Reply All is having its own reckoning now
February 18, 2021 6:19 AM   Subscribe

PJ Vogt is taking a leave of absence and Sruthi Pinnamaneni is leaving Reply All immediately "The BA staffers’ stories deserve to be told, but to me it’s damaging to have that reporting and storytelling come from two people who have actively and AGGRESSIVELY worked against multiple efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff & content." Eric Eddings describes the environment at Gimlet
posted by mecran01 (103 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I read the article and am confused. Reply All seems to be a podcast. BA stands for Bon Appetit. Gimlet is some kind of company, I think? And I haven't figured out yet what is meant by a toxic work environment.
posted by medusa at 6:27 AM on February 18 [13 favorites]

Gimlet is the company that produces Reply All. I believe it is now a subsidiary of Spotify.

Ironically, if you want to understand the kind of toxic work environment they are describing, I guess you'd want to listen to the two episodes of the Test Kitchen -- a mini-series within Reply All -- that were released. That seems to be the reference point that Eddings is using.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 6:33 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Reply All is the most popular podcast in Gimlet media, which was recently acquired by Spotify for a bazillion dollars. They recently ran a series about the toxic environment at Bon Appetit. Ironically, they have been accused of fostering their own toxicity by Eric Eddings, who was trying to organize a union.

More from the Washington Post. It's kind of breaking news, so reporting is a bit sketchy at the moment.
posted by mecran01 at 6:33 AM on February 18 [11 favorites]

Reply All (RA) is a popular podcast, the only continuing and broadly successful piece of property belonging to Gimlet, a podcasting network that was bought for a huge amount of money by Spotify awhile back. PJ Vogt is one of the hosts, Sruthi was brought on as a reporter a few years back and has kind of grown-up as a journalist on the podcast. I don't really know for sure, but I imagine PJ has significant amount of equity in Gimlet and is now in a dramatically different financial position than he was for most of his life, which makes the union issue interesting.

The Eric Eddings article does more to explain, but it is still a very elliptical description of what's going on, and I don't really understand. It is however, surprising to me, and not what I expected when I saw that there was some sort of scandal involving PJ Vogt and Sruthi Pinnamaneni at Reply all.
posted by skewed at 6:34 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Gimlet is a podcast company, which is higher-profile than most podcast companies, partly because one of their first and most-successful podcasts was a meta thing where the founders of the company made a podcast about founding the company. Reply All is probably their flagship podcast: it's about internet culture. (One of the hosts, not PJ Vogt, is a mefite who famously started his public radio career by posting about AskMe about how to get into public radio.) Reply All is currently running a series, which was initially well-received, about Bon Appetit's meltdown over being really racist. Some previous Gimlet employees have suggested that Gimlet in general, and some of the people involved in the Bon Appetit series in particular, have some racism problems of their own.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:34 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

Mefi: The Reason for Reply All Amazing. I did not know about the Mefi connection.
posted by mecran01 at 6:37 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]

This made me so sad.

I'll take a stab at the un-confusing.

Bon Appétit is the Condé Nast magazine-turned-Internet-video-sensation that also has had (as with almost all North American larger food magazines) massive equity, diversity, and cultural issues.

I have been listening avidly, especially as I worked in a similar brand and looking back we had similar issues (I wasn't as directly involved with food, but as a white person I have a lot to own.) I'm probably going to keep listening but ugh.

Reply All is a long running podcast which created a mini-series about the issues at Bon Appétit. That podcast is created by Gimlet Media which itself was a start up and had a podcast about starting up (Start Up) which has stayed with me in part because the owner of the start up, Alex Blumberg, went for therapy because his issues as a person became company issues, and as I've worked with smaller business, whoa boy does that hold up.

Gimlet Media was sold to Spotify I believe.

Because of that openness, and because they cover culture a lot, I think Gimlet has presented itself as a kind of savvy, connected organization that is generally progressive, particularly through their flagship podcast, Reply All. They had a podcast (no longer being produced) called The Nod which was focused on Black life and co-hosted by Eric Eddings, above.

I'll stop there because although I caught Eddings' thread yesterday the whole thing saddens me and I have no insight to add except - I have no trouble believing any of the issues expressed happened.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:41 AM on February 18 [21 favorites]

Well now I don't feel so bad about no longer listening to Reply All (I just started again but just for the BA series). After listening for years it got to be that I found the personal storytelling/in jokes/whatever to be too annoying to make following the podcast to be worthwhile. I felt like they were a little too enthralled with their own banter. Admittedly, I started developing this attitude after catching some offhand remarks the hosts made which weren't blatantly white boy privilege talk but definitely gave me the impression that the hosts didn't put too much effort in understanding the viewpoints of those struggling to gain some measure of equality or consideration.
posted by newpotato at 6:50 AM on February 18 [16 favorites]

The BA podcast is the first time I've listened to Reply All and thought they were total hypocrites. I got through maybe 15 mins of the first episode and turned it off. I've worked in the magazine and digital publishing industry for years and it's no secret that many of the decision makers tend to be shitty white men and that needs to change but the way the way Reply All told the story was super axe-grindy and tone deaf considering who was reporting.
posted by photoslob at 6:50 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

I like the show and PJ and Alex’s on air personalities but if you aren’t reflexively pro-union in this day in age, especially when many of those union supporters are POC, then you’re a fucking asshole and this wasn’t some “acting like a a baby” mistake.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:02 AM on February 18 [16 favorites]

Milkshake Ducks all the way down...
posted by nickggully at 7:03 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Not really a milkshake duck situation because some of us have been listening for years.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:07 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Starlee Kine: "I’ve been telling you guys @Gimletmedia is toxic for a long time. I’m glad others are speaking out. I know it’s hard. Podcasting didn’t have to be like this. Power and money was given to the wrong, oh so predictable archetypes and they wreaked white male mediocrity accordingly"... "I mentored PJ when he first started out, literally cut his stories. I remember how paralyzed with self doubt he was, like we all have been. I don't understand going from that to having to think whether he'd get involved beyond his team. Gimlet enabled that. Rewarded it"

