They Write About Podcasts, Don't They?

On Friday, John Gruber introduced a new version of his popular Talk Show podcast on the Mule Radio Syndicate network, effectively ending his partnership with Dan Benjamin and the 5by5 network. No explanation was offered by Gruber or Dan Benjamin, his co-host and 5by5 founder. So I wrote a blog post speculating about the split, and a lot of people read it. A whole lot.

I’ve been trying to figure out why so many people are interested in this story.

Here’s Macdrifter, yesterday:

I’ve looked over some of the speculation and personal attacks circulating about Gruber’s switch of networks and have one conclusion: There are a number of self-important dickheads with nothing important to do. I think that describes what’s wrong with many people on the Internet. People take their opinion too seriously and like to inflate their own value. How can anyone without personal connections to and personal knowledge of the network switch have any opinion? Further, who gives a shit. [sic] It’s a podcast that isn’t ending, just switching networks.

I think Macdrifter has this wrong, but offers a nice way to explore why so many people do give a shit.

There is a lot of irony in the phrase “self-important dickheads with nothing important to do” because, if we’re honest, it aptly describes Gruber’s persona on Daring Fireball, and that’s not a put down at all. Gruber has built an incredible brand by sneaking bits of his big, churlish personality into his writing, and we love him for it. As many fans as he has, he has loads of enemies who complain that he’s just some blogger with nothing important to do.

But we all know better. We all know that he provides a unique perspective on Apple and the tech industry as a whole. And that he serves an important journalistic service by broadcasting the overarching story of the technology industry as it stands right now.

Daring Fireball’s format, short links with opinionated commentary, has proven to be an enduring one and an inspiration for a number of writers, myself included. Macdrifter asserts that “people take their opinion too seriously,” but I don’t see that as a necessarily bad thing. Surely, Daring Fireball would be nothing without Gruber’s own opinions treated with the seriousness they deserve.

The move to Mule Radio Syndicate is more than “just switching networks.” By moving, Gruber left half the show, namely Dan Benjamin, behind. It’s as if David Letterman were suddenly on cable without Paul Schaffer one day, with no explanation.

But that’s a bad analogy because there would be an explanation. It would be printed in every newspaper, it would be scrutinized in every corner of the Internet, maybe even on Daring Fireball. It would be news, and people would demand coverage of it.

This should be no different.

John Gruber and Dan Benjamin are in the media business. The large and loyal audiences both have fostered allow them to continue their work. Unfortunately, the other edge of that sword means that their output is open to public scrutiny. For the large community of listeners and readers, this is news. It’s a juicy, salacious media story.

As it should be.

People do write about podcasts. I link to them when something relevant to this site’s audience pops up. Macdrifter has done a great job of publicizing how large the community has become and explaining why listeners are lucky for it. The above quote is perhaps the most charged in an excellent post that spells out why Gruber’s move is actually a boon for the industry. So, I would argue, is the backlash against the sudden and unexplained split.

People care about these shows. They listen to them regularly and discuss them among friends the way a bygone generation would talk about Uncle Miltie. Listeners are personally connected to these shows. We welcome these hosts into our lives every week to be entertained and inspired. There is absolutely a relationship between host and listener and it is a very personal, intimate one. Otherwise what’s the point?

People care about this story because they care about these people. I’m not naïve; there’s a layer of schadenfreude to this story too. Mostly I think people are interested because they like listening to these shows. If things had gone down differently, if listeners were at least kept informed of the move and the show’s changing format, maybe there wouldn’t be a story.

But we weren’t. And it is.