rutenberg, I had him on for like five minutes on one of my shows. He said, “Oh it’s much easier, because I do The Daily thing, it was two hours.” Literally.
We are very meticulous. To get 20 minutes of really high-quality audio, it can take a lot of recording time.
Are there stories that you want to do — “This is timely, let’s do it” — that reporter’s not available? That reporter’s in a different time zone, can’t be reached.
Yes. Yes, that happens. That’s a real bummer.
And so you go to story Plan B, Plan C?
Or you go to a different reporter, or you go to ... we get really creative, and we decide that we can tell the story through a primary actor. We can talk to somebody like Eric Lipton, who’s a remarkable colleague of mine who investigates the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and we can marry him with a woman who has spent three decades at the EPA but has just quit because she’s unhappy with the Trump administration policies, and those two things together will make a show.
When a reporter’s not available, we figure out if an actor in the story’s available, can talk to us, and oftentimes that is as compelling, occasionally more compelling. So we’re constantly trying to figure out, do you want to hear from somebody in the world today? Do you want to hear from a New York Times reporter? Do you want to hear from them both and weave them back and forth?
Reporters talking about stories they’ve read and stories they’re working on. A reporter you’ve known, they do that all the time, but it’s one thing to do it at the bar or wherever, it’s another thing to do it on air, knowing this is going to go out. Do you have to convince people, “No, this is a good thing, you should do it,” or does everyone get it now?
Everyone gets it now, everyone gets it. The feedback that you get from being a storyteller in audio is so profound, and the volume of it is so significant that the minute a journalist has been on the show at the Times, they want to come back on. By and large.
Now we’re going back to Joe’s Pub to hear more from Michael Barbaro.
Journalists talking about their stories, it was the premise of a lot of video projects.
Did not work. Did live versions of it, taped versions of it, the Times has spent a ton of time and a ton of money trying to figure out video, more or less without success. They’ve done some cool projects, but they don’t have a hit like this. Why do you think this works in audio, and video has frustrated the Times — and everyone else, by the way.
I don’t understand video, so I should just say that. It’s not a business or a journalism that I am involved enough in to say why it does or doesn’t work. I can just say that as somebody who’s been on television, and thinks about television, what’s really special about a show like The Daily ... Well, there’s two parts, I want to break it down.
One is that audio on demand on your phone means that you can load it at home, get on the subway, you can listen to it in your car on a long drive, wherever you are it’s with you, and it’s intimate and it’s small. Your eyes can be doing what they do during the day, you can be on the subway.
But it is demanding, it takes your, it requires you to pay attention.
But you don’t need to be stationary in front of a television, or in front of a screen, and I think that’s very liberating for people. I think that’s part of the reason why on-demand podcasting is a success in the case of The Daily. Then, I forgot the second half of my point.
That’s all right, I can fan for a little while while you think about it. You mentioned business. You’re not on the business side, but do you have a sense of sort of what the Times’ ambition for The Daily is? Is it, “We want this to be popular and then we’ll run ads against it, we’ll make money that way”? It’s, “We want to convince people to get subscriptions by listening to the Daily”? “We want people who already subscribe to the Times to find another reason to enjoy listening to the Times, and we’ll retain more of them”?
I believe it’s all of the above. We wanna be a part of a company that attracts young people to develop life-long habits with the New York Times. That habit for my parents, and maybe for yours, was the New York Times arriving in the blue bag on the doorstep.
On Sunday? Or on the rest of the week. I still get the print subscription, I’m grateful to all of you who get the print subscription still, because it really does help pay the bills. Now it might be the podcast, it might be The Daily on your screen.
So one thing we do is we get people excited about the Times. We create intimate relationships with reporters that we hope are very valuable and make people want to pay for the content. But the biggest thing we do is we just, we give the journalism a new avenue for people to consume it, and therefore we extend the brand and its values.
This was a hit out of the gate, right? You launched the beginning of February?
We launched in February right after the inauguration.
And you could feel it immediately.
I think we could feel pretty quickly that people were craving the kind of really rich, explanatory journalism that we were doing, and the numbers started to grow pretty quickly. And as the news changed and got more and more complicated and confusing, we saw our audiences responding to our attempts to just really peel back the onion.