Brittany Luse: "One more thing: when Eric says “infinitely hard”, it’s impossible to explain just how dark that time was. Their pushback thickened the air. I’m eternally grateful to Eric and the rest of the organizing committee for pushing and fighting so faithfully on behalf of all of us."
posted by BungaDunga at 7:08 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

Thanks for the commenters explaining what this is all about. The Vulture article seems to expect that the reader has a ton of knowledge of the backstory about what Reply All is (or was) and who the main characters are.
posted by octothorpe at 7:12 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

A friend of a friend worked briefly with Gimlet in 2017. She left feeling like it wasn't a place that listened to Black people on equal terms. I'm sad that they seem not to have improved in the last few years.
posted by little onion at 7:16 AM on February 18

octothorpe, this tweet should explain it
The whole internet loves Bon Appetit, a cute test kitchen that makes food! 3 years later We regret to inform you the test kitchen is racist. 1 year The whole internet loves Test Kitchen, the exposè exploring racism at BA! 2 days We regret to inform you the exposè is racist
posted by little onion at 7:19 AM on February 18 [58 favorites]

Rambling thoughts incoming.

God dammit PJ. I imagine there's a certain level of special-ness that you feel being part of the flagship show (and having that special-ness reinforced in the culture by not really mingling with other people) and a union would threaten that - not in terms of resources, but being together with others requires stepping off that pedestal. I totally get how they could've felt blindsided by the efforts because they were the last to know - because they weren't on the same level with everyone else at the organization.

But after multiple conversations, after having PLENTY of time to process the situation and personal feelings and decide what's best for everyone, they decided scrabbling to keep the moat around their castle was more appealing than helping out everyone else? Perhaps because they had an exclusive relationship with management and they didn't want things to get adversarial - which, with a union, it absolutely would be. Not letting anyone off the hook here, just looking at the wildly different incentives going on here.

Its obvious that these actions are deeply harmful to organizing efforts and hurtful to their leaders. It's really important to use that megaphone to amplify organizing efforts. It's pretty unjustifiable to me, given plenty of pushback and time, to not act on behalf of the workers. I'm pretty disappointed but not entirely surprised given what we already know about Gimlet and the way they treat Black employees. (Uncivil was so good. So good.)

I'm afraid that in a similar situation, I may react a similar way. Its important to hear and recognize these stories so we can be prepared for what we might feel and how we might react if we have a cozy relationship with management, and prepare to lose that in the interest of everyone else.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 7:21 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]

workers who already feel like they have power and agency siding with management over their colleagues who don't is sort of one of the ur-patterns of anti-union efforts, isn't it?
posted by BungaDunga at 7:30 AM on February 18 [36 favorites]

I quit most of Gimlet with the Dov Charney series on Startup (which had already been grating: either be super open or don't be), though I still enjoyed Reply All. I did try a few of their other shows, but none of them took. I haven't gotten to the Test Kitchen episodes yet when I saw all this blow up on twitter, and I'm disappointed, but also unsurprised -- it's a show by two straight white guys, and it's got a lot of that style. (I'm interested in replacements for it.)

I did just find out that Starlee Kine is involved in Search Party, which I kept meaning to watch, so that's a nice update.
posted by jeather at 7:53 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Well this is all bloody unfortunate. RA has a number of exceptional episodes - just gorgeous storytelling. I feel thoroughly milkshakeducked... actually, maybe only normally milkshakeducked. However you might want to frame it - this news saddens me, they did good work.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:53 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

This fills me with FEELINGS, which I can’t say has been the case for many of the other cancellations that have happened. Going to have to stew on this a bit.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:14 AM on February 18

posted by jquinby at 8:26 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this is just milkshake ducks all the way down, as nickgully said.

So disappointing; I've listened to Reply All since it was TLDR on NPR.
posted by suelac at 8:31 AM on February 18

... which reminds me. I seem to recall a Reply All episode in which a new host was introduced, a guy named Emmanuel something? He was clearly non-white, was clearly intended to help diversify the show, and ... I don't recall hearing his voice or name anytime recently. What happened with that?
posted by suelac at 8:34 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I'm still processing all the pieces of this, but it's difficult in a lot of directions for me that are now overlapping.

I loved listening to Reply All, and at the same time I've been listening less, largely because they've been moving away from the PJ/Alex deep dives into internet and social media weirdness, and doing more This American Life -style media journalism which (while interesting and very well done) I don't feel all that compelled to listen to. I love the episodes where they go inside the inside-joke stupidity on twitter, or solve peoples' tech-related glitches. And that's been happening less and less. They've started to get slightly more inclusive with their on-air talent over the past year or two, which is great, but with the result that it's even farther removed from the frivolous stories that hooked me in.

I listened to the BA episode last night, and my first response to it was having a little sigh that here was another episode that I was only listening to because of loyalty. I left it wanting to hear part 2, but not in any hurry to. Without PJ, I'm not sure I'll listen anymore.

And at the same time, I have had so much respect for Polgreen since she first showed up on my radar a couple of years ago when she was still with the Huffington Post, and there's no doubt that this is a step in the right direction. I hope that the podcast gets better as a result.

