Anyone who tries to listen to some podcasts won’t get very far as more than a dozen of Spotify’s flagship podcasts and playlists have gone dark in support of Blackout Tuesday. Logos for the shows will be darkened. Some other podcasts will instead include an 8-minute, 46-second track of silence as a solemn acknowledgement of the length of time that George Floyd’s neck was fatally pinned beneath the knee of a police officer while in custody last week in Minneapolis. Spotify will also pause social media publication as a symbol of solidarity. “We are using the power of our platform to stand with black creators, amplify their voices, and accelerate meaningful conversation and long-needed change,” the company said in the announcement.
Blackout Tuesday is a day of action across the creative industries meant to call attention to the issues that have led to protests across America. Many radio stations are planning moments of silence while the big three record labels — Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music — will abstain from conducting business. The iHeartMedia-owned Mediabase will also not accept playlist add information from radio stations, which it said was a move “in solidarity with the community, for a time of reflection and meaningful action.”
No content has been pulled from iHeartRadio, but in a memo to staff on Sunday iHeart CEO Bob Pittman and COO/CFO Rich Bressler said the company has “a special responsibility to help our listeners and bring the country closer together, and we must be able to help our audiences create real and positive change.”
Other podcasters are racing to put special episodes into the ears of listeners. Pushkin Industries co-founder Malcolm Gladwell has published a bonus episode of The Limits of Power podcast taken from the 2013 audio of his book “David and Goliath” about a riot that took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The audiobook reading includes a short introduction from Gladwell.
“It’s about a situation from miles away and many years ago — and about the divisions of religion and class and not the divisions of race. But sometimes I think it is useful to take a step back and consider policing in a broader context,” said Gladwell. “What happened in Northern Ireland 50 years ago and what is happening now on the street of the United States are not all that different. The core question in both: if you have power, what does it mean to use it wisely? And what are the consequences if you don’t?”
Back at Spotify, the company has created a special hub to showcase content tied to Black History Month. That includes podcasts like NPR’s Code Switch, You Had Me at Black and The Ringer’s Higher Learning with Van Lathan and Rachel Lindsay.
Later this month it will also launch the second season of the Spotify Original The Window podcast. The initial season focused on the lives of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the next season will evolve its storytelling to focus on the experiences of the black community. That includes a black business owner in an area affected by protest, a victim of police brutality, and a black police officer. “The goal is to further the conversation and use our platform to share these stories that help us humanize each other,” the company said.
How Diverse Is Podcasting, Really?
Compared to some other media, podcasting has attracted a far greater diversity of content producers, as just a few minutes at any industry conference will reveal. But that doesn’t mean work doesn’t need to be done. The staff at the Spotify-owned sports podcast company The Ringer has been in negotiations with the company on its first union contract. But in a series of Twitter posts, union reps say those talks have been “at a standstill on diversity efforts. “We’ve been given an array of excuses as to why management cannot commit to more diverse hiring practices,” it said. The union said there are currently no African-American editors at The Ringer Podcast Network. And there are no black writers assigned to the NBA or NFL beats. It also said by its tally 86% of all speakers on The Ringer Podcast Network during 2019 were white. “A representative staff is crucial for representative cover,” it said, adding, “Going forward, we hope management will make firm commitments to increasing the diversity of our staff, particularly our public-facing voices.”