Hi. My name is Alex Goldman, along with PJ Vogt, we host a podcast called Reply All, which is about the internet. We are part of Gimlet Media, a podcast network founded by former This American Life producer Alex Blumberg. We have done stories about things like:

We both came from public radio (before this we created a podcast called TLDR at WNYC, and before that we were producers at WNYC's On the Media). Ask us questions! We'll start answering @ 3PM.

Proof that we are who we say we are.

edit: Thanks for the questions, everyone! We're finishing up for the night, but we'll check back tonight and tomorrow morning and answer a couple more questions if you missed the window to ask them.

Comments: 358 • Responses: 47  • Date: 

boxxymays26 karma

For Alex: discretion?

Replyallalex14 karma

No. No plz

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farval17 karma

What is Alex Blumberg like as a boss?

Replyallalex21 karma

Amazing. Thoughtful, patient, game to try just about anything. He's also very very optimistic about the world, podcasts, etc, which is quite refreshing as I think I'm actually pretty pessimistic. Someone said on twitter the other day that the difference between listening to me and Blumberg on the radio was that he makes you feel like everything's going to be ok. I make you feel nervous. I would say that's a pretty accurate reflection of our workplace. I'm nervous. Alex tells me everything will be ok.

goldengirlc515 karma

Who is Breakmaster Cylinder? How did you guys start working with him/her?

Thanks for introducing me to his/her music by the way - I have been loving it. And not just for doing this to the All Things Considered theme song.

Replyallalex11 karma

We don't know who Breakmaster Cylinder is. It wears a helmet all the time. All we know is it makes great music and it scares us a little bit.

misterjayem11 karma

What one thing do people who produce radio/podcast know or understand that people who listen to radio/podcasts don't know or understand?

Replyallalex18 karma

Things are heavily edited. Not just the tape we're gathering, but also our scripts. We will record our scripts multiple times and then cut the best takes together. And we are editing and retracking and changing things right down to the wire. For example:

This is a session for an upcoming edition of Yes Yes No

That's about 6 or 7 minutes of tape. Each one of those vertical lines is an edit, which means we snipped something out or moved something around. It takes a lot of work to make us sound like humans talking on the radio.

mparkytime11 karma

Are you (so far) happy with your decision to leave public radio and work full time for Gimlet?

Replyallalex15 karma

Absolutely. Not so much out of any antipathy for the public radio system, but we had an amazing opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new company. We were patient zero. It was a big risk, certainly, and there are big differences in our workflow and just in terms of what is in the realm of the possible (I really miss having a totally soundproof studio). But working with Alex and Matt is awesome, and we just have so much opportunity to experiment and stretch ourselves here. Partly because Gimlet is so small, we get a lot of attention, and we are a lot more versatile than we were in public radio.

All that said, our sensibility is decidedly public radio. I owe a huge debt to Brooke Gladstone, who basically taught me everything I know about making radio, and incredible and kind producers (like Radiolab's Jamie York) who helped push me to constantly do better work.

whitetoast7 karma

why did you ask us to tweet you the word 'discretion'?

Replyallalex5 karma

Cuz PJ's a jerk and wanted to make my twitter feed useless by clogging it with the word "discretion."

pjvogt7 karma


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jeffherb7 karma

What is your typical budget/costs for producing an episode of Reply All (outside of staff salaries)? What expenses would you typically incur?

Replyallalex6 karma

It varies quite a bit from episode to episode. I mean, we don't have to budget every episode for having functional equipment and a working studio, which is a lot of upfront cost. But, example, on the Yik Yak episode, I drove to Colgate University and did interviews there. So I had to rent a car. A lot of times we have to spend money to book a studio or having someone go record our subjects. (which is usually anywhere between $125-$300), transcription (paid for by the hour) and then occasional other costs like travelling, or paying for freelancers. Sorry that this is such a non-answer, but the costs vary quite a bit.

midtownee2 karma

How about just, who did your personal compensation package change going from WNYC to Gimlet, public to private? what did you give up? what did you get extra?

Replyallalex3 karma

It's in an episode of startup. We took a pay cut.

midtownee2 karma

We took a pay cut. in exchange for what? (I presume you are not pure altruists)

I presume you gave up union status (yes? no?) and probably assured health benefits (Y/N?) for what? equity? artistic control?

Replyallalex4 karma

Yes. Gave up union status. In exchange for the opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond (gimlet) and to work with Alex and Matt.

mikepetroff7 karma

I love the music choices you make for Reply All. Where do you go to discover new music?

