City Cast, a network of local podcasts, is coming to Boston

David Plotz (via LinkedIn)

Yet another small media outlet is coming to Boston — this one owned by the legendary Graham family, the former owners of The Washington Post.

City Cast is hiring a lead producer to oversee a team of three who’ll produce a daily podcast and newsletter in Boston, joining projects that are already up and running in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh. The project is expanding to six other cities as well. The journalist behind it is David Plotz, formerly the editor-in-chief of Slate (also owned by Graham Holdings) and former chief executive of Atlas Obscura, who announced his idea for a network of local podcasts in October 2020:

It will combine essential local news with smart, delightful perspective about your community. It will be the passionate, curious, connecting voice of your city and mine — framing and explaining the news and helping make us more informed and more empathetic — and better citizens in small but meaningful ways. [Plotz’s boldface.]

I spent a little time with the Denver and Chicago City Casts this morning, and my first impression was that they are more substantive than Axios Local or certainly 6AM City, which I wrote about recently for GBH News. (And let’s not forget about the specialty state political newsletters from Politico, State House News Service and CommonWealth Magazine.) That said, I’m not sure who the audience for City Cast Boston will be.

In his announcement, Plotz lamented that “where local news is sparse or feeble, communities suffer.” Well, Boston is certainly no news desert, and it’s hard to see how a small podcast is going to do anything about the suburbs, exurbs and satellite cities, where news coverage is truly lacking.

I suspect that City Cast’s target audience are young tech workers, many from out of town, who haven’t yet developed the news habit — in other words, the same people who’ve been targeted by Axios Local and 6AM City.

And maybe it’s time for the city’s major homegrown media outlets — The Boston Globe, of course, but also WBUR Radio, GBH News, CommonWealth and others — to think about why outside media organizations assume those readers are there for the taking.

Slate inexplicably lays off Jack Shafer

Jack Shafer

Earlier this summer, Mark Lisheron called and asked if I’d like to talk with him for a profile of Slate media critic Jack Shafer that he was writing for the American Journalism Review. Well, of course. Shafer is among the very best when it comes to journalism about journalism. He’s also been kind to me over the years, so I was happy to return the favor. You can read Lisheron’s piece here.

Then, yesterday, the inexplicable happened: Slate got rid of Shafer, according to AdWeek, with editor David Plotz citing ongoing financial woes at the pioneering webzine. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post also ties the move to problems at the Washington Post Co., which owns Slate.

Shafer is a dogged reporter in a field where too many media critics would prefer to sit back and pontificate. (Yes, irony alert. I get it.) But he wore his reporting lightly in the sense that you could tell how much research he’d put into his pieces, yet he didn’t feel compelled to show his work all the time. As a small-“l” libertarian, he also brought a calm, iconoclastic perspective to a field dominated by liberals and conservatives thundering at each other about allegations of bias.

It was Shafer who popularized my two favorite descriptions of Rupert Murdoch: “rotten old bastard” and “genocidal tyrant.” Though Shafer is no admirer of Murdoch, he uses the former description more affectionately than not, and “genocidal tyrant” is actually something Murdoch himself coined. Nevertheless, I always enjoy borrowing those descriptions and crediting them to Shafer.

As for Slate, well, times are tough, and I suppose Plotz has access to website traffic numbers to justify his decision. But as far as I’m concerned, Shafer is pretty much the only reason to look at Slate, and it’s hard to imagine I’ll even bother with it anymore other than for exceptional articles someone flags on Twitter.

Shafer, I suspect, will soon surface in a better job than he’s got now. Still, this is a bitter day.

Photo via the Missouri School of Journalism.