And yes, this means you can hire me
Hello. As the title says: I got laid off. It’s not a great time, of course, but honestly — is there ever a good time to lose your job? No. Well, maybe, but more on that in a second.
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For those who might not know: I was, for a couple years, a podcast host and editor. It was a great job. I got to transition out of strictly blogging for my money and expand ye olde ambit to include creating and producing radio.
I was lucky enough to host and executive produce a history series where we had enough of a budget to go places and report out our storieswithout too much executive oversight. Obviously it couldn’t last; we got canceled after one brilliant season, which you should obviously go listen to. It’s a trip. Afterward, they let me host a season of a true crime show, one of our biggest; it was an interesting change of pace, but I learned a lot about the vagaries and criminals of the international art market. It’s airing new episodes now, in fact.
Regardless, there just wasn’t enough work for me to do. The problem with the podcast market is that everything is changing again.
I noticed it the third time I met someone new, told them I was a podcast host, and they asked the question: oh, is that on YouTube? Which to me signals the end of the post-Serial narrative boom, the one that brought me into this industry in the first place. I think it’s probably fair to say that podcasts are an internet-native industry, and also that the internet has changed.
It’s a lot more visual now, owing to things like TikTok becoming the driving engine of American culture — a society-wide pivot to video. As soon as people figured out you could build massive audiences there and on YouTube on the back of viral clips of your hosts saying outlandish things to even more outlandish guests, the narrative podcast market felt a little doomed. And while I love the form — I love how literary it is, tbh — I can’t help but feel that the asteroid is already in the atmosphere.
And it kinda feels like all of media is in that boat right now. Outside of the large players — your New York Timeses, your Condés, etc — who will survive whatever via their status as the adults in the room, it’s hard to imagine what’s going to happen to everyone else. The smaller outfits that were trying to do things differently, etc. Was that all a ZIRP thing? Who knows. But it does feel like there’s a media winter. And I think it’s because the attention economy finally broke.
Monoculture has been dead for a while. The last thing that America Watched Together was probably Game of Thrones; the debut episode of the 8th season reached 11.76 million people. You could make the argument that the newest contender for that particular crown is Yellowstone. And it is massively popular! It also happens to be in its final season as of this month. Its debut episode reached 6.6 million people.
What I’m trying to say is that tech fragmented traditional media, and then social media atomized whatever was left. In that light, Elon Musk taking over Twitter and subsequently cratering its relevance feels kind of like a coup de grâce: it was the last place talking heads and TV pundits could use as a proxy for the national conversation, however imperfectly. The rest of the internet isn’t as legible. Following a conversation taking place on TikTok is a lot harder than just searching up some tweets from the firehose. We all live in our own Content Bubbles now, you know? Which is why it can feel like trends are moving faster than ever — you’re just hearing the chatter from inside other people’s bubbles.
Consequently — and I think this is the far more important thing — it means that everything has become kind of niche. Things break through to many bubbles very briefly, sure. But it means that nothing will be truly viral ever again, I think. It’s nearly impossible to assemble an audience the size of, say, The Daily’s or This American Life’s if you’re not a massive institution already. And because the media markets are so saturated, it’s hard for anything to break through, no matter how much you spend on marketing. Even hits are just kinda niche now.
I’m not pessimistic about media, though. I think that niche-ness is super exciting for me as a person who makes stuff online, just because it means there’s kind of an audience for everything and anything. An audience you don’t have to sand the edges off to appeal to.
In corporate terms, however, that’s a real problem. You need massive, monoculture-sized audiences to create acceptable returns for your investors and shareholders. You need the scale that only a unified system of magazines, newspapers, television, and radio can bring. Which doesn’t exist anymore.
The reasons I’m excited about the inherent niche-ness of media are existential threats to media companies. I don’t want to open the whole AI can of worms here, but I can’t imagine people will want the gray sludginess of AI-generated content when there’s so much vibrant stuff out there being made by human beings you’ve never heard of. Human beings you can become a fan of and then bring into your bubble.
Anyway. All this is to say: getting laid off has gotten me excited about making things again. Things just for me, you know? And in the meantime, I’m starting to think about taking another leap into a different industry — video games.
The week before I got laid off, I managed to get a contract job writing for Valve. It’s been exciting to learn new things about the process of making video games, and I’ve loved getting to try out a new way of writing. (Fun fact: did you know that the CMS for a ton of games is Microsoft Excel?)
I said earlier there’s never a good time to get laid off. Even so, I can’t help but feel lucky it happened when it did — it meant I didn’t have to choose, or watch an industry I love begin its decline. And now that I’m a little further away from the media, emotionally speaking, I feel a lot better about giving something new a try.
P.S. If ya feel like kicking me a couple bucks, go right ahead. You can subscribe to my Twitch channel if you want (yeah, I’m back to streaming, lol), or just tip whatever right here. Thanks for your support.
P.P.S. I’ll try to update this more frequently. I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of paid version. What would you like to see this turn into? I’d love to hear what you think.
I want to be clear, though: obviously I believe there’s room for good, smart narrative shows. The massive audiences required to make a 100x return for your investors and distributors, however, may not be.
Hence the rise of parasocial marketing. That, however, is a discussion for another time.
I may or may not write about how it happened later.