Replyallalex8 karma

Most of our music is made by Breakmaster Cylinder. I found him/her/it on the internet many many many years ago, and we got along swimmingly, so when it came time to come up with a feel for our show, BMC was an obvious choice. Also, our senior producer Tim Howard has made huge strides in terms of making our show more musical (both in terms of the narrative flow and the actual music). Both his ear and his vocabulary for music are just light years beyond what we're capable of on our own.

ralphgregor6 karma

For Alex: So, "discretion". What's the revenge plan?

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henweigh6 karma

You guys should totally do a podcast episode on dogecoin and can I join your slack PJ?

pjvogt4 karma

you would need to verify that you aren't alex. we need a story that'd get us into the idea, but if you've got one -- please send pitches (stuff you want to report, or just stuff you want us to report) to [email protected]

boss10003 karma

Why does that email address make me laugh?

Replyallalex3 karma

That was deliberate.

lazybonsai6 karma

As a content creative, what kind of new technologies do you want to see in the podcast space?

Replyallalex7 karma

Better discovery -- there's not "right rail" on a podcast app directing you to other good podcasts. Also, the ability to isolate and share a few seconds of an episode in the way you would do with a section of an article. Those are our dreams.

Gourmetbreakfast6 karma

Are there any topics you as a rule will never do a show about?

Replyallalex7 karma

No. As long as it's interesting, we'll do a story about it. But some stories have a higher bar to clear than others. I am not going to do a story about cryptocurrency unless there is a very interesting person whose life is changed. Or, like, I won't just do a profile of grumpy cat. It needs to have a larger hook. It needs to ask a question or take people on a journey. But I don't think anything is off limits.

mparkytime6 karma

Love the podcast! Listen every week. How long does it typically take to produce a segment?

Replyallalex5 karma

Basically every waking second. We are usually working on it until about 15-20 minutes before it goes down the feed.

jeffersonbible5 karma

Where should we spend story pitches for Reply All? Not our stories to tell, necessarily, but just pointing you to weird scenes on the Internet that you may not have necessarily heard of.

t_bone265 karma

It's too bad that Meredith Haggerty was fired as your replacement on TLDR. She was doing a great job. Any chance you'll have an opportunity to team up with her on a future Reply All episode?

Replyallalex8 karma

We're having a drink with her as soon as this AMA ends.

Echoey5 karma

We're you paid anything by reputation.com for the episode they were featured in? Seemed like some serious native advertising.

Replyallalex12 karma

Absolutely not. If the ad music isn't playing, then the content is ours and ours alone. Not sponsored. Not paid for. Not run by any advertiser for any reason. And I would like to think that we did a good job of pointing out that there is something a little icky feeling about the way reputation management companies (including reputation.com) operate, and the function they serve on the internet by obfuscating information that is served up algorithmically. But in cases as extreme as Lindsey Stone's, Reputation.com obviously had a net positive effect.

blabt4 karma

What is currently the greatest thing on the internet?

Replyallalex4 karma

My favorite thing on the internet right now is the web series "Lil Friendys," about an afterlife that looks like a shitty office job. With puppets.

farval4 karma

Are there any books, particularly nonfiction, that have inspired your podcasts? (Other than the new Jon Ronson of course.)

Replyallalex7 karma

We tend to read a lot non-fiction, but there's not a ton of books that inform the show. Well, actually, I think PJ reads more nonfiction than I do, which is why he thinks primarily in metaphors. Beyond the Ronson book, there aren't a ton I can think of that speak directly to the kinds of stories we do. I tried to interview the author of "Silicon Snake Oil", but he had no interest in talking to me. In fact, he lectured me for a while about how the internet is overrated and then refused to talk to me. I wish I could have recorded it. It was awesome.

If you're looking for great non-fiction, read Longform, and listen to their podcast. They seriously just do a great job collecting all the best stuff out there. Way more than I can read.

CallumVlogs4 karma

What is the process of putting together an episode of Reply All?

Listening to them, it sounds as though there is a lot of research and behind the scenes for one 30 minute episode. Got to say though, it pays off. Loved every single one so far, and gotta say your personal stories make the show and adverts interesting to listen to.

Replyallalex16 karma

Alright... here's our editorial process. . . from start to finish.

