New York Times podcast host Michael Barbaro addresses packed house at Scripps event

Michael Barbaro, an man in a white shirt, a tie, and brown pants sits in a chair.
Michael Barbaro, host of The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily, spoke at Scripps College on Oct. 29 about his career in journalism. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

“From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is ‘The Daily.’”

It’s a voice many students know well, whether they listen to it while brushing their teeth every morning or during their walk to class. But on Tuesday night, 5C students got to hear it in person.

Barbaro, the host of The New York Times’ hit podcast “The Daily,” spoke to a packed house at Garrison Theater at Scripps College about his life as a traditional journalist turned podcaster.

He was interviewed by Alex Cohen, anchor of Spectrum News 1 SoCal’s “The Beat on 1.”

“It’s the absence of so many things in audio that makes it so powerful,” Barbaro said. “It’s the fact that there aren’t all these other elements to it like visual cues … you let your mind do all this work when you’re just hearing a couple voices.”

Barbaro’s self-described “love affair” with newspapers began from his first job as a paperboy. 

“It’s an incredibly boring line of work,” he said, eliciting laughs from the audience. Every morning, after he finished delivering papers at 6:30 a.m., he would read the paper himself and fell in love with The New York Times.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of The New York Times,” he said. 

Barbaro’s first full-time reporting job was not at The New York Times, however, but The Washington Post covering retail.

“Every beat has a set of great stories,” Barbaro said. “You just have to go find them.”

Barbaro said his podcast has three criteria for a good story: an interesting narrative arc that will keep listeners engaged, an engrossing character and a big idea that’s revealed by the end of the episode.

“We flip stories inside out,” Barbaro said. “There’s the most obvious way to approach it, and we will just discard that right away.”

“The Daily”’s stories include that of a man’s quest to bring his daughter, a former ISIS bride, back to Australia; a gun store owner’s perspective on selling a gun that was used in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and a former white nationalist’s choice to leave behind friends and family when forgoing the movement.

The transition from print to audio journalism wasn’t easy, however.

“I was very much like a baby being swaddled by these seasoned producers,” Barbaro said.

He believes audio is key to regaining the trust of the public in light of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric accusing journalists of spreading “fake news” and being the “enemy of the people.”

“When journalists tell you about their story on ‘The Daily’ … and you hear them talk about their process and rigor, it’s harder to think of them as the enemy of the people rather than just really hardworking journalists,” he said.

Barbaro emphasized the importance of not editing the smaller, more personal moments between himself and his interviewees out of “The Daily.”

“We’re not the first audio show to let the kind of weird spontaneous elements remain in a show, but I think we have made an art of it accidentally,” he said. 

And he’s reaching a new audience for The Times — more than half of those who listen to “The Daily” don’t read or subscribe to The New York Times, according to Cohen.

The Daily received 1.1 million downloads every weekday as of June 2018, according to Recode.

Natalya Braxton PO ’23, who attended the event, said she didn’t pay attention to the news until she came across “The Daily.”

“Having a medium by which I could visualize ‘key players’ as characters in my head — as people who could come to life with separate histories of their own — was what changed my view on what news could be,” Braxton said via message. 

“For those of us … who need a more human-centered perspective to best understand ‘politics,’ Barbaro provides just that,” she added.

Scripps students also had the chance to sit in on a student session with Barbaro before the speaking event. 

Niyati Narang SC ’20, who began listening to the podcast in early 2018, said it was a “very prominent part of my daily routine.”

“It was a great opportunity to ask Michael about some of the politics of his job and get a sense of what role he sees himself playing in the world of news and politics today,” Narang said via message.

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