July 18, 2016

Andrea Seabrook has a big theory about American politics, and she thinks you should hear it.

After spending much of her career covering Congress for NPR and making an independent podcast about Washington, D.C., Seabrook’s been led to one conclusion: The two-party system is on its way out.

“This is the first election where it’s really obvious that there really isn’t a left-right divide in America, a big government versus small government divide, as much as there is an inside-outside divide,” Seabrook said.

It’s an idea that Seabrook, the new D.C. bureau chief for “Marketplace,” will be reporting on over the next two weeks at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for “Politics Inside Out,” a new podcast.

The podcast puts a novel spin on the medium: It’s a limited-run, “pop-up” show that will be posted online by the morning after every day of both convention. The idea, Seabrook says, is to make a show that’s more timely than the current titans of the podcasting world, ornate productions like “Invisibilia” or “Serial.”

“Right now, a lot of the public radio shows that have turned into podcasts are still public radio shows,” Seabrook said. “They sound like ‘This American Life,’ or like something else you might hear on the air.”

For “Marketplace,” a news organization under American Public Media that produces a variety of economics-focused shows, Seabrook’s appointment represents an increased investment to politics coverage with “a really strong point of view” that distinguishes it from other offerings.

The format of the podcast is based on Seabrook’s thesis for political coverage. She plans to find people outside the arenas where the conventions are being held take their questions inside the convention hall. She’ll do that with convention attendees, too, taking down policy statements from politicos and testing them on bystanders outside the convention.

Each podcast, she said, will be posted before 4 a.m. on convention days, which will require a tricky combination of interviewing, editing and narrating. She and her team will conduct interviews during the day, edit them together as the convention proceeds and finally record the narration during the evening.

The more conversational approach is in some ways a hearkening back to the early days of the medium, said Nick Quah, who chronicles the podcasting industry in Hot Pod, a weekly newsletter. For much of podcasting’s 10-year history, it was mostly dominated by the auditory equivalent of bloggers — people with two microphones and a story to tell who uploaded their handiwork on a tight turnaround.

Then, as companies like Panoply and Gimlet got into the game, the iTunes charts became crowded by narrative-driven audio stories, the type “This American Life” pioneered on conventional radio.

But recently, quick-turn podcasts have begun to see greater popularity from larger podcast companies, Quah said. In addition to shows like Mike Pesca’s “The Gist,” shows including NPR’s “Codeswitch” and “Slate’s Trumpcast” have made timeliness a priority. NPR Politics is also planning to drop a daily podcast every day during the convention.

Podcasts, which are generally delivered in regular time increments by way of an RSS feed, aren’t ideally suited for breaking news, so it’s been interesting to see these podcasters adapt the medium to fit urgent stories, Quah said.

“I think they’re pushing against the nature of temporality that comes with the feed,” Quah said.

Ultimately, Seabrook is betting that there’s an appetite for more urgent podcasting. She’d be happy if the show attracted 50,000 subscribers, and she plans to continue after the convention concludes if it’s a hit.

“The podcasting form is completely saturated with great but long-form, highly-produced podcasts,” she said. “We want to do something that’s quick and dirty that brings people what they want to hear, an exciting take and point of view from what happened last night.”

You can listen to the first episode of “Politics Inside Out” here.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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