  • one of us proposes a story idea, and the others say it's ok.
  • We try and book our guests. Usually our producer Sruthi does that, because there is absolutely no person that she can't find.
  • we conduct anywhere between 1-1,000,000 interviews, usually amassing 5-10 hours of tape per episode.
  • once the interviews are done, we get them transcribed, and/or "pull selects" -- that means highlighting and separating out the best tape.
  • after we have transcripts and selects, we write a script. And then we edit. Editing means that everyone sits down at a table and the person who is writing the story reads the script/plays the tape/reads the script/plays the tape, and goes through the whole story that way. Meanwhile, everyone else is taking notes on their work.
  • After the first edit, the person who is producing the story goes back and refines the script, incorporating notes on pacing, tape, etc. Then we have a second edit using the same process.
  • After the second (and sometimes the third) edit, we create what's called an "assembly" which is like a rough draft of the episode to hear what it sounds like all cut together. From there, we make more edits. Sometimes minor, sometimes significant. For example, we significantly rewrote/rearranged the Jon Ronson story after an assembly was done.
  • After we're happy with an assembly, we hand it off to our technical director, John Delore, who makes everything sound amazing, and meanwhile, Tim Howard usually comes up with scoring ideas.
  • Once it's mixed, and the scoring is laid in, we listen ONE MORE TIME and make tiny tweaks. Cut a line here, add a pause there, keep the music going slightly longer, etc. Once that's done, we release it! And then we collapse from exhaustion. And then we start over again.

goldengirlc54 karma

I love your show and, while I wish you all the success in the world, am sincerely hopeful that you are still un-famous enough that I might have a chance to get my question answered.

I find the internet to be full of fascinating, bizarre and often moving stories. What makes one that is worth airing on your podcast? I am generally curious how - for an episode that was not pitched to you by someone else - you come across something that you decide is worth investigating and doing for the show? What are the top 5 (or however many) ingredients that make for a good story to put on the air?

I'm also curious what makes for a story that you don't think is worth airing? Can you describe what makes something a bad fit?

Please feel free to use real examples, if any come to mind!

Thanks for all you guys do - I look forward to your show every week :)

Replyallalex6 karma

We talk about this a lot. That is to say, we argue about this a lot. There are a lot of criteria that make something worth airing, but I think that the best one might be "surprise." There is a worry whenever a story is pitched that it falls into a category we call "This is a thing that happened" stories. Where something happened that was kind of cool, but then that's the end. What we look for in stories are where something happens and then as a result something else surprising occurs.

I went and did the Yik Yak story because I read a press release from Colgate about how the school had changed the conversation on Yik Yak for the better. A slight, but interesting story. And I interviewed the teachers and faculty first. But when I, on my own, went to interview the kids, a much more interesting story bubbled up, about how these kids felt so unsafe at their school because of this app, and how difficult accountability is when the channel of communication is by default anonymous, and users walk right up to the line of threatening without actually threatening people. So I went expecting one story and got another one. A surprising one. One which ended with students actually leaving campus. That's what you want. Does this make sense?

On the converse, a story that we ended up killing was based on this article about a guy who pranked his roommate by targeting ads directly at him with super personal information. We interviewed both the prankster and his roommate, but while the prankster told a compelling narrative, the roommate was like "actually, I kind of figured he was behind it." and that just robbed the whole story of stakes. There was nothing to say about it anymore. It went from surprising (guy pranks his roommate, roommate becomes terrified and paranoid) to "this is a thing that happened" (guy pranks his roommate, they all have a great laugh).

Do these help?

WookieMistakes4 karma

I don't believe your "proof of who you are." At this point, me and your voices are best friends and that was a picture of two guys I don't recognize.

Replyallalex3 karma

Those are some guys we paid off the street to come in a take a picture for us.

xLNBx4 karma

How many episodes do you work in advance, or if none yet, how many would you be aiming at in ideal world, and why?

Replyallalex3 karma

Right now we are working with 0 episodes finished in advance. I would like to have about five episodes in the chamber at all times. Partially because it would give us more time with other stories, and take the pressure off a bit. But more than that because if there was something that happened that was newsworthy we wanted to cover, we could run at it with short notice, and if it fell apart, we would still have something to air. Someday [crosses fingers]

xLNBx4 karma

Who are you going to email on the 30th of April?

Replyallalex7 karma

I'm going to email PJ to tell him I fired him months ago. It'll be tough, but ... you know, it's a day of forgiveness.

simonjp4 karma

Why does reply all.diamonds not have some cheesy JavaScript effect that turns my cursor into a diamond?

