I remember visiting my local library growing up and being overwhelmed with one thought:
We don’t need more new books.
The amount of information in just my small hometown library seemed massive. I was acutely aware that I’d never get through all these books, to say nothing of the magazines, newspapers and microfilm.
As a kid, I was already worried about information overload. And that was before the Internet.
Sometimes I still feel that way. Do we really need more books, magazines or Medium posts? Maybe we can just revisit everything that’s ever been written before.
As the name suggests, the podcast revisits the most memorable of the 50,000 articles in the Esquire archive, including profiles on Frank Sinatra, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. There are articles on a 10-year-old boy, a combat unit in Vietnam, a cancer patient receiving experimental treatment and more.
[I’m exploring podcasts and writing what I learn. This is No. 29 in my 100 podcast series.]
The show is hosted by Marketplace’s David Brancaccio, who interviews in-studio guests. Sometimes he’s talking with the author of an article like Gay Talese on “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Other times it’s an expert or culture critic on the subject of the article, like Esquire political writer Charles P. Pierce talking about the late Richard Ben Cramer’s opus on the 1992 election “What It Takes.”
Journalism is the first draft of history, as the saying goes. So it becomes richer and more informative when the first draft is seen years later through historical context. That’s the value of revisiting the archives, and that’s what makes this podcast so interesting.
It’s enlightening to hear an author revisit their piece years later. Susan Orlean shares her perspective on “The American Man at Age Ten” now that she has a son of her own nearly 25 years later. As a 34-year-old guy, it’s a strange trip for myself, since I was a 10-year-old in 1992 when this article about a 10-year-old came out. I see a lot of myself in her 5th-grade protagonist.
Beyond the historical or literary value, this format also makes financial sense for Esquire. The podcast is free, but it’s also content marketing. Subscribers for $4.99 a month get access to read the full Esquire archives, including the articles discussed on the podcast.
I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of this format from other media companies that are investing in their digital side. Imagine a similar podcast from the New York Times or ESPN. The closest I’ve seen is Reddit’s Upvoted podcast, which recounts success stories that originated on their platform.
Today, information overload means there are thousands of hot takes on the same daily headlines, day after day. Social media and breaking news means we are never ignorant of what’s happening right now, this instant.
But maybe that means we start losing some wider perspective.
Maybe what we need now more than ever is to pause the flow of real-time information, and start revisiting the past.