The future is local: That’s why I’m launching City Cast, a network of daily local podcasts.
Our worlds have shrunk in the pandemic. I used to spend hours every week Amtraking up and down the East Coast. Now I’m happy just to bike a couple miles across DC to meet a friend for a walk. Trips that used to be measured in time zones are now counted in city blocks — two to the grocery store, six to bubble tea. I miss a lot about the wide, pre-Covid world, but I’ve gained something, too: an appreciation for what’s right next door. I’m paying more attention to the community around me — my neighbors and my city — than I ever have.
This has surprised me. Like so many Americans, I’ve also been suffering from an addiction to Trump. This obsession has made many of us forget that the outcome of next month’s election will affect our future less than the hundreds of decisions we each make every day in our immediate communities — how we vote for school board, which businesses we frequent, how we treat our neighbors.
I’m starting City Cast because I believe the future is local.
Launching this winter in a handful of cities, City Cast will be a national network of daily local podcasts. It will combine essential local news with smart, delightful perspective about your community. It will be the passionate, curious, connecting voice of your city and mine — framing and explaining the news and helping make us more informed and more empathetic — and better citizens in small but meaningful ways.
Thanks to the pandemic, a staggering economic crisis, the protest movement against police violence and systemic racism, and well, just 2020 in general, America has never needed great local journalism more than it does today. Local journalism is collapsing. Nearly 2,000 newspapers have died or merged since 2004 — one-fifth of them. Most of the surviving local newsrooms — whether TV, radio, or print — are shadows of what they once were, understaffed and underpowered.
This matters because where local news is sparse or feeble, communities suffer: Political activity declines; local businesses weaken; mistrust grows. We become more divided, more insular, and more hopeless. If you live in a community with hollowed-out media, you feel that every day.
In the spirit of not letting a crisis go to waste, entrepreneurial journalists have forged new paths. A wave of non-profit digital startups such as Texas Tribune, Block Club Chicago and the Daily Memphian, and a few for-profit ones such as Patch, are trying to reignite civic engagement by covering their communities with rigor and heart. Some local public radio stations — especially in affluent cities such as LA, DC, and NYC — have been investing heavily in local coverage.
That’s progress, but it’s not nearly enough. And besides — while coverage of businesses, government education, and transportation is sorely needed — don’t we also all long for a sense of delight in our cities? The sense of perspective and voice and flavor we once relished from someone like Jimmy Breslin in New York or Oprah Winfrey in her early Chicago days? The kind of journalism that made us feel something about our cities, understand them better, and care more?
As it happens, that quality — of intimacy, connection, and curiosity — is precisely what draws so many of us to podcasts. And yet, as on-demand audio has successfully colonized almost every content vertical — music, sports talk, national news, audio books, fictional dramas, kids programming — in the podcast space, local journalism has hardly been explored.
This feels like the moment to explore what local journalism sounds like in podcast form. It’s also the moment to explore what kind of business model can sustain it. Unlike most new local media startups, City Cast is a for-profit, owned by the Graham Holdings Company, which has deep experience in both local media and podcasting. Philanthropy-backed media ventures are essential, but we believe there also must be a viable economic model for local journalism, and local audio journalism in particular. With City Cast, we’re determined to find it.
Maybe you can help us do that. We’re hiring for City Cast around the country: We’re looking for hosts, producers, reporters, editors, and project managers. City Cast is also going to publish daily newsletters, so we’re not just looking for audio journalists. We’re prioritizing diversity, inventiveness, curiosity, and grit. We’re offering competitive pay, great benefits, and a culture of creativity and inclusion. Read more about City Cast at www.citycast.fm and check out our jobs page. (You can also just email me directly at email@example.com, and learn more about me here.)
It’s been a tough year. Seemingly everything that could go wrong, did. So maybe it’s time for something that makes the world better, or at least that helps reignite your love for your city. We hope that’s going to be City Cast.