Needless to say, this is a much different approach to political punditry than one tends to get on TV and talk radio. (It’s also less ideological.) Dickerson thinks Gabfest listeners appreciate that. “Occasionally we’ll get people who are angry at us for not having all the facts figured out, but in fumbling to a conclusion, more people appreciate it than are offended. You can kind of rumble around in an idea; you don’t have to be so careful about not looking bad or getting something wrong. And it gets you more creative, insightful results.”
Likewise, the hosts agree that their varying expertise leads to a sort of ‘cross-fertilization’ in their conversations that helps free them from thinking within the narrow frameworks of their fields. Bazelon says that helps her think more deeply about the set of assumptions she works with in the legal world; similarly, Dickerson says it helps him “think afresh” about things political junkies tend to take for granted. “Asking interesting questions is something you can become deadened to in political stuff—a lot of time it feels like a tennis match.”
While some media companies seem to be moving away from podcasts, Dickerson, for one, thinks they have unique value: “There’s something about the podcast format that’s intimate and that’s different than a radio program or television. It’s personal, on your time, in your head.” (According to Plotz, they’ve found advertising rates for audio podcasts are actually higher than for most video because of this; Audible, Bing, Carbonite and Stitcher have been among the show’s sponsors).
Slate has no plans to take the Gabfest to video format; Plotz contends that transition is a mistake that been made my too many media outlets before. “There is a lot of questioning about podcasts right now—part of it is the name is terrible,” says Plotz. “But part of it is that I don’t think others have figured out the formula in the way that we figured it out. We lucked into it, but personal connection combined with really strong contact and the sense that you a participant in a conversation is special.”
It worked for me. And the live show at the Y was a lot of fun. You can listen to it here.
Correction: The original version of this piece mentioned that the Slate Political Gabfest was launched in 2007. In fact, the show was launched in 2005. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.