A Brighter Future with Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas

A Brighter Future with Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas
A Brighter Future with Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas

Mar 16 2023 | 00:40:47

Episode 0 March 16, 2023 00:40:47

Hosted By

Stuart Barefoot

Show Notes

On this episode of Audience, Stuart talks with Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas of the What Could Go Right?, a podcast that talks about current events that range from artificial intelligence, to climate change, to democracy. Zach and Emma talk about their influences, their vision, and their background. They share tips on podcasting and how to share your mission with your audience.

On their podcast, Zach and Emma tackle the big topics while looking at them through a positive lens and posing questions like, ‘How can we make a change for the better?’ In a world where the most outspoken can also be the most cynical, podcasts like "What Could Go Right?" are a much-needed lighthouse shining a spotlight through the fog of the internet.

If you have any questions about this episode or want to get some of the resources we mentioned, head over to Castos.com/podcast. And as always, if you’re enjoying the show please share it with someone who you think would enjoy it as well. It is your continued support that will help us continue to help others. Thank you so much! Never miss another show by subscribing at castos.com/subscribe.

Today you’ll learn about:

  • The world isn’t always a dark place
  • Zach and Emma’s journey into podcasting
  • The story behind What Could Go Right?
  • Cynicism versus positivity: changing the approach to encourage reflection
  • The written word versus the audio format versus panel shows
  • Creating podcasts that make your audiences think


Zachary Karabell: https://www.zacharykarabell.com/

Emma Varvaloucus: https://www.emmavarv.com/ 

The Progress Network: https://theprogressnetwork.org/ 

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and Ola Rosling: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1250107814?ref_=cm_sw_r_cp_ud_dp_6GQ122JQVGDDP2VPAECS 