Meanwhile please don't let anyone milkshake-duck Claire Saffitz, ok? And if they already have, no one tell me?
posted by Mchelly at 8:36 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

I've been listening less, largely because they've been moving away from the PJ/Alex deep dives into internet and social media weirdness, and doing more This American Life -style media journalism

Same here, listener since the beginning. While I really loved the show's focus and found so many of the stories entertaining and enlightening (the QAnon episode in particular brought a lot of clarity recently), I always felt a little bit unsure about the hosts and major players. Lots of nerdy-white-guy banter and related insularity, that self-approving preciousness, and I have had reservations about Pinnamaneni's journalistic chops and judgment for a very long time. So, this story of internal strife and bust-ups over inequality and racial bias and worker/union activity is convoluted and, being a scarred veteran of some similar battles and knowing how complex they are and how little you can really know from the outside, I am pretty much going to withhold any big speculation about what went wrong.

Whatever comes next, I hope it's better.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

It's fascinating who/what is vulnerable to dealing with a reckoning, particularly in a labor organizing context. PJ and Sruthi seem to have done awful things in the name of breaking union organizing efforts and more, but also? Their actions don't even compare to the anti-union efforts of major American companies in the last few years.

Sigh, I wish the anti-worker shitheads at Amazon or could be as susceptible to this kind of pressure. I wish it didn't rely on the wrongdoers having a progressive brand image (like Reply All). This seems to be a key limitation of public pressure.
posted by Ouverture at 8:46 AM on February 18 [28 favorites]

I knew there was somewhere I had more deeply expressed reservations about Pinnamaneni's judgment - it was here.
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

... which reminds me. I seem to recall a Reply All episode in which a new host was introduced, a guy named Emmanuel something? He was clearly non-white, was clearly intended to help diversify the show, and ... I don't recall hearing his voice or name anytime recently. What happened with that?

Emmanuel Dztosi. You probably haven't heard his voice lately, since Reply All hasn't done a lot lately. They dropped the first two Test Kitchen episodes in February; before that there was a quick-response Yes Yes No type thing in January post Capitol riots, in December one where Alex Goldman writes an angry song, (a rerun in early December), and then Emmanuel was on in a post-election one. So time-wise, he hasn't been on in three months, episode-wise, it's only been four new episodes, two of which were a separate miniseries.
posted by Superilla at 9:01 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

tangential gimlet: i really like science vs.

posted by j_curiouser at 9:06 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

This saddens me greatly.

Although, I do like that the original post was written in a confusing enough way that it required a "Yes Yes No" type explanation from a person familiar with recent Reply All episodes.
posted by toddforbid at 9:08 AM on February 18 [13 favorites]

(I think Emmanuel's thing is longer, in depth stories, which I was expecting to come out at a less regular cadence. I seem to remember them saying as much in the episode where he was announced as a co host. He's also done lots of work along those lines with them in the past.)
posted by kaibutsu at 9:09 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Now, of course, I am recalling the yes/yes/no where they covered a scandal on Beauty YouTube that ended up delving into the YouTube apology genre.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:10 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

I remembered the podcast about their partnership that Alex and PJ recorded with Hrishikesh Hirway. For the nth time over the past few years I'm reflecting on my own actions and beliefs and the choices I've made.
posted by Cuke at 9:27 AM on February 18

I’m a relatively new Reply All listener; I saw “The Case of the Missing Hit” make its way onto several “Best Podcast Episodes of 2020” lists and started there and then have spent the last several months devouring much of the back catalog. The show is not inherently political, but it is rather obvious that the political leanings of most of the hosts and reporters are on the progressive side, so seeing this post today definitely caught me by surprise. This seems to be one of those cases where our idealized version of ourselves not matching the actual. Or more specifically, “equal rights for all, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the good thing I have going here”.
posted by The Gooch at 9:39 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Yikes. I'm sorry to hear this, though I don't think I entirely understand it yet.

I've really enjoyed Pinnamaneni's work. She's been one of my favorite producers and hosts and has made great material. (I also love the work of a number of unrelated radio producers who are clearly raging assholes to the people they work with. None have ever apologized.)

I've also really enjoyed Reply All. One episode out of twelve makes me feel like I've stumbled into a frat party and I've learned to skip those ones. Planet Money was similar, now that I think about it. But, Reply All has also made a lot of really fantastic shows.

Combining startup culture and public radio always seemed like a really weird choice. I'd have shorted Gimlet if they were publicly traded and I were a gambler. (I'd have lost big.) I recognize that actual public radio in the US is also really screwed up; the people abused and silenced are often not even paid for their work and sometimes the most toxic and racist people can't realistically be fired. That doesn't excuse anything, but perhaps should temper my gut-reaction assumptions that the business model is the problem.
posted by eotvos at 10:06 AM on February 18

I'd have shorted Gimlet if they were publicly traded and I were a gambler. (I'd have lost big.)

Well, you would have been right too, and if you’d liquidated your short position before the Spotify buyout you would have done well. Aside from “Reply All”, Gimlet hasn’t had a lot of hits and really seemed to be flailing for most of their run. A lot of shows came, were hastily re-tooled, and went away. They tried new models like sponsored content and even selling stories to TV and nothing really stuck. Spotify bought them for their own weird strategic reasons but it wasn’t because Gimlet promised to make a lot of money.
posted by chrchr at 10:32 AM on February 18

Long time listener of the show. Very disappointed in Pinnamaneni and Vogt. That Pinnamaneni is a POC is even more confusing.

I thought the best take on Bon Appetit was Jack Saint on Youtube: The Collapse of Bon Appetit | Jack Saint

I was waiting for Pinnamaneni to interview Saint. Or reference it? Nothing in the first two episodes. And with this, I doubt there will be a 3rd episode.
posted by gen at 10:35 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I remembered the podcast about their partnership that Alex and PJ recorded with Hrishikesh Hirway.