I’d say we do two things that I think matter in this moment, and Samantha talked about the challenges of this moment, the scale of news under this presidency. I think the most important thing we do is we start a story at the beginning, and we get you through to the end. So much journalism is about kind of an incremental understanding of what changed between yesterday and today. A lot of us don’t really understood where yesterday was.
Almost none of us do. I find it’s mostly the reporters and the editors know ...
Where is the story? What is Boko Haram? Why do we pay income taxes? Some of the most basic questions we ask at the Daily — and we’re giddy about it, because we feel liberated to ask those questions — are why I think listeners really care about the show.
The second thing is that, it’s pretty soulful story telling. It’s narratives that have a human being at the center of them. I wouldn’t say The Daily ever sets out to make people cry, but we cry so much at the studio when we’re having conversations with the people we talk to, that we know inevitably some of our listeners are gonna be crying as well, and the combination of explanatory journalism and really emotional narrative journalism is I think what makes The Daily so special.
Last one where I can sort of imagine you crying — wrong way to put it — was the interview with the gun store owner in Virginia.
I don’t think I cried during that interview.
But you can sort of see the, how the ...
But, you’re right.
You can sort of see the emotion welled up. It was a straight factual story, why do you sell guns, turns out you sold guns that were used in this mass murder, you still sell them. I could sort of feel your jaw dropping as you’re going through the interview.
Right. And we had a man on the telephone — and, by the way, I think what’s not discussed enough is the power of getting someone on the telephone. When I think about what you’re willing to say to someone on the phone in your life, I think about what makes some of the conversations we have so powerful.
It was just occurring to me backstage, actually, that there’s something about that medium, and it’s the opposite of video, right? When you have a video screen in front of you, and I’m sitting there with it, with you, it’s very hard to feel some of the feelings you feel when you’re on the phone with someone for two hours really talking.
That was the interview with the owner of a gun store. That gun store owner happened to sell the gun to the Virginia Tech shooter. All of us really wanted to ask him some very straightforward questions. What is it like to sell a gun used in a mass murder? But above all we wanted him to be a human being, telling the story of what it means to be a gun shop owner. What do you care about? What do you wake up in the morning thinking about? What was your reaction to selling this gun? And along the way he told us a bunch of other stories that blew our minds, no pun intended.
He sold a gun to a woman who walked out of the store and killed herself. How do you even process that?
And said he didn’t feel bad about it because she would’ve killed herself some other way.
He had very complicated reactions to all these things. The most important feedback we got about that episode was from listeners, including a 17-year-old girl who wrote to us to say, “I never thought I wanted to hear from a gun shop owner who could’ve been in this chain, in this link, in this kind of horrible thing, but I now completely understand where he’s coming from at least. And that’s something.”
One thing that struck me about that episode in particular was you, post-Trump you had a lot of journalists doing a lot of soul searching, saying we’ve really got to get out there into the country and put on our flak helmets and go interview real people, and I think they all meant well, I don’t know how many of them are doing it.
I think a lot of them are.
Yeah. It strikes me that when you guys are doing an interview with a gun shop owner, for a lot of Daily listeners, that’s the first gun shop owner they talk to.
I think that’s right.
Are you making a point of saying we want to bring people to the New York Times audience the New York Times audience would not encounter some other way?
Yeah, and if that means bringing different people to the New York Times audience, if it means the New York Times audience changes, that would be wonderful, too.
Launched the show in February, right after the inauguration, how much of your thought process goes into Trump and how much Trump stuff you can do, and whether or not you’re doing too much Trump stuff? I think I started listening to you probably during Comey.
You guys had amazing reporters who were breaking news and telling stuff, astonishing stuff, and only afterwards did I think, “Oh, I’d like to hear stuff that’s not Trump related.”
Right. It’s a constant debate and balance that we discuss on the show. If we made the show about Trump every day, I think the power of the individual stories would be really diminished. We hear from listeners who say, “I don’t want to hear the president’s voice on your show anymore.” That’s not a debate we’re willing to have. Then we hear from listeners who say, “I want to better understand this president, can you find us more ways of exploring it?”