Castos Academy: https://academy.castos.com/ 

Castos, private podcast: https://academy.castos.com/privatepodcast/ 

Castos, website: https://castos.com/ 

Castos, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/castos  

Clubhouse video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8729ZpWpmIw

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 In 2017, a Swedish physician, an academic named Hans Roling Postly, published a book called Thoughtfulness. In the Introduction, Rosling wrote that the book was his last battle and his lifelong mission to fight what he calls global ignorance. Global ignorance. That sounds kind of mean. It's actually a positive message, though. His book champions the idea that the world, despite all that we see on a 24 7 news cycle, is actually getting better. That as time marches on, we're not headed towards an apocalypse or some kind of Orwellian dystopia citing all kinds of data. Fact, one argues that the future is looking quite bright. Rosalyn is, is no longer with us, but now others are carrying on his torch. Speaker 2 00:00:48 And, and, and what we're doing is not saying that actually you're wrong. Things are working right, and there are people who believe that we're not saying that. We're just saying we need to pay attention to what's working and leave it to ourselves to figure out what the balance is between what is and and what is. But that without the conviction that we're capable of solving problems, it's much more difficult to actually solve them. Speaker 0 00:01:08 Next, you'll hear how two journalists use nuance and facts to tell a more complete story about current events and the world around us. My name is Stuart and this is Audience, a Casto original series where we go behind the scenes of all kinds of interesting podcasts and uncover the business that powers audio creators. Speaker 0 00:01:33 One way to learn to do something better is to go directly to the people who are really good at that thing. So at Casto we do just that. Each episode of audience features some of the most talented and creative podcasters around, and we hope that by listening it'll spark more creativity in your work. As you dive into this journey of audio creation along the way, Casos wants to be part of your journey. From our suite of tools feature rich hosting platform, and even our production services, we're here to help connect directly with us by emailing hello@casto.com or by clicking on the link in the show notes. Speaker 2 00:02:11 I was not really satisfied just being a writer. I was bored and Nancy living in New York and staring at the cracks on the ceilings and was looking for another outlet. Ended up working in finance for about 20 years, uh, running asset management firms and helping people do that. Speaker 0 00:02:32 That's Zachary Caribelle, one half of the duo that hosts a podcast called What Could Go Right Before making this podcast, Zachary worked in just about every other medium Speaker 2 00:02:43 And then kept writing, had a brief TV career, maybe not that brief. I was on CNBC regularly for about five years, played the Liberal and Fox Business News for a couple years, uh, and started the Progress Network three or four years ago in the belief that we're not focusing enough on what's working in our world. Uh, we certainly focus a lot on what isn't, and all that's true. There's a lot that isn't working, but we could do better and do ourselves better, I think by looking a little more at how we're getting things right or how we're doing work to solve the problems we have, and that there's a real gap in kind of the social and media landscape, partly by the business incentives and that we, we need to at least allow for the possibility that we're doing better than we think that we are. And so I started the Progress Network. Speaker 0 00:03:36 Progress Network is as brainchild and it's an organization that promotes ideas and news pointing towards a more positive future. According to their website, more than 100 writers, scholars, founders, and innovators of all stripes have joined The Progress Network. Among their ranks are people like Andrew Yang, Farid Zakaria, Arthur Brooks, and previous audience guest Tanner Campbell. A big part of their network is making the podcast to do this. Zachary teamed up with Emma Vava Lucas, who works as the executive director of the Progress Network. Speaker 3 00:04:10 I went to school at New York University and I double majored in, uh, journalism and religious studies, which at the time everyone told me was like the most useless combination of majors effort to be a bind. But when I graduated, I I, I did my study abroad, part of my study abroad program I did at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal studying Tibetan Buddhism. So that kind of pushed me in the direction of Buddhist journalism, which is a thing that not everyone knows is a thing. Uh, so after that, I started as an intern at Tricycle, which is a Buddhist magazine. There's basically only two Buddhist magazines in the west, um, in the United States at least. Uh, tricycle is one of them. So I was there for, uh, many years, seven or eight years. Um, along the way edited a few books. I still edit books on the side sometimes for Buddhist teachers and scholars and writers Speaker 0 00:04:57 Most episodes of what could go right feature in-depth conversations with various guests, while others are just Zach and Emma chatting about current events and brainstorming solutions to pressing issues like season three, episode eight, when they talk about climate change. Speaker 3 00:05:13 So first of all, there's a lot of reports coming out right now that they think that emissions either have peaked or will peak by 2025, though, um, it's been really difficult to bend the global curve of emissions down. Um, and that's actually not coming from developed countries. A lot of developed countries have brought their emissions down already by 15, 20%. Like for instance, the us, a lot of people don't know that about the US anyway. The global emissions are primarily rising because so many developing countries are, you know, putting in electricity for the residents, trying to get themselves into a newer quality, uh, into a better quality of life. Um, so the fact that we have rising