I just listened to it (thanks for the link), and found this quote from Alex Goldman really interesting in light of the current situation: "PJ is a person who, when things start getting tough, he's like, "I am done. I want to walk away. I am not interested in doing this any more. I don't want to fight for this. It feels bad. I want to escape it. I'd rather blow this whole thing up."
posted by Mchelly at 10:42 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

I'm lukewarm about Reply All (it goes in and out of my subscriptions based on how inane/bro-ey I feel PJ and Alex have been), but I had caught the Test Kitchen episodes prior to this revelation. For those who haven't listened, in Test Kitchen Chapter 2, Sruthi lays out a lazy semi-not-apology for her (in)action during the Gimlet unionization drive and even boldly ends with a damning "but...". This got a loud "What the fuck Sruthi!"

"Even now, Christina’s left with real anger with herself. For that complicity, for not being on the right side or making the right choices [when several different groups of people were trying to improve diversity & inclusion at BA and ended up stepping on each others toes]. But I have to say, of all the people in this chapter, I identify with her the most.

"The company where I work, Gimlet, had its own version of these problems. The white people who ran the place hired people of color, and promised them change that never quite seemed to materialize. A group of employees tried to fix the place themselves and eventually things ended as these things often do--in a union drive. Plenty of people joined that fight, I did not. To the extent I talked about it, I talked about the way that their fight was stepping on my toes.

"It took eight months of reporting on Bon Appetit for me to see how wrong I was about all that, and if I’m honest, I’m still processing the anger that I feel toward myself.

"I wish I’d made different choices.

"But I also think that ideally, employees shouldn’t have to make those kinds of choices at all. Choices like that end up defining our jobs … when the people in charge haven’t done theirs. Because, after all, they’re the ones with the real power."
posted by some chick at 10:43 AM on February 18 [9 favorites]

@gen, Sruthi's intention was only to feature BIPOC voices in the Test Kitchen series.
posted by some chick at 10:46 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

@some chick: ah ok, I may have missed that. Thank you for the clarification.
posted by gen at 10:49 AM on February 18

It's been a weird week for me, I'm a POC who's always has always bought into whatever old white me-fi was into, slate star codex, now this. I don't know why I come any more, other than to see which heroes I had during my formative years are problematic.

The BA podcast made me start reflecting a lot about what it's meant to have chased 'being cool' my entire life, which really turned out to be a nerdy whiteness - and as someone who has always felt a foreigner in this world and has put his head down and developed a lot of internalized racism in multiple workplaces- and shedding my own cultural background because of the intense stigma about mental health and queerness- and I don't know. I'm not really sure where I'm at. There's no home for me, not even in the things I enjoy.
posted by weewooweewoo at 10:58 AM on February 18 [44 favorites]

As a white guy, I'm learning I need to interrogate the voices that sound comforting and familiar. To me, Alex and PJ have always sounded like decent, progressive people. The fact that many people posting above found them offputting and bro-y means my ear is calibrated in a way I'm not so cool with. I grew up in nerd culture at a time when we were the bullied ones, and I have to keep reminding myself that so much of nerd culture now represents the bullies.

Media that don't take steps to be explicitly anti-racist are just upholding the status quo. We should expect more.
posted by rikschell at 11:31 AM on February 18 [27 favorites]

Part of the problem of saying something along the lines of, "of course this happened, PJ and Alex are straight white bro-ey nerds" is that, seems like Sruthi was a big problem here, and Alex wasn't.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:38 AM on February 18 [18 favorites]

PJ and Alex are much more managementy than Sruthi is, I would think. Not that it absolves her of any of her bad behavior, of course.
posted by axiom at 11:52 AM on February 18

PJ Vogt is taking a leave of absence

Dunno if this was added later, but: "Vulture has since learned that Vogt’s departure from the show will be permanent."

Statements on Twitter yesterday from PJ and Sruthi; Alex G has been silent on Twitter since Eric Eddings' thread came out on Tuesday.

Eddings' "it was a clique" comment resonated strongly with me as a somewhat-fallen-away listener of Reply All: yes, it is often very much bro-club, with PJ and Alex's back-and-forth banter sometimes coming across as comfortingly affectionate, sometimes annoyingly in-groupy. In retrospect too the Yes-Yes-No segments, in which their boss joins in with the all-boys-together time, really contribute to this perception.

(For me an early wait-what alienating moment was the YYN in #77 The Grand Tapestry of Pepe [FanFare thread] in which all three of them are weirdly down on Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" remark and y'know: look, guys, it was already obvious then that she was right.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:55 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm of a few minds on all this...

Side 1: People who are Really Good at $Thing are often bad managers, on a wiiiiide variety of axes. Small companies, small NGOs, and academic labs all suffer from this. 'Founder's Syndrome' is a thing, and generally means that the company is a bit too tied up in the personality+psychology of the founder. And having a case of founder's syndrome has obvious implications for diversity issues: the company is gonna be no more diverse than the founder(s). I sense a lot of this in both the Bon Apetit and Gimlet stories.

Side 2: And yet, it should be OK at some small-enough scale to /not/ be terribly diverse, and just be doing A Thing. (We don't require Stephin Merritt to produce hip hop, and really wouldn't want him to because cultural appropriation.) The difficulty is scaling from the one-or-two person show - doing a Hard Thing like finding any kind of success in the entertainment industry - to being a non-evil organization. If the company has a thing that - against all odds - seems to be working, it's hard to change it up too much for fear of tanking it.

So, from the outside, it looks like Gimlet was at least trying to move in the right direction: Creating shows with a more diverse set of hosts, and bringing in a PoC as a co-host on the flagship show seem like good ways to scale. (and yeah, many-or-all the other shows failed. The expected probability of success of any given podcast is approximately zero.) But it's also pretty clear that they've got lots of personality issues and the founder's syndrome situations that tend to go with that, so I'm suuuuper unsurprised that people had a Bad Time.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:02 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]

^^^ PJ's twitter statement featuring a quarter-assed non-apology sadly bereft of the words "apology" or "sorry"..
posted by some chick at 12:05 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Holy shit, Founder's Syndrome explains where I work so perfectly. And probably most places that end up like Gimlet.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:18 PM on February 18

^^^ PJ's twitter statement featuring a quarter-assed non-apology sadly bereft of the words "apology" or "sorry"..

