Play Next: Two podcasts you should be listening to now
Good morning. I’m Paige Hymson, a podcast producer here at The Times. The final episode of “Room 20” is here. Listen and subscribe now. If you’re not caught up, it’s not too late to start with Episode 1 and listen to the series everyone’s been talking about.
This week, I spoke with two Los Angeles Times colleagues who host their own podcasts, both of which should be on your radar. But first, a quick note:
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What is your podcast all about? What themes do you touch on?
I start with the news — ideally grounded in California — and then look for someone to take us into a deeper, unexpected angle on the story. After the shooting death of an off-duty LAPD officer over graffiti tagging, I talked to a woman who’s researched a century of L.A. graffiti and the unending battle over scrawling on the city’s walls. After a week of particularly egregious lies by President Trump, I talked to the Canadian reporter whose entire working life is spent tracking and fact-checking those lies. When the White House wanted to create a space force, I had Neil DeGrasse Tyson sizing it up for me. And once in a while, it’s just someone who has a new book or a new album, someone I think the audience would like to hear from — Joan Baez, Jimmy Webb, Barbara Ehrenreich.
Who are some of the people you’ve interviewed? Any suggested episodes for listeners to go back and hear?
Baez and Webb are telling barometers of changes in the world of popular music. Bernice Sandler, who died just this year, was the godmother of Title IX, and I interviewed her a year or so before she died. The author Terry Tempest Williams, as poetic in her speech as in her writing, will change the way you think about the American West. I so loved talking to Ursula K. Le Guin, as who would not? Norman Mineta — the man whose name is on the San Jose airport — tells his astonishing American life, from being a kid in a Japanese internment camp to a Democratic member of a Republican president’s Cabinet.
What do you enjoy most about hosting a podcast?
A real reporter is annoyingly curious, and a podcast lets me play the field with an infinite range of subjects, rummaging around in some very smart person’s brain to gratify my curiosity and, I hope, pique the listener’s. I always say that your ears are two of the most intimate orifices in your body. And telling a story — compared to writing it or videotaping it — is humanity’s original medium.
What have you learned?
Every interview is like a short course at Podcast University. In fact, I should make up sweatshirts for that! As for the nature of the podcast, I’ve come to believe that unless you’re telling a story with a structured plot line and a suspenseful outcome — like a crime — or a story with several voices and points of view, 20 minutes is about the maximum advisable length. Remember that, unlike print readers, podcast listeners can’t glance back at the beginning of the story to remind themselves, who is this person? Why is she important to the story? Brevity in storytelling is a demanding art. I cherish the quote from the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who ended a letter to a friend with, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
What goals are you trying to achieve with your conversations?
Anyone who writes or speaks knows that we only control 50% of the creative process; we can’t force people to react in a certain way. The other 50% rests with the reader, the viewer, the listener. If I can get her or him to think, “Gee, I didn’t know that,” or “You know, I never thought of it that way,” then I’ve done my job.
What major themes do you cover in your podcast?
The podcast, which I co-host with Matt Levin, a reporter from nonprofit CalMatters, examines the underlying causes for why it’s so unaffordable to live in California and some of the ideas for trying to fix it. We often look at the subject through the lens of proposals to change state law to address California’s shortage of available homes and protections for renters among other plans. But we also spend a good bit of time comparing potential housing affordability solutions from other areas of the country like Minneapolis or Oregon.
What has surprised you most about hosting a podcast?
The engagement has been great. People tweet avocado emojis at me all the time.
What audiences do you hope to capture with your podcast?
We hope to reach anyone who is struggling with the high cost of housing in California and wondering what to do about it.
Any suggested episodes for listeners to go back and listen to?
One recent episode examined what might happen in specific neighborhoods if there’s a boom in development. We dug deep to understand how increases in homebuilding affect what people pay to live in a specific neighborhood and how new development might affect existing residents, particularly in communities that might be at risk of or already experiencing gentrification or displacement. It’s a nuanced look at what the effects on your rent will be when you see those big cranes in San Francisco, Los Angeles or anywhere else in California.
What can we expect to learn from your podcast?
If you listen to us, you’ll be informed and up to date about the latest problems due to the rising costs of housing in California and proposed solutions. We also have a recurring segment called “Avocado of the Fortnight,” where we identify a whimsical example showing the absurdity of the state’s housing problems — like the studio apartment in San Jose that rents for $1,500 a month, which sounds like a great deal for Silicon Valley until you realize the tenants are two cats.
Picks of the Week:
Each week, different Times staff members will share their personal podcast recommendations with you. Here’s what Deputy Managing Editor Shelby Grad is listening to now:
“Serial: Season One,” This American Life: It took me five years to finally listen to this, and it lived up to the hype. Even after reading so much about the case, I was riveted by how the creators laid out the story and brought in so many different elements — the murder, policing, the city, race and religion, suburban angst. You can see why its first-person detective narrative has become the standard for so many true-crime podcasts. The narration is deceptively simple — a reporter trying to figure out whether a convicted killer is innocent. But listening to “Serial” for a second time, it became clear how essential her journey, her doubts, her frustrations and even her eccentricities are to building suspense and keeping you interested, even though she is careful not to declare where she comes down on the essential question.
“Longform Podcast,” Longform: Writing is really hard, and that’s a big reason I became an editor. I love this podcast because it both celebrates and dissects great writing. Each week, a writer (and occasionally an editor) comes on to talk about their best work and how they got where they are. Some are little too career-oriented. But in the best ones, the writers open up about their process, reveal the many deleted drafts and the insecurities that haunt you. I’d recommend reading the stories discussed in the podcast beforehand; it can really become an instructive writing lesson. I particularly enjoy it when they talk about how those tiny, humiliating jobs that launched their careers — small-town weekly reporter, gossip column assistant, fact-checker, soap opera magazine writer — gave them the skills they needed to play in the big leagues.
“Recode Media with Peter Kafka” and “The Digiday Podcast”: The economics of journalism can be pretty depressing. But you’d be surprised by how much better you’ll feel when you learn how various players in our industry are trying to survive. Both of these podcasts go deep into the big issues facing the media, mostly through guests on the front lines. One week, we hear from the New York Times about how it’s fighting subscription churn, the next from Conde Nast about its plan to save magazines, and then from the Financial Times about its wars with Google. “The Digiday Podcast” gets a little more into the weeds of the business, but all that jargon — pivot to video, pivot to paid, pivot to brand safety — actually left me over time with a better understanding of our business — for better or for worse!
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