demand, uh, for energy and that we're still gonna see emissions probably start to drop by 2025, if not earlier, is a huge piece of great news that a lot of people don't cover. Speaker 0 00:05:56 We're two of season 10 when they talk about artificial intelligence. Speaker 2 00:06:01 I think the generic response to that is technology is a neutral tool and how human beings use that tool is, is the question. Meaning there's nothing about AI or the smartphone or the internet that is inherently bad or good. There's how human beings utilize that. And given human nature, it's almost inevitable that there will be both good and bad utilizations of these potent tools. Is it possible that AI is the time finally when human, human beings unlock a power so destructive that it overwhelms us? Yeah, I mean, that's possible. People had that fear about nuclear power through the fifties and sixties in particular. You know, nuclear fear was a palpable aspect of society. So past performance is no guarantee of future results. You know, maybe we are about to destroy ourselves, but I think it's much more likely that there will be a lot of incredible, beautiful mind expanding uses of, and opportunities created by artificial intelligence. And there will be a lot of depressing as hell manifestations of it as well, Speaker 0 00:07:09 Or the state of democracy, which they covered in several season three episodes. Speaker 3 00:07:14 There's been a lot of, uh, headlines out in the last five years, let's say, to talk about global democratic backsliding supported by some research, uh, from political sciences. What these political scientists point out is that there's a difference between real democratic decline, a democratic breakdown when, uh, an opposition candidate cannot be voted into power and you can't vote out the person that's in power versus, uh, what we've been seeing in the last, let's say five, which is good governance being limited. So, uh, for example, there's a difference between say, the rhetoric that Trump was levering leveraging against the press, um, and a lot of de a lot of indicators that measured democratic health that was caused to lower the uss uh, rating because Trump was levering leveling, uh, lots of, you know, accusations and stuff against the press, but it didn't actually change the way the press covered Trump, right? There was no, uh, legislation that came out about journalism or there was no ac active thing, right? So the, the job here is separating something like that from something like the January 6th insurrection, which re really was democratic backsliding. We're pushing back a little bit on the, the narrative that globally were in a period of democratic decline, which I don't think is quite true. Speaker 0 00:08:35 Season four of what could go right recently kicked off. So I caught up with Zach and Emmett to talk about their show and where it fits in this kind of weird ever-evolving 24 7 news cycle. Speaker 2 00:08:49 There's an incentive to play up drama because drama and tension tends to to be the narrative framework that is perceived to get attention. So, you know, if you're talking about a stock on cnbc, it's either like a bye buy, buy or a sell, sell, sell. I mean, every now and then, yes, that I'm, I'm generalizing. So there's certainly times where you can say, well, you know, maybe not now, maybe later, but there still is an incentive to play up conflict. So if you're gonna have two people talking about a company, one's gonna talk, say, this is a great company, and the other's gonna say, this is a crappy company. And certainly when I was being the liberal on this panel show on Fox Business News, which none of my friends ever saw, right? And I don't watch Fox Business News, I I would never watch myself on it, but you know, there, so it was a panel show with four people and a host, and there's always like one person who's I guess liberal or on the left and I'm much more of a centrist or hard to actually pigeonhole per se. Speaker 2 00:09:50 But in that company, you know, it was clearly relatively on the left. And my only purpose in being there was cuz I was that right? So that the whole, the framework was we'll have a dominant view and a minority view, um, because we think that's gonna make better television. Not because we're actually interested in the ideas, we're interested in the conflict, we're not interested in the substance. And, and then of course, you know, headlines, right? There's the famous trope of there's no, there's no news about good weather, right? There's no the Tolstoy line at the beginning of Anna Corona, there's no novels about happy family cuz all happy families are the same, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way. There's a human lust for and passion for negative drama that isn't just some pernicious outcome of cable news and modern media, but it's seeing its sort of purest and potentially most toxic iteration in this convergence of a business model with a human instinct, right? Speaker 2 00:10:54 Human beings like drama, they like extremes. Hyperbole and fear and outrage and anger are much more likely to grab attention than, Hey, let's take a moment, take a deep breath, right? Buddhism is attractive if, if it's tricycle and Emma's doing it because there's a niche audience that likes it. But as a general rule, take a deep breath is not a, a good lead to any news story given how the business is constituted. And I think that's the problem. I think it's a problem that we don't take a step back and I think it's a problem that we get so sort of enamored of and lustful for the negative drama. There's almost a kind of perverse passion we take in watching the train wreck, watching dysfunction in Congress. And Emma and I have talked about this a lot on the show. Uh, every time Congress deadlocks and someone goes on and decries the other side, that's news. Speaker 2 00:11:48 Every time someone passes a bill, like expanding funding for women's shelters, for domestic abuse and like all these bills get passed in a bipartisan fashion, there's no headline, there's no Fox News segment. And now turning to Congress passing laws that we all think are good. And so the degree to which we just don't focus on things that are going right or or problems that are being solved is a