Are you sure you saw the second image? “I'm sorry to everyone I've disappointed

It is unquestionably good that Gimlet is facing a reckoning. Too many workplaces need the same thing and I don't think there's a way to do that without stepping on peoples' toes. I am sure Sruthi and PJ will be fine, long term; even the straight up "canceled" people emerge after a year or two.

I do wonder how this affects subsequent journalistic efforts—it seems like it would have been better (in a purely selfish, careerist way) for Sruthi / Reply All not to have done this reporting. Yet, the methodical way Sruthi layed out the structural flaws and anti-patterns in Bon Appetit's management was good and (hopefully) opened some peoples' eyes to similar issues in their own lives.

Moreover, I imagine Sruthi was only able to do this piece (4 episodes, hours and hours of interview with multiple subjects, many of whom don't make it to the final story) due to her substantial clout at Gimlet. Clout that she probably got in part due to being part of the boyzone, clout that inevitably makes her compromised. I'm not sure how people should recover from that--is there an obligation to divest yourself and rebuild from the bottom in a non-compromised way, at a company that has already cleaned house?
posted by Maecenas at 12:23 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Oops, I did NOT see the second image, thanks Maecenas. My apologies to all for the snark.
posted by some chick at 12:28 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

It's not too weird that Alex Goldman hasn't tweeted about this, he uses twitter almost exclusively for shitposting. I will be curious to see what kind of statement he makes.
posted by rikschell at 12:29 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Part of the problem of saying something along the lines of, "of course this happened, PJ and Alex are straight white bro-ey nerds" is that, seems like Sruthi was a big problem here, and Alex wasn't.

I don't want to sound like I am excusing Sruthi, but the show started out the PJ and Alex show, and it continued to be the PJ and Alex show even as she joined it -- I enjoyed her stories, I'm not going to lie, but they always felt more apart and not central to the show. And I am going to admit that I can't tell their voices apart and can't really remember their slightly different backstories or personalities.

(For me an early wait-what alienating moment was the YYN in #77 The Grand Tapestry of Pepe [FanFare thread] in which all three of them are weirdly down on Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" remark and y'know: look, guys, it was already obvious then that she was right.

Interesting, because one of the moments for me was in that same episode, but how they seemed so sympathetic to designer of Pepe, who was very "well whatever" about the white nationalist use of Pepe until it finally caused HIM problems (his name was mentioned as the creator of Pepe in a list of hate symbols), and this was never interrogated at all.
posted by jeather at 12:58 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

I know all this is rambling. Sorry. I haven't posted to MeFi in maybe two years.

I think everyone is a milkshake duck. I think this has always been the case. As I get older I think it's absurd that we ever thought it wasn't. I think "cancel culture" is an indication not that there are more bad actors in the world, but rather that our collective ability to evaluate anyone is being short-circuited by the way media marketing operates now—which is to say as a de facto form of psyops. We're kept so very close to these public personas, closer than ever before because of social media and podcasts, and so we are both unable to properly evaluate who they are and shocked when they are not as awesome as we believed. Not identifying this faster over the years is probably one of my single greatest failings and blindspots as a person.

I've developed a sense that if I enjoy some piece of media—or am at least comfortable enough with it to consume it passively—it's probably toxic in some way. I can think of little that I've enjoyed over the last 5 years that wasn't later discovered to have been hurting at least some of the people who were involved in its creation. None of these seemed obviously toxic, either. Naively I assumed that things like BA were benign, because they were designed and marketed specifically to feel benign and cool. I feel silly for falling for it as often as I have, especially as someone who not only grew up with the internet but who is involved in building and marketing it.

Revelations like this rarely surprise me anymore, but do make me sad. I also listened to Reply All and I enjoyed it—but did often feel like I had wandered into a frat party where everyone outwardly seemed 'woke' and ok, but in their private lives were gross. Add this to a long list of pieces of media where this was the case.
posted by littlerobothead at 1:14 PM on February 18 [11 favorites]

jeather: "And I am going to admit that I can't tell their voices apart and can't really remember their slightly different backstories or personalities."

Alex is the one who is earnest and vulnerable, and PJ is the one who endlessly mocks him for it. That dynamic has always been a bit off-putting for me, but I honestly don't know how much of the show's success, or my own enjoyment of it, is partially due to that formula; if the conflict is part of why it's been compelling. I'm interested to see what a show without PJ feels like.

Throughout this fiasco, I haven't heard of anyone calling out Alex for bad behavior, and the Eric Eddings statement does say: "Alex Goldman is now on the bargaining committee and fwiw I’ve been told he’s been a staunch ally since". And also "There are some producers at RA whose work I cherish. I’m not asking you to stop listening to their show".

So... I'm going sit with that a bit. I feel like Sruthi honestly has learned from and grown from this, I'm personally not going to bear her any ill will. Maybe PJ really was just an asshole the whole time. I don't know.
posted by team lowkey at 1:43 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

"It's not too weird that Alex Goldman hasn't tweeted about this, he uses twitter almost exclusively for shitposting. I will be curious to see what kind of statement he makes."

More like ReplySome, amirite?
posted by MrJM at 2:01 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I am still sad that Gimlet cancelled Mystery Show.
posted by beandip at 2:04 PM on February 18 [26 favorites]

Mystery Show : Gimlet :: Reader : Google
posted by kaibutsu at 2:47 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]

I think everyone is a milkshake duck. I think this has always been the case.