Replyallalex4 karma

We'll ask our web designers.

DannyAng3 karma

In your Lindsey Stone story, did you guys ever consider mentioning the role that something like Jon Ronson's book and your podcast plays in the public shaming "cycle?" Maybe you can't take something like this for granted while you're making it, but isn't there something to be said about the empathy that subjects like Lindsey and Justine Sacco are going to be given after these stories are told? And I'm not even sure what that is, but it feels like a really important part of their public image.

Replyallalex3 karma

We did, actually. There's a moment where Jon says that his book has made her search results a bit worse. I was interested to see if her search results would change for the better or worse after the release of the book/our podcast.

Part of the reason we left that out is because Jon thought (but couldn't confirm with reputation.com, and neither could I because they don't discuss their clients cases explicitly) that they agreed continued to work on her search results after the book came out. So it's hard to say how her story has been changed because it has been so deeply manipulated.

jeffherb3 karma

How many takes are usually involved to get your ideal recording of a segment? Can you typically record the segment in one shot or do you do several re-records?

Love the show - always look forward to Wednesdays!

Replyallalex2 karma

I think it's different for each of us. I think PJ tends to take a little longer than I do. But he's more of a perfectionist. I usually do it once to just get my mouth acquainted with the words I'm reading and to fix stuff that sounds weird when read aloud. Then I go back and read it again. I record both, but usually tend to use takes from the second time around. If I'm having particular problems with a section I'll read it several times in a row.

xLNBx3 karma

Can you tell us about the workflow and tools at Gimlet, other than Slack? What are people using to manage projects and communicate?

Replyallalex2 karma

Mostly slack and Google Docs. Sometimes we do edits on the weekends, so we use Google Talk to do that. And then Chartbeat, Tweetdeck, all that kinda stuff. But mostly slack/Google docs.

mibi3 karma

Why is it that whenever you mention your company name all I can think of is turkey organs?

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comraderudy3 karma

So PJ, what the hell? why did it take you SO LONG to meet Harvey?

Replyallalex4 karma

Yeah, PJ. What the hell?

chelswhyte2 karma

What is the longest amount of time (and the shortest) you've gone between an idea for a show/segment and airing it? Do you prefer stories that take a while to build? Or do you like to get it out and move on to the next?

Replyallalex2 karma

Our actual goal is to build a shelf of finished stories so we're not scrambling from week to week, so that we CAN take time on stories. But I would say the shortest from idea to air was this one. I think we did the entire thing same day. Like we came in at 10AM, and it was out by 6PM. The swatting episode, or so I've heard (I was on maternity leave), came together in like 3 days.

pjvogt6 karma

paternity leave you're not a mom

Replyallalex4 karma

Kiss my butt, you dweeb.

Tuxhedoh2 karma

On a few podcasts you've mentioned following up on Digg.com, it seems digg hasn't be relevant in years. What's your relationship with digg?

Replyallalex2 karma

Our website is geared toward audio. And that's how we want it. But as we mentioned a bunch of times in this thread, the most difficult thing in the podcast space right now is discovery. It's really hard to find good podcasts. And the internet is much more geared toward short image a video heavy articles than it is audio. So Digg have allowed us to write articles that are sort of the equivalent of DVD extras for the podcast. Digiday actually wrote an article about it a couple days ago.

j_ga2 karma

Alex & PJ, thanks for the AMA! I know you guys appeared in Maker Stories but, Any chance of appearing in other podcasts like Alex Blumberg in the 4 Hour Podcast? How about getting Alex and Matt to do an AMA?

Replyallalex3 karma

I bet they would be happy to do an AMA. You should request it. Also, we'd totally appear on other podcasts if anyone wanted us. I just did an hour on The Podcast Digest. So if you're out there looking for guests, if we have time, we'll do it.

CallumVlogs2 karma

Now you have been working as part of Gimlet Media for several months, how has it changed from when you started? And how is it different to where you worked before?

Replyallalex3 karma

Well, our studio works consistently. We have more resources, and a bedrock solid team of producers. There are new shows being worked on all around us, which is very exciting. It's also much much in the office. Now that we have Slack, ordering lunch is a lot easier.

njerber2 karma

How many stories do you reject before you produce an episode on one and what does that process look like day by day?

Replyallalex4 karma

I'd say we have about an 8:1 reject:produce story ratio. So a lot of stuff is pitched but never goes anywhere.