real problem cuz it creates a narrative and a sense of complete dysfunction, complete collapse and complete decline that is actually at odds with a lot of the real work that human beings are doing in both politics and business and nonprofits and you name it. And so we created this network of individuals who are, we think animated by that sensibility. Increasingly we're creating a network of networks, meaning not just individuals but groups that are also animated by that. Speaker 2 00:12:41 In that you need to create a critical mass of a, Hey, wait a minute. And there are a lot of people out there who are basically in the, hey, wait a minute, uh, in order to shift the way in which we talk about things and it's slow and it's not direct and it's hard to prove at any given time. And you only know in retrospect when change has happened, doesn't feel that way in the present. So it's a nonprofit dedicated to we need to do a better job paying attention to what's working cuz we're doing a really good job paying attention to what's not. And, and, and what we're doing is not saying that actually you're wrong, things are working right. And there are people who believe that we're not saying that. We're just saying we need to pay attention to what's working and leave it to ourselves to figure out what the balance is between what is and what is. But that without the conviction that we're capable of solving problems, it's much more difficult to actually solve them. And without paying attention to the ways in which we're actually doing it, it's hard to believe that it's even possible. And then that's the whole point of this endeavor. Speaker 4 00:13:34 All right, so let's, let's set the stage here a bit. Ostensibly what could go right, presents more pragmatic, even optimistic view of the future, kind of encompassing everything you were just talking about. I think the first time I listened to your podcast, what came up in my mind immediately is s roling and his fact-based worldview, his book thoughtfulness. Does that feel like a fair comparison? Speaker 2 00:13:57 Totally. And by the way, I mean, m and I struggle with this, optimism ought to be a good word, but it's a really problematic word, and I'm not even sure it's the right word, uh, unless it is defined correctly. Like, I mean, my version of optimism, another person who is a member of the progress network and, and is not actually that involved, but he is a member of David Deutch, who's a theoretical physicist in, in Britain and wrote a book called The Beginnings of Infinity. And he wrote about optimism as a scientific concept, which is not the belief that things are gonna go right, it's simply the, the humility of not knowing how things are gonna go and the awareness that it's possible that we will find a way to solve problems. So it's, it's not optimism the way most people think about it. Like, oh, things are great and are gonna get better. Speaker 2 00:14:40 It's, it's just the openness to we're actually capable of constructing an unknown future in a positive fashion as much as we're clearly capable of constructing a present and a a past and a future that's unequivocally destructive and negative, right? So it's not like this work is not one of you're wrong to think that things are wrong or you're wrong to think that there are problems. It's, you're, it's incomplete to not look at the possibility that things are better than we think or, or, or, or will go better than we think. And Ross Lang who um, as you said, created this thoughtfulness institute and was really good at creating visual representations of change in a way that was counterintuitive to people's belief that things were getting worse. Um, you know, unfortunately he passed away somewhat young in relative terms and he would've been great to have a member of, like he would've been member number one of the progress network had he been alive. Speaker 2 00:15:33 But it's exactly that kind of endeavor of just using data. A lot of, a lot of what he did was, you know, he showed that inequality between nations is decreasing, like the world is getting more affluent. He did this in a really cool visual way and I think there's a lot to be said for that. I think the only caveat has, has been, and again Emma and I have talked about this a lot, that facts in the face of emotions are often counterproductive. If, if simply quoting chapter and verse to people, like if you're really scared saying calm down is almost always a bad idea, right? Just like it is to a couple in a fight. Like if one p one person in the middle of a fight says, calm down, it's like oil on a fire. Facts in the face of heated emotions, like, I'm really scared of crime. Speaker 2 00:16:17 Well actually crime isn't up as much as you think is just a useless counterpoint. There's a place for facts. And, and we absolutely should have a context in which the fact pattern is clear and people's beliefs about the facts aren't, aren't, should not be a substitute for them. But there's a really interesting challenge and problem of if you simply quote facts in the face of emotions, it can feel insulting, it can feel indifferent to those feelings in a way that actually leads people to dismiss those facts. So as much as I love Hans Rossing and we love Steve Pinker as part of this as well, you know, there's a critique of that, which is it can seem like technocratically arrogant to just say your feelings are wrong cuz the facts pointed in a different direction. And, and, you know, empathy and trying to figure out where those feelings are coming from and trying to have a conversation that that one's feeling set. I mean a lot of the rise of Trump in the United States I think was, you know, part of that was like a liberal, technocratic educated elite. You know, people like me having for years said that things are X and maybe they were statistically X in a way that was completely indifferent to the lived experience of a lot of people both on the left and the right or just weren't actually living those facts. Cuz there's a lot of facts. Speaker 4 00:17:35 Uh, you know, you do hear a criticism often about not just rosling, but I guess sort of his philosophy in general. You'll hear an argument that might go something kind of like this, you know, well, you're undermining