Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The New Yorker Out Loud

Posted by Maximum Fun on 10th October 2011

Vital stats:
Format: New Yorker contributors and the web editor in conversation
Episode duration: ~15m
Frequency: weekly

I can’t quite get my mind around the idea of the New Yorker entering podcasting. Yes, this after I Podthought about their fiction podcast two years ago, but still — it’s the New Yorker, for cryin’ out loud! (Wait until I find out about all that stuff they’ve cranked out for the iPad.) While the fiction show bears the mark of an “old media” outfit’s “new media” venture by taking much of its material directly from the magazine’s back pages — but doing it well, I might add — another of their podcasts, Out Loud [RSS] [iTunes], delivers all original talk. Rest assured, in other words, that The New Yorker Out Loud offers something much more interesting than literally that.

This podcast does indeed feature New Yorker people talking out loud about New Yorker pieces, but with a very clear element of added value: they give you the background, the extras, the stuff that didn’t make it into the text itself. Each week, a host, usually web editor Blake Eskin, takes aside one contributor from the current issue and spends fifteen-ish minutes asking about what they’ve written. While a form that short cuts off the possibility of in-depth conversation and while I remain unsure whether you do best to listen to these episodes before reading the relevant article, after reading the relevant article, while reading the relevant article, or instead of reading the relevant article, I find myself consuming them like potato chips.

Part of this mild addictiveness surely springs from the sheer variety of topics. If you find yourself unengaged with shoplifting [MP3], video games [MP3], or Super Sam Fuld [MP3], just wait fifteen minutes (or less!) and you’ll hear about Harvard’s bells [MP3], say, or medical marijuana [MP3], or the slaughter of songbirds in Europe [MP3]. Sometimes you’ll hear from well-known luminaries who only occasionally show up in the magazine discussing these subjects: your Nicholson Bakers, your Gahan Wilsons (drawing, of course, counts as contribution) your John Adamses. Most of the time, you’ll hear from the hardworking cultural journalists who regularly fill its pages, like Joan Acocella, Alex Ross, James Wood, and David Denby.

But where, oh where, is Anthony Lane? I long for the day that the fadeout of The New Yorker Out Loud’s Gary-Numan-with-a-cellphone-near-an-unshielded-speaker theme music gives way to the plummy accent of not only the Anglosphere’s funniest living film critic but this podcast’s most glaring absence. We’ve heard him on Bookworm and Charlie Rose; we know he makes for a good interview. I can’t give you a precise episode count, but at some point, producing a New Yorker-related podcast without including Anthony Lane verges on perversity.

Or am I simply lobbying for a personal preference? Would I feel the same delight at hearing Anthony Lane on an episode as I did when I buzzed through the archives and selectively downloaded conversations about Haruki Murakami [MP3], Abbas Kiarostami [MP3], and poutine [MP3]? I consider the New Yorker one of mankind’s most effective tools against this awful cherry-picking tendency, a generalist publication of such quality as to achieve near-total subject independence. If that sounds like a high-flown description, let me bring it down to Earth with a question. This is what the New Yorker — and indeed, The New Yorker Out Loud — sternly asks at its very best: “You mean you’re only interested in what you’re interested in? Lame-o.”

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]