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Michael Barbaro explains why The Daily podcast doesn’t cover Donald Trump’s tweets

The New York Times podcast host spoke with Recode’s Kara Swisher on the latest episode of Recode Decode.

Michael Priest / 92Y

These days, it feels as though everyone is doing a daily news podcast (including our sister site, Vox). But the forefather of this new genre of show is the New York Times podcast The Daily, which launched in January 2017 and now gets 1.1 million downloads every weekday.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, The Daily host Michael Barbaro said it wasn’t immediately obvious what an on-demand daily news show should sound like.

“We spent a lot of time workshopping The Daily,” Barbaro said. “We came up with this idea … Why can’t the news feel like narrative storytelling, but in a short form?”

In other words: His team of four people (which has since grown to 10) wanted The Daily to have the deliberate documentary-style sound of This American Life. But they didn’t want their show to be an hour long, as that one is.

“You’re not just gonna give the news upfront and talk about it for 15 or 20 minutes,” Barbaro said. “You’re going to treat the news — ‘cause all great stories have a narrative arc to them — with the idea that there is suspense. What are you going to tell people at the start of a story versus the end? Where’s the epiphany? Where’s the emotional moment in the piece?”

And that’s why Barbaro is uninterested in devoting a day of the podcast to, for example, dissecting President Trump’s tweets: “There’s no narrative tension,” he said.

“Also, I’m really allergic to coverage of things that are deliberately provocative,” Barbaro added. “If the president’s going to go on Twitter and write something that’s meant to provoke, then that’s a great cable news segment. But for us, we want to tell a story with an idea and a character and an emotional journey. Tweets don’t have those, by definition.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, which was recorded in front of a live audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Barbaro explained another way The Daily is different from the podcasts and radio shows that came before it: Even as the host of a narrative show, he does little to no narrating. His guests — sometimes reporters from the New York Times and sometimes those reporters’ sources — have to be gently prodded into carrying the whole story forward.

“The questions have to contain the right information so that you are being told the story through pure question-and-answer, rather than me interjecting the way an NPR host might and telling the story in my own voice,” Barbaro said. “If it’s not in the question and it’s not in the answer, it’s not in the episode.”

To pull that trick off, he and his team are collaborating in a Google Doc while each interview is happening. As the guest talks, Barbaro’s producers are sometimes rewriting questions on the fly to make them as useful as possible.

“The show does not get made without Google Docs,” he said.

For most of his career, Barbaro covered commerce and politics for the Washington Post and the New York Times. But now as the host of the Daily, a role he likens to “curating the best storytelling” at the Times, he’s at the forefront of a shift in how audiences relate to the media.

“I wish that journalism could be never about the journalist,” he said. “But we have entered a phase, and I think it’s a welcome phase, where people are curious about the journalists telling the story.”

“For the longest time, we pretended that we could hide behind these big tablets we handed down every day — we were going to tell you a story and if you didn’t like it, sorry!” Barbaro added. “Now, people are demanding greater accountability and transparency. They want to understand where the reporters are coming from. They want to understand who these people are and how they think. And I think anytime a journalist is really grappling with a story, then you’re learning that they take this job really seriously.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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