I think one of the challenges is to not get lazy, and to just run audio of either the president talking or the president’s critics talking, doing the one side, the other side. Our goal in episodes like what we did on James Comey is to find the people in the middle of the story and get them to tell a story you’ve never heard before.
I think we did that with James Comey, because the saga of James Comey goes back a decade or more to understanding who he is, what motivates James Comey, why has he made the decisions he has. It turns out he’s, according to our journalism, he’s super self-conscious, and aware of what the world thinks of James Comey and the institutions he runs, and has made decisions that you can trace back to those approaches to the way the world saw him and the FBI.
The last amazing thing I heard from you guys was Monday, Bill O’Reilly, the reporters who broke the last settlement story.
You sent them with a recorder to go talk, they were going to go talk to Bill O’Reilly anyway, and you said, “Take this device, and get an actual ...”
Okay, so here’s where I need to be really candid about this. Emily Steele is a remarkable reporter at the Times who’s broken an extraordinary number of stories about Bill O’Reilly and has convinced many of the women who accused him of sexually harassing them to talk on the record, which takes so much courage. She came to us, and said, “We’re gonna do an interview with Bill O’Reilly, don’t tell anyone.” And she said, “Could I have a high-quality microphone?”
She wanted to do it, she knew the value, this would be good for the podcast.
Yep. And that’s a wonderful development in our world, that journalists feel that this is being integrated into their process of storytelling. And they brought a recorder, and they brought a big fancy recorder in called the Zoom into that interview, and around the time that they thought the interview was over, and Bill O’Reilly thought the interview was over, they turned the off button on that microphone, you could literally hear it in the episode, off went the microphone, but Emily Steele and Mike Schmidt — who’s another reporter at the Times who’s broken a lot of stories on this and other subjects — they both had their iPhones still recording.
Not secretly, they just, Bill O’Reilly didn’t know it, and when he thought the interview was over, he started to get louder and louder.
Because he was basically mute/unresponsive for most of the interview.
Then he thinks the interview’s over, he thinks he’s off the record, I guess.
Right, and the curses fly, and he’s very angry, and he’s telling them to think about his children and what they’re going to be going through, and he calls the whole thing “crap.” And we played that in the show, and we talked about what that was like for the two reporters to be there.
It’s astonishing, if you guys haven’t heard it, you should hear it. I’m sure there’s a reference to it in the Times, I’m sure the Times story quotes from it, but until you hear Bill O’Reilly speaking as Bill O’Reilly, without a filter, thinking that no one is recording him, you cannot understand what he’s talking about and that anger he has ...
That’s right. The human voice doesn’t lie, whether it’s a worker at a ball-bearing factory who is crushed by the loss of her job, or it’s President Trump being himself, or it’s Bill O’Reilly. There’s such a power in the lack of a visual distraction, in just hearing the voice and hearing someone think out loud. I think that’s why we’re living in this golden age of audio and podcasting.
I didn’t understand it until I got into either, it was very new to me. I didn’t listen to a lot of podcasts. But now, I appreciate all the power that resides in the truth we tell with our voice.
You are a famous person now. Famous-ish person. Do you get recognized?
I don’t believe that.
I think you do.
I do. I get recognized once in a while, and it’s a little disorienting, because I think we think of audio as ...
Your picture is not on top of the iTunes icon, but people are googling you.
No, but I’m vain enough to have a curated Twitter photo.
I think journalists, you like bylines, you like being recognized for your work, but that’s different than going to a bodega and being recognized.
That’s not happening.
That’s not happening?
Where do you get recognized?
On the New York City subway. We live in the capital of podcasting, and lots of people in New York City listen to the show, so once in a while.
Within the New York Times cultures, which has traditionally been, “We’re the New York Times, we’re the institution, we help you build a career, but you’re subservient to the Times.” I’m probably phrasing that wrong. What is that like to sort of be someone who’s used to working for the institution ...
You sound like my therapist. Be successful, but not too successful. Or a mother.
But have you had a discussion with your editors or co-workers about that?
