After racial reckoning, embattled ‘Reply All’ podcast addresses ‘major blind spot’
After a two-month hiatus, on a new episode of the podcast “Reply All,” hosts Emmanuel Dzotsi and Alex Goldman discussed at length the controversy at Gimlet Media sparked by the podcast’s scrapped miniseries, “The Test Kitchen.”
Released Thursday, the latest episode began with Dzotsi explaining a “pretty short and pretty direct” voice memo he received on Feb. 16 from a friend: “None of this is your problem to fix... Stay the f— out of it.”
That problem was a scandal involving a miniseries that was scheduled to span four episodes. While uncovering how food magazine Bon Appétit became a toxic workplace for its employees of color, Gimlet’s own work environment came under fire.
A Twitter thread by former employee Eric Eddings, who hosted the Gimlet Media podcast “The Nod” with Brittany Luse, went viral in February. Eddings alleged that host PJ Vogt and senior reporter Sruthi Pinnamaneni contributed to a “toxic dynamic at Gimlet” that was identical to the one at Bon Appétit.
“It’s damaging to have that reporting and storytelling come from two people who have actively and AGGRESSIVELY worked against multiple efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff & content,” he wrote back then.
Vogt and Pinnamaneni promptly left the podcast following Eddings’ thread. Two episodes of “The Test Kitchen” miniseries aired before the rest were abandoned.
In Thursday’s 20-minute episode, Dzotsi said: “After everything that’s happened and all the people this show has let down, a very familiar course of events has transpired. The white leader guy has left the stage, and a Black guy is talking to you about it. That fact doesn’t feel good to anyone, but it is what’s happening.”
Dzotsi revisited a notable moment on the show: when he received a promotion.
“Back in June, when PJ asked me if I wanted to become a host of this show, a bunch of questions came to mind,” Dzotsi said. “One, which we openly talked about as the summer progressed, was about the timing of this proposed promotion, just weeks after Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. I was worried about being seen as a way for the show to fake racial progress.”
Dzotsi then replayed the promotion announcement from a previous “Reply All” episode because, “If you listen closely, underneath all of the joviality and camaraderie, you can actually hear us trying to answer a lot of complicated questions about ourselves in real time,” Dzotsi said.
“The idea behind this move,” Vogt explained in the old episode, “is, like, we just want to give Emanuel more space and support to do stories like ones he’s done — like big, ambitious reported pieces like his three-parter on Alabama Democrats from the winter, or his story this summer about white people sending Black people reparations on Venmo.”
Podcast ‘Reply All’ launched a buzzy series on racial bias at Bon Appétit. But it led to revelations about similar problems at parent company Gimlet Media.
Dzotsi responded: “You mean the story about, like, white people trying to, like, give Black people what they deserve?” Dzotsi, Goldman and Vogt then burst into laughter.
“Yes, this promotion is not reparations in action. It’s just a reflection of the fact that we have a super talented reporter on our staff who is going to get a little more stage to tell stories on,” Vogt said back then.
Dzotsi then returned and explained: “My only real contribution to the announcement is to cringe-ly wink at the thing I felt like we were tiptoeing around saying, which was, ‘Dear listener: A Black guy is going to be on the air from now on. He’s good. Don’t be mean, don’t be racist.’”
He said that he felt like the announcement was meant to address all of the hate and “weird a— s—” he received from listeners. “One white woman actually once emailed me a 17-minute voice memo complaining that everywhere she turned, there were Black people making her feel bad about race, and she wanted it to stop,” he said.
Gimlet podcast ‘Reply All’ apologizes, ending miniseries ‘The Test Kitchen.’
“Looking back on it now, that new host announcement feels emblematic of a major blind spot on our show,” Dzotsi said. “We often had conversations about how we didn’t like that our listeners had negative reactions to the sorts of stories I was interested in, stories about race and identity, even though we were the ones who made a show that so often ignored race and identity.”
“If I’m honest,” Dzotsi said, “the internet criticism of my work on the show that always felt the worst wasn’t racist or bad-faith stuff people said about me; it was something they said about my stories that always felt pretty true: that my reporting just didn’t sound like something that belonged on the version of ‘Reply All’ that so many listeners have come to know and love.”
Eventually, Goldman spoke on Thursday’s episode, apologizing to listeners and explaining that they have been “working to pinpoint where exactly our process failed.” They are also working with “folks outside of the show to identify problems in our process.”
Goldman said the “Test Kitchen” series could not air because when Vogt and Pinnamaneni left the show, the final two episodes weren’t completed. One option would have been having an outside reporter finish the series, but it would have required redoing dozens of interviews “with people who had already entrusted us to tell this story and been disappointed by us. It’s just like an impossible position for any reporter. And we created that situation.”
Spotify said Wednesday it would acquire New York podcasting companies Gimlet Media and Anchor FM Inc., establishing itself as a major player in podcasting, a once-nascent category that has emerged as a booming industry.
Noting that the podcast had pledged to do better in the past, Dzotsi admitted, “We don’t know if it’s gonna work.” He added: “We’re gonna try to make this a better show. And if that interests you in any way, like what we could be making, stay with us.”
On March 10, the New York Times reported on the rise of Gimlet Media and the company’s unionization effort largely spearheaded by employees of color. The article claimed that Pinnamaneni and Vogt “shoulder the blame for a situation that was, many people said, ultimately created by Gimlet’s founders.”
It also revealed that hosts of popular shows within the newsroom had power. “There is a saying about something being the ‘tent pole show,’” a former Gimlet employee told the New York Times. “‘Reply All’ wasn’t the tent pole, it was the whole tent.”
“Reply All” will return to its regular schedule with a new episode on June 10.
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