I think this too; the evidence I've seen of how implicit bias works is that the vast majority of people (90% or so) make choices influenced by prejudice, while believing that their hands are clean. Even if you're a woman, or a person of colour. This makes a really uncomfortable dynamic where, as with the Test Kitchen podcast, the people making the criticism falsely believe that they wouldn't ever do something like this. (And also in this thread!)

I don't know these people from Sunday, but I think that running away from their problem by resigning is the wrong approach, not least because it creates a dynamic where resigning because you've been prejudiced is an appropriate response, so the only people left in positions of power will be people who are prejudiced who don't give a shit. I think they should have talked to Eric, and asked him what he wants to see from them to start to repair some of the damage.
posted by Merus at 3:09 PM on February 18 [15 favorites]

Long time listener of the show. Very disappointed in Pinnamaneni and Vogt. That Pinnamaneni is a POC is even more confusing.

There is nothing inherently virtuous about being a person of color, especially in the face of labor organizing *and* anti-Blackness.

As the old union saying goes, "a boss is a boss is a boss is a boss".
posted by Ouverture at 3:12 PM on February 18 [14 favorites]

So... is this when we finally unmask the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder? I'm placing my bet on Alex Blumberg.
posted by pwnguin at 3:29 PM on February 18

What, no "MeFi's OwnTM PJ Vogt"?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:32 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

I have always disliked PJ because of the way he endlessly bullied Alex on air. It doesn't really surprise me that he's a piece of shit behind the scenes.

The Sruthi thing really surprised me though. The bit in episode two of test kitchen where she admits she tried to stop Gimlet unionising forced an audible "what the fuck" out of me. Her inadequate apology shows that she doesn't really understand the harm she has caused after at least 8 months of investigating a similar toxic culture at BA.

I wonder if Alex Blumberg will ever risk being on the show again because that guy gives off "about to be cancelled" vibes in a way few other people I've ever heard on a podcast do. I think his last appearance was just to publically berate his employee Alex Goldman for being insufficiently optimistic about the climate change.
posted by zymil at 5:21 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

I think this too; the evidence I've seen of how implicit bias works is that the vast majority of people (90% or so) make choices influenced by prejudice, while believing that their hands are clean. Even if you're a woman, or a person of colour. This makes a really uncomfortable dynamic where, as with the Test Kitchen podcast, the people making the criticism falsely believe that they wouldn't ever do something like this. (And also in this thread!)
So lurking is probably the most healthy choice for me in a thread like this, but I wanted to highlight something that stuck out from episode 1 of Test Kitchen.
"And something that surprised me was that many of the white people at the top at Bon Appétit did not actually think that things were okay"...[but]..."Because the place made them all feel like victims, they rarely stopped to think about what they ought to do to protect the people with even less power than them, the people of color. The temps. "
If I'm being completely honest, this also describes my current workplace. Over the last year a group has tried to improve things and I'm embarrassed at how inconsistent my effort has been to be an ally. Part of this is... I'm a human who's bad at a lot of things. And a lot of this is also some learned helplessness which has allowed me to survive in the job long term. This probably describes a lot of workplaces. Seeing this play out in high profile companies is a great learning opportunity for a lot of us. Anyone Union organizing or having difficult conversations in their work place and passing through central TN, PM me and I'll treat you to the take-out BBQ of your choice.
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:00 PM on February 18 [14 favorites]

There is nothing inherently virtuous about being a person of color, especially in the face of labor organizing *and* anti-Blackness.

This needs to be repeated a gazillion times and especially so if the community is sizeably and notably in america in this case from middle-class and white collar backgrounds and above. I see it from the asian side of things but it's also the same for those from the west indies and africa and the middle east. Anti-blackness is real and a substantial part of that is classism as well, especially since white supremacist hegemony meant we are just as likely to be ignorant to the history of american racism, slavery and genocide, so we have the most horrid and reflexively racist attitudes towards those who 'didn't make it'. Bootstrapping is an extremely common mental mode. And no, we don't see the irony of taking advantage of diversity drives and also keeping other ppl down, because clearly we 'did something right'. Don't assume anything about POCs the same way you don't assume that all women are feminists.

(And this is going to be a going concern as it's becoming clearer both the indian and chinese diaspora is also getting more right-wing in the modern sense, and these are the two with the demographic weight.)
posted by cendawanita at 10:03 PM on February 18 [18 favorites]

At what point will uncovering endemic structural white supremacy in even the things we like and the people we thought were cool! gonna stop coming as a surprise? "Milkshake duck" is an interesting term but like, where is the structural analysis? Where is the understanding that power is structurally racist and power is everywhere, even in our fun entertainment products?

When are we going to stop looking to entertainment for Goodness?
posted by Balthamos at 4:40 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]

The first two episodes of the Test Kitchen series made me cry. I was a white guy who started a lgbtq+ group at work, and then got promoted to work with the vp of hr on diversity projects. I know nothing about Bon Appetite, but the first two episodes touched a part of my heart that's been locked tight ever since I was laid off.

The company I worked at cycled through diversity employees every few years. Projects got started, but were quashed. Voices were ignored. I felt like i tried so hard to make a difference - but while individuals all agreed, the system never budged.

And as a white guy working very alone, the Test Kitchen episodes felt cathartic. Here is a look behind the curtain. You weren't wrong, things were not going well.

I accept PJ and Sruthi are probably terrible people - maybe even worse than me.

But, God, I really, truly, desperately hope the rest of the show is published.
posted by rebent at 4:45 AM on February 19 [9 favorites]

As a white guy, I'm learning I need to interrogate the voices that sound comforting and familiar.