No, I think what you just said reflects a slight misunderstanding in the chronology and the growth of reporters as stars in their own right. I think that started a long time ago with the bylines, and with names that we all grew up reading. RW Apple, Adam McGurney, Maureen Dowd, they were breaking the mold of what it meant to be a star reporter with the voice that they used in their writing.
Then television happened, and a lot of my colleagues are such compelling storytellers in that medium as well, and I don’t know how they balance it all but they do, they are writing a story, breaking it on their way to the television studio where they’re on a show, and then they’re back at the office or they’re home reporting, this is the classic Maggie Haberman life story, kind of working non-stop and being a master of all those different mediums.
So there were many generations of those stars before me, and I think there will be a lot more after me.
I talked to Dean Kane at one of the events, he said, “We want to put pictures of our journalists next to their byline.”
Oh that’s interesting.
“We want to lean into that.” But that was last spring, and that hasn’t happened yet.
That’s a lot of real estate in the story.
It seemed like. He had a whole theory for why that would be good and help sort of validate the journalist.
I’ll tell you one thing it would be good for. It’s funny, I heard Samantha Bee say that she doesn’t look at her mentions on Twitter, which I have no such self control. But if you saw ...
People can at you.
Oh yeah. I’m very sensitive to the criticism. If you had the photo of a journalist, I think we would get a smaller volume of some of the feedback we get, because we’re human beings. I think, although Samantha’s on television, so I guess she would know better what it means to actually have your image out there. So it might not change all the negative feedback, but I’m struck sometimes by people’s inability to see that the journalist is just a person.
Yeah, because you’re just this disembodied thing, right?
I think audio’s changing that.
I have other questions for you, but I want to open this up to you guys. If you have questions, there’s a couple microphones, don’t be shy, Michael will talk. There’s a question right here.
Speaker 1: First of all, I want to say that the last time I think I cried listening to The Daily was the Rohinga story last week.
Thank you for listening to that.
Speaker 1: Which was just remarkable.
Really heartbreaking piece about what our reporter, who’s been in Myanmar, described of the refugees he’s spoken to, including a soldier killing a baby.
Speaker 1: Right. That was just, I almost had to pull over the car kind of thing.
We had a debate about how we could tell that story without basically shocking people. So we asked my colleague who told that story to sort of warn people. To say, “Before I tell you this story, I’m going to tell you a story that’s going to kill a part of you forever.”
Speaker 1: Well, it was very memorable. The other thing is, I heard you last week on longform and now you’re out here tonight, I’m just wondering is this a conscience thing? Are you doing press on purpose to try to drum up support, or just a coincidence?
No. Support for ...
Michael begged me to come onstage.
I didn’t. No, I think people are really interested in The Daily right now, and they’re interested in how journalism is done, and I think we’re really game to talk about it because we want people to listen to what we do. We work really long hours and we care about the stories, and we want to get as many people to listen as possible. No, this is not a press tour.
Speaker 1: Okay. Well Peter, it’s a real treat to have Michael here.
Let me be clear, I asked Michael and he said yes, and I’m delighted he came. Questions. Here, back here.
Speaker 2: Great, thank you. So first of all, it’s very strange to meet the man who talks to me in my shower every morning.
In the shower! So here’s the thing, there’s only one thing I’ve not been told people do The Daily to. I’ll let you be the judge.
Speaker 2: I’ll say that’s true here also. But something I’ve noticed, in the shower, is that there’s a real variety of pieces, right? I got hooked during the heady days of the ACA repeal efforts where you were talking to reporters in the Senate gallery, breaking news merely hours old. Then you’ve had these beautiful longform pieces on opioids and Myanmar and guns. Where do you see that headed? Do you have a vision of what The Daily’s going to look like in six months or a year? Is there a particular direction you personally would like to take it?
Well first of all, thank you for listening very much in the shower. I’ve so many more questions about that, but let’s just answer your original question.
I think that the news dictates a lot of what we’re capable of being at any moment, and if there’s a lot of news like what’s happening right now in Myanmar, or activity with the tax bill in Congress, we feel really compelled to deal with big breaking stories. The promise we have with the listener every day is that we’re going to tell you what you need to know.