the need for radical change that's necessary to solve pressing issues like climate change, racial injustice, the word in Ukraine, women's access to abortion, et cetera, et cetera. Emma, how would you respond to something like that? Speaker 3 00:17:59 Yeah, I would say, you know, I, I've definitely heard that a lot, that if we talk about things that are going well, it's gonna lure people into a, a false sense of complacency. And I'm actually a little bit partial to the opposite argument that if you constantly focus on all the terrible things and how we've not made progress on all of the terrible things, what you're doing is burning people out and exhausting them. I definitely think that, you know, there are issues of our day, you know, climate change is a good example where urgency is needed, but climate change is another good example where you really do have now a significant portion of the population thinking that the world was gonna end in 2050. You know, I've had serious conversations with people my age where they're like, don't you think that it's morally wrong to have children? Speaker 3 00:18:43 And I'm, you know, I i I come from a perspective on something like climate change where I always found it difficult to find an entry point into the climate change conversation because I was basically being told the world is evil, we're evil, we're participating in evil systems. Um, it's too late to do anything. So what? Right? And I just find that to be, yes, you're gonna animate a certain group of people, um, but it doesn't ask the the opposite question of how many more people would you animate if you came to them instead with a, hey, this is an urgent issue. It looks like it's gonna be very difficult to solve, but here are all the different ways that, you know, we think we can solve it and we think that we can do it right. And, you know, getting to one degree less, uh, celsius of warming is just as important as hitting professional to 1.5 or two. Speaker 3 00:19:28 Every little degree counts, right? That kind of messaging I think is ultimately more inspiring and gives people more entry points than the con like a than the messaging that ends up saying we're all gonna die. The world is scary. You know, there's that in the other thing, which doesn't give people everything to really grab onto in a nourishing way. You know, it's a hot emotion, it's an emotion that runs really fast and then kind of explodes and, and and dies out. Um, which I think like a lot of activists would, would also tell you in that sphere. So we're, we're not putting anything out there that's in denial of problems. We're not telling people that everything is fine. This is not a f we're not trying to say that we're living, we're not, we're not trying to sell a fairytale. We are trying to look at facts and we, we talk, we talk a lot on the podcast about very real problems that exist. It's just changing the approach to have that moment of reflection and that moment of pause saying like, okay, we know we can fix this. How are we gonna like best move forward with it? And how can we get people, you know, to have that kind of personal empowerment when it comes to issues rather than, uh, moving from a place of, of fear or anger or any kind of hot emotion like that. Speaker 4 00:20:40 Yeah. And it always seems like you guys are backing up a lot of your assertions with facts and solutions. I I, I think climate's a good example. Cause I remember, uh, during season three during an episode, I think you mentioned, you know, like there, there's better ways to frame this conversation and if we frame it as instead of something that's like doom and gloom and instead like, you know, look, there's solutions to this. And I think the way you, the way you phrased it was so brilliant. I think you said, you know, creating a future for all of us that's so much cooler and better than the one we have now, I think is really interesting. And then you cited that example of the guy who retrofitted his home with like solar panels and now he's gonna recoup his investment and he's actually selling energy back to the grid and to the public. And I think that's, I think that's really important cuz it's, it is very rare you hear solutions to something like climate change. It's just like, well we've gotta, you know, we, we've gotta stop eating red meat and we've gotta stop driving our, our cars so often. And yeah, maybe, but also there, there are maybe more, uh, appealing solutions than, than not eating cheeseburgers anymore. Yeah. Speaker 3 00:21:45 And I, like, I have a big bugaboo about climate change in particular. Maybe just, you know, just has to do with my age like that, that's like the big issue over time that I grew up with. And it, it does bug me, you know, the way that it's framed as a, a narrative of sacrifice and moral, you know, impropriety when really it's like we, we built these systems that brought us a lot, right? And are still bringing developing countries a lot of good, now we're figuring out, okay, these systems might have a higher price, you know, than, than we're willing to pay. We need to switch here. And why are we not being given, you know, the messaging from green activists of this is a future where like your life could be better, you know, your air error is gonna be cleaner. Uh, you can use your electric car to power your home in the event of, you know, a blackout that things are gonna be cheaper. Speaker 3 00:22:32 Uh, instead we're getting this like, like you mentioned, you know, stopping red meat, you should recycle, you should cut back on your, you know, energy use. And it's just, in a way it's short-sighted, you know, rather than giving us this like, yes, let's push forward, let's go into this cool future we can all be excited about. It's like a, it's a going into our shell and being, you know, afraid. So I find that that framework in particular is really pernicious with climate change, but it's certainly not the only framework that we're kind of trying to flip around a little bit. Speaker 4 00:23:00 I never really asked people how they came up with ideas, but I do want to actually revisit maybe some of your previous experience leading up to this. Uh, Emma, I know you've, I know your background is more print journalism and print media. I've