What’s Up with Podcasts? Is There a Danger in Making the Story of Guatemala Too Simple?

Ideas and Issues

ReplyAll_Logo_2400pxNew Orleans   I’m a techno-peasant when it comes to podcasts. I had thought somehow I could get them automatically on an iPod, and that still may be true, but somehow I had almost figured it out several years ago, lost the iPod, and then was somewhere between “don’t remember” and “don’t care” when I was able to get the iPod together again. Some of the readers of the Chief Organizer’s Report on the blog kept hounding me to record them as podcasts, and I diddled around with that until I was awakened out of my stupor working with radio stations again and needing public affairs content.

Nonetheless, one of my closest living relatives is a huge pod-promoter, and my daughter got my attention in several ways. First she said the alarming phrase to me: “it will change your life.” What?!? How could I possibly resist that line? Secondly, she took my phone out of my hand and put an app called Stitcher on it, that she claimed would make it easy to access great podcasts, blah, blah, blah. Unbelievably, I was still able to resist. I tried briefly but my earbuds didn’t really work for that, and I rationalized that it would just eat up my phone battery. Somehow she must have still sensed resistance, and she then began texting me about things I should listen to! This was a full-on assault of all the moats and excuses I had built around my time-castle! My last defense fell when I said she would have to text me a link, and, darned if she didn’t! So I found myself hauling my radio station earphones with me as I drove the hours from Little Rock to New Orleans. What else could a dad to do?

“Reply All” is a very good podcast. It was one of several my daughter had highly recommended, and, ok, it was the one of the ones she texted to my attention. The CEO of the podcast, and isn’t that kind of wonderful in itself that there can be a CEO of a podcast, is sober about the medium, noting that it’s been slow to catch on and contrary to some of the hype, listenership is falling rather than rising. He says,


Up until 2013, the metrics tell a different story about podcasting. According to the Pew Research Center for Journalism, “the number of Americans who have ever listened to an audio podcast was down slightly from 29% in 2012 to 27% in 2013.” And, 2013 wasn’t an anomaly. According to Pew, podcasting hit a plateau as early as 2007. Sure, Pew’s numbers are a year old at this point, but that didn’t stop Jefferson Graham from predicting that podcasting was exploding in a 2013 post on USA Today.


He then added that he felt current numbers would show further decline. Sobering stuff for a life changer.

But now, I’ve finally listened to a bunch of them, and I liked it. One had three teenage girls talking about how their life had become absorbed with stoking their social network on Instagram, which pretty much convinced me not to ever join. There was an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates by an old buddy on the question of whether fame changes people, which was interesting food for thought, and then there was a Reply All with a story of a woman in Guatemala and her role in the popular takedown of the President and Vice-President there and the outrage around corruption. I loved the story. Who wouldn’t? It was a classic David versus Goliath, the “mouse that roared” kind of a tale. She was a middle-aged grandmother and Facebook rant queen on various sites who launched a Facebook page calling for a demonstration to bring down the VP. The story teller speculated with a journalist about whether she should or could run for president. Geez!

Unfortunately it was too pat for me. Too much of a fairy tale. Too much of a story. I started becoming suspicious and skeptical when the story teller claimed our heroine’s demonstration was huge, but never gave an estimate of the size. The fact that she was anonymous on Facebook after the call also make the claims of her own political future seemed hype.

It also doesn’t take much to remember and explore the backstory of the Guatemalan uprising that essentially brought down the government, and, just as in Egypt, it’s a lot more complicated – and courageous – than starting a Facebook page and being an early voice for a march and a resignation demand. Corruption is not a new issue there, and the trigger began with a report from an UN-sponsored commission detailing $120 million in bribes to government officials that immediately led to more than 20 arrests and indictments. The release of the report also led to daily demonstrations beginning the very next day at the Presidential palace demanding action and resignations. There were activists. There were organizations. There was a general strike. There were up to 65000 people at rallies. This was a popular movement.

In fairness, Reply All mentioned that our heroine had reached out and gotten help from activists, neighbors, and friends when she realized she was over her head, and I guess in the same way that victory has thousand mothers and fathers and defeat has none, our Facebook heroine should rightly counted as one of them, but they were legion. Nonetheless how many of the facts and how much of truth has been diluted to tell a story like a fairy tale with miraculous actions and “happily ever after” endings? In a 30 minute medium, the hard facts of the real struggles, sacrifices and organizing that goes into something like this should not be skewed to create another internet activism mirage and moral for the story.

But, maybe the Reply All CEO is right. I’m listening now, but I might be swimming against the tide of many who won’t hear the story or think twice about it being anything but nice. And, for the listeners of Reply All who’ve navigated the media without a loving daughter’s curation, it may be just more candy for the choir of true believers.