Candidly, we’re constantly debating the definition of what need-to-know is. We increasingly believe that what you need to know is the human story of what it’s like to lose your job in a factory in Indiana, we think you need to know what’s going on inside the North Korean nuclear program, even if something didn’t happen that day. Sometimes we just have a really powerful story to tell. We think you need to know that just as much as you need to know what the president said. So we recalibrate that all the time, but if there is a big story like the James Comey, which absolutely blew up our show that week, and probably for the next week after, then we will always favor that.
Speaker 3: Big fan of the show, and I don’t listen in the shower, but I do listen every morning. I think that one of the challenges that your team probably faces inevitably is figuring out, in this immense amount of stories in the Trump administration and everything else, which to focus on and what will be most impactful for your listeners, and for the millions of people that are out there trying to figure out what to focus on for the day. So I would be interested in hearing how your team sorts through the noise, and what you focus on first and foremost in terms of what The Daily is about each day.
So I just want to say that the three people in front of you are very involved in all of this, and Lindsey Garrison there who made the extraordinary episode about Shannon who, the ball -bearing plant. Lisa Togin, who’s executive editor of NYT audio, and Samantha Heneg who’s editorial director. The Daily is truly ... I’m embarrassed at the assumptions that I am making a lot of these decisions, because we brainstorm constantly. We can spend two hours or more just thinking through what the show should be, what a segment should sound like.
I think what you hear in the show, and the quality that you pick up on, is a really obsessive approach to, what are the questions that we’re going to ask? Does the report have the right information? If they don’t, can we really beg them to just go out and do a little bit of thinking about something that we want to push them to be thinking about because it might not be something they’re actually reporting on.
So all those elements — is the reporter available, is the story powerful for audio, is there a lot of sound out there that we can play with? That’s a reality for us. If there’s congressional testimony, we’re such geeks, we watch a lot of congressional testimony. We watch a lot of speeches. We watch so you don’t have to, and we want to find a way to incorporate that. That’s very central, because the reason you’re going to understand something and feel it’s urgent and real is because there’s sound there. So that all goes into the decision making.
So it’s not just the story, it’s how can we tell this story, how can this story work in audio?
Oh yeah. I mean, it would be a pretty dry show if two reporters, a guest and I were just sitting there talking at each other. So production value is really, really important to us.
Kara, let’s not do the two reporters talking to each other that we were talking about.
We talk about the sort of crippling reality of the boring two-way, as it’s called. You would never let that happen.
One last here?
Speaker 4: Hi. I’m a big fan, I’ve also cried listening to The Daily, many times. One episode I cried at was the assisted suicide episode.
Speaker 4: Where it’s actually in, at this living like, as this person died, and you listen to the die, and it was just so powerful. I was thinking during that episode and during several others that are clearly accompanying these big prestigious Times pieces that are really deeply reported. Are you working with the reporters early on?
Speaker 4: To give them audio training and for ambiant sound, and how have you communicated that across the organization, and what’s that process like?
We try to link up as early as possible with those big pieces of journalism, and the editors who edit those kinds of stories are very specialized, the journalists are very skilled, and we try to talk to them, in some cases, in the case of the assisted suicide story, I believe we were talking to them, I believe a couple months ahead of time, and it was actually somebody from the video department at the time who was collecting audio that whole time. We worked with her, so yeah, you can’t wait till a story comes in and say, “Oh could you ...” Especially a story like that, you need to be really present. So we have to coordinate a lot.
That was a story that absolutely devastated everybody who touched it. That episode, we almost don’t talk about it unless we know we’re in a place where we know we’re safe enough to almost be emotional because it was so profound, so I’m so glad you liked it.
When a new Times reporter gets their first A1 story, they get a plate, right?
What do you get for your first Daily podcast feature?
Pat on the back.
You guys need a tchotchke or something.
Well, we have some merchandise that we’re developing.
Okay, we’ll work on that.
I think, I’m totally, totally pushing this now, but I think, Samantha how soon? Eventually you can go to the New York Times store and get some of this merchandise.
All right, we always try to break new here, so we broke an important merchandising news.
Big important news.
Michael, this is great, thank you so much.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Peter.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.