always thought writers make really good podcasters. Cause I think a podcast or really the audio medium in general, I, I think allows for maybe a little more nuance. I like long form articles. When you think more about like adopting like nuance and, and getting more ingrained in the details, I think that translates really well to making a podcast. But I don't, I don't wanna speak for you, but is what I'm saying resonating with you at all? Speaker 3 00:23:42 Yeah, no, it does. I think, you know, I love writing just as a craft and I've always just enjoyed writing. So writing will always be kind of my number one. But there are real constraints when it comes to writing, um, space being one of them. Uh, attention <laugh> being another, um, anyone that's written for the internet or really read anything on the internet knows that you have a very short amount of time to convince people to read the rest. And you might have as a journalist, like a 5,000 word story, um, that gets cut down into two. And there's a lot that gets, you know, left out there though. There's that, when it comes to audio, I feel like you have a little bit more, uh, leeway, like you said, to get into nuance. Um, there's the fundamental difference in format in that people who are listening to podcasts can do it while they're doing something else, right? Speaker 3 00:24:31 Like, you can't really read an article or read a book while you're doing something else, but you can listen to a podcast while you're washing dishes or driving to work or what have you. And the other thing that I really, really like about audio is that you get to hear, hear people's personalities, but particularly with hard news, right? Like you're never really gonna get the reporter behind that story in a, in a print version of anything. Or an author, you know, you can read an entire book and you don't get a feeling for them as a person. And I like that you can do that on a podcast. I like that you can get on a podcast with someone that wrote a really depressing, cynical book about something and you realize that like they're laughing all the time or that just that you, you can hear, you know, the timber and, and different facets of their voice. So I think that the audio format offers offers a lot. You know, everything has their place. I'm not gonna say that audio is gonna take over my love of print journalism, but um, it definitely has those benefits. Speaker 4 00:25:20 Zachary, I've mentioned cable news a lot. I've been kind of picking on it. Again, you have a background in there, you've been on those types of panel shows. I'm gonna give you my take on it and then you can, you can counter it. You could agree with me, you can kind of fill in the gaps there. But my, my thinking of a lot of those panel shows is they're popular cause they're cheap and easy to make. Like the way it's been described to me is like really in depth thorough journalism costs money. You have to send reporters out into the field, you have to send TV crews with 'em, you have to pay for travel, lodging and food. Uh, and, and it's a little bit harder sometimes to present that to the, to the public in a way that's digestible these shows where all you have to have is a network and, and five people talking for 30 minutes are a little bit easier to make. And it seems like this podcast maybe is the antithesis to that right where you, you touched on it, right? I mean, mainstream networks are all about like the headlines and kind of presenting drama and they're all biased, but they're all biased towards sensationalism, I feel like, and again, your, your podcast is the antithesis to that. So what, what were some of your experiences doing that? Speaker 2 00:26:29 I mean, the macro critique is totally fair. I mean, I will say the only point that is, it's not really a counterpoint to what you said, but podcasts are also really cheap to produce. So the reason why there are so many podcasts is because it's pretty easy in today's technology world. All you gotta do is, you know, buy a Yeti mic, get a headset and some digital program and boom, you got a podcast. It doesn't, you, it doesn't cost much to put it on these platforms. That doesn't mean you'll ever get heard, right? If you Spotify is a million podcasts, it's hard to find them. I think that the, the macro point of the reason why there's such a ple proliferation of opinion pieces in newspapers and panels on cable is yes, they are in relative terms much easier content. And I'm totally cognizant of that. Speaker 2 00:27:15 I mean, I've felt for years, as much as I like writing op-eds, that you should always be mindful of the fact that it's way easier to write a piece for foreign affairs saying here's why we ought to, you know, support the Ukrainians against Russia. It's way harder to do it. Meaning it's easy to write a thousand words. It's hard usually for the people who you're enjoining to do something, to do what you're writing a thousand words to, to tell them to do. Uh, we internationalize the banks, well great, what does that actually look like? How do you do it? Who's responsible? What are the, what are the logistics? So words are easier. I also think they're vital, but one should, we should always be aware of. It's much easier to say stuff and it's really easier to say stuff in four minutes on TV than it is to do stuff. Speaker 2 00:28:07 And I think too many people who are in the business of saying stuff, forget how hard it is to do stuff or have actually never even been in the position of having to get stuff done. And that's just a structural reality, right? If your profession is words un speaking, you may never have been in a, in a government organization or in a, in a nonprofit or in a for-profit where the getting things done can be much more complicated. And I think a lot of what happens in the, in the kind of the news framework is that the, the sheer challenge of of turning ideas into action gets completely, it's not part of the picture at all. You know, like you listen to what people say on tv, it's as if there's an immediate connection between here's what we should do and, and then just doing it as opposed to the how and the challenge and also the complexity, right? Speaker 2 00:28:56 You know, what do you do as a democracy where there's 330 