This is why I have a rule about not listening to podcasts that sound like NPR circa 2009 or so.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:39 AM on February 19 [6 favorites]

Aaron Reis: "I have sat with bitterness from this period and have tried to make sense of it. What would cause coworkers, some of whom I really like and respect, to come out against an organic effort led by their colleagues — mostly POC — to try and make their workplace a healthier place? My personal opinion is that it mostly came down to money. Gimlet unionizing felt like a threat to the impending but seemingly uncertain Spotify buyout. In the context of that fear of losing a big payout, I think these colleagues built themselves various justifications for opposing the union, playing down their colleagues concerns, and otherwise abdicating their responsibility as part of a community and a larger team."
posted by BungaDunga at 11:29 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]

Helen Zaltzman has been retweeting a lot of this, and I am now very curious what recently went down at Radiotopia (which her podcast, The Allusionist, just left).
posted by jeather at 1:38 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

It’s interesting how much Reply All is intertwined with Metafilter. Not only are Alex and P.J. Metafilter’s own, the very first episode of tl;dr in the podcast feed (narrated by P.J.) is about this Ask Metafilter.
posted by chrchr at 2:10 PM on February 19

Of course there may be more to it, but here is Helen Zaltzman's explanation for leaving Radiotopia.

The Radiotopia newsletter had some related comments (before Zaltzman's departure).
posted by oakroom at 3:58 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Radiotopia/PRX absolved itself of any real wrongdoing here.

tl;dr- "For now, PRX is doing what it should be doing, and so long as it is diligent about its DEI efforts and stays on its current path, improvements will not come overnight, but they will come."
posted by MrJM at 4:52 PM on February 19

Some of what I've seen suggest that there is some "99 percent invisible, the crown jewel and most important show with the most important people" stuff going on, but I haven't seen a lot of details like I did for Gimlet. (I listen to 99PI, Ear Hustle and Criminal.)
posted by jeather at 5:13 PM on February 19

As an older person, I really appreciated the "Yes, Yes, No" episodes for letting me know what the younger on-line people were up to; it helped me sound slightly less ignorant when talking to teenagers more than once. I hope someone else does a similar show.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:18 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]

I’ve been listening to all the old TLDR eps today. They do a bit in the credits where they give funny nicknames to all the contributors. Is it worth noting that Alex’s nickname for P.J. is “history’s greatest villain”? Naw.
posted by chrchr at 8:57 PM on February 19

I hope radiotopia can get its act together. 99pi and the memory palace have both been putting out a massive amount of social justice / Black history / anti nazi, anti confederacy episodes. But that doesn't mean they're treating their people well behind the scenes, but I hope they are.
posted by rebent at 6:04 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]

So... is this when we finally unmask the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder? I'm placing my bet on Alex Blumberg.

I’m pretty sure that the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder is either PJ or Alex G—the voice is clearly one or the other of them with a robot filter, but I can never tell which one of them is which. After hearing all of this, though, I’m guessing PJ is the one with the mean laugh that always made me uncomfortable.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:43 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Breakmaster Cylinder does a fair amount of other work, and their penchant for Bach and other musical pecadilloes seem somehow a bit not fitting with either pj or Alex, imo...
posted by kaibutsu at 3:33 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]

In contrast to Starlee Kine’s recent transparency/courage, her former producer (and Gimlet heavyweight) Jonathan Goldstein’s silence is starting to, erm, avoirdupois...
posted by progosk at 1:02 AM on February 21

One thing I haven't seen discussed enough here is how great Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings' (the author of the thread) podcast The Nod is. IMO it's one of Gimlet's best shows and I think it's really unfortunate when someone brings up a workplace issue and their actual (amazing!!!) work gets overshadowed by that.

The show's tagline is "the show about Black culture from Blackness' biggest fans" and it's been a joy for me to learn more about Black culture from them over the years.

A few possible starting points: If you look at their twitter, you'll see a lot of people talking about the impact of their work on The Nod, like this.

They're both no longer at Gimlet/Spotify, and they gave an interview in 2020 about how Spotify owns all the rights to the Nod and how they want the rights back.

Luse and Eddings also had a previous show called For Colored Nerds which they made independently as a side project previously to The Nod.
posted by oranger at 7:02 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]

I was perusing Reddit threads on the Reply All situation (because, apparently, I like to torture myself) and came across this occasionally interesting but ultimately deeply unsatisfying podcast episode about the Bon Appetit series and PJ and Sruthi’s departure, and I’d just like to say how glad I am to have remembered to check MeFi just to reassure myself that there are intelligent people making thoughtful comments in the world.

I’ve been a Reply All listener since it started, and I stuck with it even when I felt meh or annoyed about some episodes on the theory that I wasn’t going to like everything. During a particularly bleak depressive time a couple of years ago, I listened to perhaps a couple of dozen of my favorite episodes repeatedly, and I even wrote them a thank you email and got a really kind reply from Alex Goldman.

I’m trying to focus on the part where there were things they did that I loved and that helped me immensely and also on the part where the people who do things you love can also be the people on the wrong side, and you have to deal with however you’re going to deal with that (with added bonus personal workplace experience too lengthy to get into!).

So anyway, thanks, MeFi, for being you.
posted by newrambler at 6:52 PM on February 21 [5 favorites]

I left this open on my computer for a few days, but I closed my computer because ... being on my computer was probably not good for me at the time. But when I opened it up, this thread was the first thing I saw

As Emmanuel said on Twitter, we have a lot to say about this and we will. but we support Eric having spoken up.
posted by Alex Goldman at 7:32 AM on February 22 [34 favorites]

(juuuust in case it makes any difference at all, I want to second rebent: I do hope we get to hear the rest of the Test Kitchen series. It's important reporting, and it's great to give the former Bon Apetit people a space to tell their stories. It was also great to realize that our two favorite recipe contributors at the NYT were interviewed in the first episode; we'll be keeping an eye on their work more actively going forward.)
posted by kaibutsu at 10:11 AM on February 22 [7 favorites]

Yeah, Alex, just in case it makes a difference... internet culture is weird and Reply All is a great guide, I hope it continues. Every Yes/Yes/No, the QAnon episode, every Super Tech Support, the beautiful storytelling in the BreakMaster Cylinder outros, I appreciate it.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:20 AM on February 23 [6 favorites]

Alex Goldman just published a 2 minute long update episode, Reply All is on pause and they are not airing the remaining two Test Kitchen episodes but are leaving the first two online with disclamers.

