‘The Daily’ host Michael Barbaro speaks about podcast’s growth, popularity

In 2016, a New York Times reporter named Michael Barbaro had just been promoted full-time to the newspaper’s audio team. Or maybe it was demoted. “Am I ever gonna be in the paper again?” a colleague remembers Barbaro asking, according to a Vanity Fair article from last year.

Two years later, Barbaro doesn’t seem to have any qualms about the value of podcasting. On Thursday night, he spoke at The Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with two colleagues, Caitlin Dickerson and Annie Brown, in a special talk titled “The Daily: Immigration in the Trump Era.”

Barbaro, a former business and political reporter, honed his podcast hosting skills in The Run-Up, the political twice-a-week podcast that followed the 2016 presidential campaign. Listeners were fascinated with the explanatory format, which featured a slew of Times reporters and political guests, and The Run-Up  reached No. 2 in the iTunes podcast rankings.

Barbaro was one member of a tiny audio team The Times assembled to take on a new wave of political reporting in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The Run-Up had worked. But listeners – and reporters – wanted something more.

And so The Daily was born. The podcast was named the most downloaded new podcast of 2017 in Apple Podcasts. It reaches 4.5 million listeners each month, executive producer Lisa Tobin announced at the Code Media Conference in August. And Thursday’s packed event in the 1,600-seat theater suggested that people truly do want to know the stories behind the stories.

“The way that The Times stories have been written for so long – and I think this has changed a lot in the last few years – it was kind of the voice of God. ‘You got the news, you’re welcome for the news, if you have any questions about the news, in small print, here’s a number you can call,’” Barbaro told the audience on Thursday. “I think that that has lead to a lot of confusion about what the media is and about how journalism works.”

The Daily, Barbaro said, operated differently. The New York Times and other news organizations were criticized for their coverage of the 2016 election, particularly in failing to note the growing support for President Donald Trump, as a consequence of being too distant from a large number of Americans. But the podcast aims to bring viewers closer to how the news is reported and lift up the voices of many in the country who would otherwise not be heard.

The trio on stage epitomized how The New York Times has assembled a winning audio team. Dickerson, a national immigration reporter who has broken numerous stories regarding deportations, detentions and most recently, the White House administration’s child separation policy, is a frequent guest on The Daily. Brown is an audio production mastermind, and even though she is mostly behind-the-scenes producing and editing, has also appeared on the show as a guest.

Together, they worked to produce a show that was not only coherent, but strived for perfection.

“There’s this story that has become kind of mythic within the producers, and it’s of the night before the first episode was published,” Brown said. “Michael just could not say the date with any gravitas. So we spend an hour going over and over the date, each producer kind of trying their hand at coaching him through it.”

Barbaro also spoke on the impact that he thinks the podcast has left on listeners and how it has built a stronger relationship with the newspaper’s readers.

“It’s so much harder to distrust a reporter like Caitlin when you see her process that suddenly transparent to you, and there’s no longer a tablet being handed down to you,” he said. “It’s certainly changed my whole approach to this.”