million people in the United States alone and there're probably at any given time a hundred million different, slightly different viewpoints about that. All I know there are 330 million different viewpoints about it. What do you do about that? Uh, do you just ignore the people who disagree with you? Do you try to work like all this stuff? There's just no purchase for that in a four minute. And when I say a four minute segment on tv, that's not like a guest talking for four minutes, that's a four minute segment about that issue. Like, we're gonna do four minutes today about the border, boom, we're done, we've solved it. Four minutes on the border, just, just deport them all. Or let's let everybody in. We're fine. Don't build a wall, build a wall, we're done. And, and so there's a time problem, there's a space problem and then there's an incentive problem. Speaker 2 00:29:44 And the incentive being, you know, the more hyperbolic, uh, we're recording this at a time when some of the internal, uh, emails and dialogue within Fox News at the time of sort of post-November 2020 up to January 6th, 2021, where they're trying to figure out how to discuss the absurdity of the election fraud claims. And I say absurdity of election fraud claims because people like Tucker Carlson were saying they were absurd, right? Like these people knew they were absurd, but they had zero incentive because of the audience cuz of the business model to talk about that. And in that sense, yeah, I mean it's a completely corrupt system, but it's a completely corrupt system, not just a Fox News one and some good things happen within it, right? Like every now and then there's a really insightful person. That's absolutely true. I would like to think that I was occasionally not part of the problem, but I don't know that that's true. Speaker 2 00:30:39 I don't know that it's possible not to be part of the problem. Uh, it was fun, you know, it was narcissistically gratifying. It was cool to be on tv. It was fun for a while when I was on TV a lot and like, you know, I'd be walking down the street with my kids and someone would go, go, Hey, you're that guy. And I'm like, yeah, I'm that guy. My favorite one was the amount of people who would say, I saw you on tv. And it was literally true. Like it was in a bar or a gym where maybe it was closed caption or not, but no one listened. They just saw me on TV and then it was like, wow, you're, I saw you on tv. Like, did you like what? I said? I don't know what you were saying. Speaker 4 00:31:15 Well you're also part of the solution now cuz I really do love the podcast. What could go, right? You guys incorporate a pretty simple format. It's, it's a very conversational podcast. It's, it's very to the point. And you, you bring on an, an array of guests, Speaker 2 00:31:30 You know, we keep evolving the format and the first season really was just with guests, sometimes with two, often with two at a time. And then we shifted it to having one guest, but also a whole news segment where m and I kind of go over things that people probably weren't aware of because they weren't in the mainstream or they weren't the focus of what whatever we call the news, whether it's cable news or, or newspapers. And, and Emma has a, a team at the Progress network who really kind of daily go through the universe of news and ideas in a much more heterodox fashion, right? Not just the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Times of London, but really scouring the vast information of the web for interesting stories that that didn't percolate as primary. So that's kind of our format now. We tend to have one guest and then we also reflect on the news. Speaker 4 00:32:27 It's an interesting format because it fills to me like maybe it gives you guys flexibility if you're scheduling guests, and I know a lot of times scheduling guests, that can be a week's long negotiation process, getting everyone's schedules in alignment, plus you've gotta do research on them and all that. And then you've got this 24 7 news cycle where, you know, what was, what was top of mind of everybody three or four days ago is, is old news by the time you start recording. So it seems to me like maybe it gives you that flexibility to cover what's most pressing while also still kind of honoring the commitment that, uh, you made with, with your, uh, guest. Speaker 3 00:33:03 Yeah, I would say so. And I, I we're also a little bit fortunate in that some of the, the news format at the end, because we are talking about things that we're not paid a lot of attention to. A lot of the stuff has a, has a longer runway than the kind of news that, um, you do see mainstream media a lot. You know, you, you brought it up before, uh, good news happens gradually, bad news happens fast. Uh, so it, it does give us a little bit of runway with that. And we've been pretty lucky actually, that we haven't had any like, like we haven't had a guest plan that talks about how, you know, we're living in a long piece and then all of a sudden Putin invades Ukraine, you know, that could have happened. Uh, but it did, it did happen to the newsletter, but not to the podcast. Speaker 4 00:33:40 So at the time of this recording anyway, not to timestamp it too much, but you recently launched season four, you just came out with episode one where you did talk actually about the state of democracy and you pointed out it's, it's actually quite healthy. Anything else we can expect in season four? Anything you're really excited about? Speaker 2 00:34:01 I think just, you know, the continuing conversations we have with different people and maybe expanding the range. A lot of the conversations in the first couple seasons were with members of the Progress Network. Uh, more of the conversations now are with people who aren't, meaning just a broader range. There's about 125 members of the Progress network and we will certainly keep focusing on them and boosting them. And, you know, that's, that's part of the point of the podcast. But we're also want to broaden, continue to broaden that sensibility and we will continue to build out the progress network as well in terms of its membership. And by membership I mean people who, who are served, who are highlighting as part of this, the work of non