I am devastated for the Test Kitchen former employees that they don't get to tell their stories and I hope another publication/podcast picks it up.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:11 AM on February 25 [7 favorites]

Oh man, that’s disappointing (on many levels).
posted by bq at 8:37 AM on February 25

Ergh...I could envision a great Reply All 2.0 with Alex, Emmanuel Dztosi, and someone from what is undoubtedly a deep bench of talented women of color waiting for a shot.
posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]

Also a Twitter update from Alex Goldman starts here.
posted by oakroom at 12:24 PM on February 25

and an interesting reply thread on the way Alex described his co-workers in that update:
@s_m_i: why in this thread when talking about the men do you lead with their expertise, and when talking about the women do you lead with their personalities?
@AGoldmund: I guess I consider empathy curiosity and fearlessness essential reporting skills
@s_m_i: So why then default to spelling that out for the women and use the shorthand of « sharp reporter » for the men?
@AGoldmund: Absolutely@fair point and something I have to think about when it comes to my unconscious biases.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:52 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]

posted by kaibutsu at 8:00 PM on February 25

I genuinely take no pleasure from being the “I told you so” guy, but on FanFare, as early as 2016, a few of us started to notice Reply All’s concerning tendency to uncritically platform terrible people. It wasn’t just one time – they did it over and over. It’s no exaggeration to say that they helped to legitimize GamerGate and QAnon to the masses.

Even more concerning was their perpetual vacillation between “we’re serious journalists” and “we’re just two dudes shooting the shit.” They’ve constantly demanded the recognition of the former, while requesting the [lack of] accountability of the latter. One episode will comprise a deep dive into the internet’s underpinnings, and on the next episode, the hosts will feign ignorance, and throw their hands up as to proclaim “Websites! How do they work?”

As a narrative device, this might be forgivable – Sarah Koenig made it work.... but she also brought receipts. The Reply All guys, on the other hand, repeatedly leaned on it as an excuse to air half-baked stories that weren’t quite ready to go to print.

Gimlet had a huge audience, a ton of money, and were completely unprepared that their audience might want them to use their considerable resources to actually step up to the plate.

For better or for worse, I’m far from a conscientious media-consumer – I’m a privileged white dude, and perhaps far too often, my media-consumption choices reflect that. Even 5 years ago, it was plainly obvious to me that the Reply All guys had crossed a line, and were just a part of the background noise of cis white male podcast hosts laughing at each others’ jokes.

Unrelated to the current debacle: If I had to pick a point where I completely lost faith in Reply All, it was after they aired numerous episodes with content-warnings.... and subsequently aired a gut-wrenching episode about the death of a young child, without any warning whatsoever. It showed absolutely zero self-awareness. They just.... picked a piece of subject-matter that was obviously viscerally upsetting to a large percentage of the population, and decided to air it as-is. Even after it initially aired, they could have revised the episode to add a brief warning.... and they didn’t.
posted by schmod at 9:07 PM on February 26 [5 favorites]

It’s no exaggeration to say that they helped to legitimize GamerGate and QAnon to the masses.

"An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof." -- Marcello Truzzi
posted by MrJM at 12:42 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]

James T. Green describes his experience in two stints as a contractor at Gimlet, including the time period running up to the union vote and the Spotify merger.
posted by chrchr at 5:31 PM on March 1 [9 favorites]

Thanks for sharing, beautifully written and heartbreaking.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:56 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]

Vulture: What went wrong at Gimlet?
“Alex [Blumberg] wanted so badly to be perceived as a good guy, to be perceived as a person acting on behalf of empathy,” said the former staffer. I had heard a rumor that Blumberg cried during the meeting; I asked them if it was true. “Oh, Alex cries at every meeting,” they said. “There was a lot of crying at Gimlet in general.”
posted by chrchr at 6:24 AM on March 11

Having to frequently attend meetings where my boss cries would require a lot of Spotify money to make me not run for the hills.
posted by skewed at 7:09 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

From that link,

“There is a saying about something being the ‘tent pole show,’” a former Gimlet employee said. “‘Reply All’ wasn’t the tent pole, it was the whole tent.” - Ngofeen Mputubwele

I've been following Gimlet since the beginning, and Alex's original pitch to investors was that a fully-staffed and fully-funded audio production team could create podcasts that would draw enough advertising dollars to pay back the investors and then some.

But time and time again we've seen gimlet produce kind of bland, overly-produced content that only lasts a few seasons. They've got a few hundred staff, I believe, but I listen to less gimlet podcasts now than the first year they launched.
posted by rebent at 7:22 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

It wasn’t just one time – they did it over and over. It’s no exaggeration to say that they helped to legitimize GamerGate and QAnon to the masses.

Literally the first Episode of TL;DR, the spiritual predecessor, covered Pronunciation Book, in which people hypothesize that maybe someone was trapped in a basement, being drugged. And then forced to record and upload on Youtube? IDK, ARG conspiracies are weird. Episode 13.5 involves an interview with someone who shares a name with someone who ran on camera to shout to America that 9/11 was an inside job, and sometimes pretends to be that person when reporters call looking for the real one. And they cover so many hoaxes that by episode 17 they can do a recap episode just on the hoaxes they've covered thus far.

Seems like conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and internet mysteries in general seem to be part of this podcast's DNA.
posted by pwnguin at 1:50 PM on March 14

(Newer, highly-related Gimlet thread over here, for anyone who still has this open in a tab.)
posted by nobody at 7:32 PM on March 15

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