Locally-focused podcasts haven’t quite taken off the way that thematic ones have, but David Plotz is trying to change that.
After many years at Slate Magazine, Plotz spent six years as CEO of Atlas Obscura, a travel and media company that shows off the hidden wonders of the world. He left that job for City Cast just as the pandemic hit, joining the Graham Holdings Company — the family that used to own The Washington Post — to launch this new venture.
“City Cast is a national network of daily local podcasts and newsletters we’ve been building,” he says. Now available in Boise, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C., it will soon go online in Portland, Philadelphia and Madison.
The idea is simple: podcasting has done really well in most areas where traditional radio has been successful, but continues to fall short and not have the same draw or appeal with local news audiences.
Each City Cast team tailors their podcast and newsletters to their individual cities.
“We’re trying for some economies of scale, so everyone’s working from the same tools and the tech support is centralized, some of the editing functions are centralized,” Plotz says. “In terms of content, we’re counting on local teams to know what works in their cities. When we hire, we hire people who we think are deeply passionate about their city,” people who both think their hometown is fantastic and believe it could be so much better.
There are some episode topics that are universal — people in Chicago and Salt Lake City and other places in the country will have strong feelings about their city’s best donut shop — but for the most part, the content is very much focused on what matters in each location.
“In Salt Lake City, there are so many more different kinds of environmental problems than there are in Chicago, or at least their environmental problems are front and center. In Chicago, maybe the problems have more to do with housing and criminal justice,” Plotz says. “The thing we’ve really learned, I think, is we describe them as news podcasts and in some sense they are. They give you important information about what’s happening in your city. But we realized very quickly that it can’t replicate or compete with what commercial and what the internet or social media can do. Podcasting is intrinsically time shifted. If you tape a podcast Wednesday afternoon, it comes out early Thursday morning, people might not listen until Thursday afternoon or the weekend.”
The other thing that sets City Cast episodes apart is the intimacy of listening to the host’s voice on a daily or regular basis.
“A local podcast has a different function than some of the local radio shows,” Plotz says. “It really is tied up in this emotional connection that people are able to make through podcasting.”
David Plotz, long-time host of Slate Magazine’s Political Gabfest podcast, discusses how City Cast is making smart, daily, local news podcasts and newsletters to help their listeners become better and more curious citizens.