Old School Is Back

Dear Buzzfeed, Suck it.

So, Mr. I’m-too-sexy-for-the-internet: How does it feel to have a grandma teach you to suck eggs?

Yeah, you. “So what am I going to do with the $50-million infusion of venture capital, and a valuation that puts me somewhere near $850 million, all for cats and stuff.”

Meet the “it” kid in town. The cool thing everyone has been talking about. The one that is so retro it is avant-garde. The one that said nanosecond attention spans be damned.

How about seven hours’ worth? And just people talking?

Oh, baby – old school is back!

Radio. Yes, radio – that medium so old that its college roommate was the dial telephone. Or, more precisely, radio in the replayable form of podcasting and one series in particular called “Serial”: the eight-part investigation into a Baltimore murder, the young man serving life in prison, the former friend whose testimony put him away and the questions surrounding the case.
It was so popular that 1.5 million people reportedly tuned in each week.

But more than numbers, it was buzz. Old media – a great story well told without pictures – was a hit, even with the clickbait-addicted generation in their 20s. When asked what he thought, one member of the social media glitterati almost went into a trance: “I binge-listened!” Forget binge-drinking, binge-listening!

For All Things Media, the significance of “Serial” is its defiance of all the woe-be-us punditry condemning the state of media today. Yes, there is a lot of very poor stuff out there, but there is a lot of imaginative content being created. And radio, the medium that was written off as dead half a century ago, has become a hotbed for innovation, much of it harkening back to traditions of old.

If you haven’t listened, try NPR’s “TED Radio Hour” or “Radiolab” or “This American Life,” the show that spawned “Serial.”

So while Jimmy Fallon was turning the “Tonight Show” into a late-night goliath string of YouTube segments, the buzz at the end of the year was a good old-fashioned murder mystery, told with sound alone in 30-to-50-minute bites by Sarah Koenig.

It succeeded very simply because it was worth listening to.

And in the age of free, it turns out people are willing to pay for something that they perceive gives them value. In this case, listeners replied virtually overnight to a request for support by bankrolling season two of “Serial” with donations.

That is nothing new. That is public radio’s model. What was different: the audience includes people who have never even thought of a radio as something they might actually buy. Why would they? The internet is free, after all.

Now the hard part comes…can Koenig and her team do it again?

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