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September 24, 2018 | by  | in Podcasts |
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Medium Playback

Should an industry which now regularly designs devices that go inside human bodies need professional licensing? Should we continue to lionise a psychological study that was a sham? How accurate do I want my online data profile to be if its primary purpose is to encourage me to part with my time, attention, and money? And how has “good old-fashioned” evangelism gained popularity in “famously liberal Hollywood” among “statistically progressive millennials”?
Medium, an online cornucopia of quality modern essays and articles, has recently launched its first podcast, Playback, which addresses questions like these. Every second week, journalist Manoush Zomorodi or writer Kara Brown introduces the author of a highly popular article from the site; accompanied by music and sound effects, the author narrates their work, with an interview between author and host afterwards discovering “the story behind the story”. The impact of hearing the author recount their own essay cannot be overstated. Through speech they can relate exactly what they are trying to say: pausing for effect, adjusting their intonation for attention, emphasising the kupu they want to highlight. People sometimes talk of “the writer’s voice”. In this podcast, we get “the writer’s voice”.
As such, their emotional direction lies not far beneath the surface: the anger of one writer, newly sober, in a world where everyone around her is “super double tanked”; the frustration of another, post-weight loss surgery, in a “shortsighted” world that “mandates to discipline the fat body”. The determination of a creator who wants to hold accountable his fellow designers is evident behind his bleak humour, as is the unsettled concern of a techie at discovering the extent of the information internet companies hold about him. The authors’ strong emotional commitment comes out through their voices in a way their writing could not convey.
These kaituhi are not trained presenters, and yet, generally translate their stories for audial consumption pretty well. Some problems of course exist: for instance, while in text the problem of distinguishing what is the essay and what is a quote is neatly resolved with the use of punctuation, in the retelling the absence of such can be slightly confusing. Yet while this is a drawback of the audio medium, any complaints are quickly forgiven with, say, the entrance of David Foster Wallace’s lost voice. When his well-known speech “This Is Water” is quoted in the third episode, we don’t receive it in an italicised indented block; we get his voice. In this podcast version of the article, he is not quoted — rather, he speaks. The same later: we do not get a transcript of an interview with Philip Zimbardo of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment; we get his voice from the interview itself.
The value of audio rings out not only in the quotes but also the music and sound design. This podcast is polished. Foley comes in helpfully every now and then — professionally; unnoticed — and the use of music throughout the pieces serves rather than distracts: in the third episode, the author paints a scene of a modern baptism; when the “soft and low [music of the band] crescendos”, the podcast happily demonstrates, placing you right there in the watching congregation, inexplicably cheering on.
The articles are different mixes of personal accounts, journalistic reporting, and opinion, and as such the kaupapa covered by the podcast are varied. A distinctive assurance with this podcast, however, is the confidence that, whatever its topic and wherever its direction leads, each episode is going to be of quality: each piece has demonstrated its merit already by being one of the most popular recent articles from a thought-provoking site. While of course the quality of a piece’s preparation and presentation does not necessarily entail endorsement of its premise, there is value in confronting and exploring new ideas, and a well-executed exploration is exactly what this podcast provides.

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