outrage, non fear, constructive forward looking even, even though many of them are probably more negative than we are about the state of the world, they're still trying to do the work of, of moving the needle forward and not just getting mired in the critique. So more of the guests this season are, are, are not members per se, but they still animate the similar sensibility in the world. Speaker 4 00:35:07 I'll give you guys kind of the, the last word here. Is there anything you feel like I've left out or something you you wanted to talk about that you haven't gotten a chance to? Speaker 2 00:35:16 I guess the one thing I would highlight is the pleasant surprise both of us had about sort of how much traction all of what we're doing has had with limited resources. There is a budget and we do spend money but limited relative to any of the mainstream media, certainly. And to some degree, I think how simple it's been been to build a community and an audience compared to what seemed to be a model of how things could be discussed that didn't have any real space. And as we've become more aware, as we're more dedicated to this, also finding other networks and organizations that are having a similar experience. You know, we just did a podcast with Isaac Saul, who's the founder of The Tangle, which is a for-profit newsletter that really assiduously tries to say, look, the way we're talking about these things isn't working, we need to be much more, you know, kind of less partisan, more objective. Speaker 2 00:36:12 And, and he is sort of a one-man show who's built this really robust newsletter and, and network. And, you know, everywhere we turn we kind of see more of that, uh, including the progress network itself. I mean, we've look, aggregate numbers are hard and we don't, it's not always clear, it's just how many people are clicking in or tuning in briefly versus committed and listening. But, you know, our reaches now in the many, many hundreds of thousands, it could be a million. You know, it just depends on how you slice it, which is a lot more people than I think I thought we would reach initially or in a, in a two year period. And that gives me a lot of hope. You know, the, the, the fact that there is in fact hunger for different ways of looking at it. You, you talked about at the beginning, you know, the alternative to either cable news or the way things are done, and I've been really pleasantly surprised by that. Speaker 4 00:37:05 Emma, anything to, to add to that? Speaker 3 00:37:08 To repeat what Zachary said and add on a little bit? I think the Zeki is actually really changing. You know, like Zachary said, uh, you wake up and see around every corner now, you know, different outfits doing different things and a lot of particular outlets around progress too. I feel like sometimes you can't swing a cat without <laugh>, you know, there being some new institute or organization or something, you know, that has to do with progress. So I really think that I, I kind of hope like a real, a real mood shift is coming. I feel like it would, we would be in a really great space if that change that we see in our small corner of the internet could metastasize and really come into the mainstream. I will say too that I was on a podcast the other day called Everyday Buddhism and the host said something that I really, really love and appreciated, that she was like, you know, when you listen to your podcast, like you have to think it requires thought. Speaker 3 00:38:01 And I really love that because I think sometimes as news consumers, we really want people to give us the easy answers. Um, in a very complicated world, you know, we would, we want people to tell us like, this is how it is, you know, this is the way things are and this is how you should respond. And I would love to see people taking back their ability to think a little bit more, to reflect and to to be an informed citizen in that way. So I hope that we are, uh, inspiring people to do that in a way that's nourishing and, and not coming from a place, like I said before, of fear or anger or outrage. Speaker 0 00:38:40 If you go to progress network.org, you can find full episodes of what could go right? Of course, they also stream anywhere you get podcasts. Zach and Emma are doing really important work. It's not like they're trying to sugar coat anything. And it's certainly not that type of segment you see at the end of your local news show where, you know, a lost dog gets found <laugh>, their show is practical and nuanced at a time when it seems like our media landscape is designed to be exactly opposite of that. It's kind of refreshing. Now, time for our podcasting tip, or one of our guests share some wisdom. Speaker 3 00:39:17 Hi, I'm Emma Barbara Lucas from the podcast for Coco, right? And my podcasting tip, which is taken from Tanner Campbell who told me this, is to just make sure that you're making something that you're proud of. I know that you might seem a little sugar sweet, but it's really true. You're putting something out there that you're proud of, you're gonna be able to keep going with it. Um, you're gonna feel like you are doing something of benefit to other people, that you're doing a service for other people. And, uh, I don't know, I thought that was a really good guiding, guiding force for putting content out into the world. So I hope it helps. Speaker 0 00:39:53 Audience is a Casto original series. Our founder and executive producer is Craig Hewitt. Production assistance is provided by Jocelyn Devore, ISEL Brill and Marni Hills. Our website and logo designed as courtesy of Fran Schwab Brill, our head of product here at Casto. All music comes from the Story Blocks Library. This episode was written, edited, produced and narrated by me. I'm Stuart Barefoot. You can find more episodes@audiencepodcast.fm or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Next time on audience, the lead singer of Indie rock band, Clem Sny takes us inside his podcast, a life and song to talk about how he and his fans collaborate to tell stories. Speaker 5 00:40:37 Good morning than anything. I'm trying to get them to like articulate their story as best as possible, you know, cause some, some people might have a great story, but don't tell it. Well.

Other Episodes