Introducing: Podcast Pinpoints

For a year or so I had a pretty good (if underpaid) gig reviewing podcasts in bite-sized reviews. The kinda critique you’d find in a local newspaper or magazine’s media section. It was a fun time. I’m gonna try to rekindle that fun on my own.

What are Podcast Pinpoints? 

The Pinpoints will be reviews of podcasts commissioned by the creators and written fairly quickly. Once commissioned I will listen to at least one episode. Historically from writing these elsewhere I’ve found I rarely only listen to just one but I also know unedited multi-hour TTRPG podcasts exist and I can’t commit to more than one of those.

Once the listening phase is complete I sit down, crack my knuckles, and bring my decade of media criticism to bear on it. Both things that work and, in a rare offering these days, things that might not work. 

You pay me. I review your podcast honestly and fairly for 150 to 200 words.

A Pinpoint will set you back $50 USD. If a longer review or consultation is of interest, feel free to contact me directly for rates.

Why now? 

There’s not much in the way of podcast criticism lately. A handful of plucky writers with blogs are doing their best to shine attention on podcasts that otherwise would never be addressed, but it’s worth noting how the field is suspiciously bereft of writers who’ve been doing it consistently since before I started in 2018. 

There’s a myriad of factors involved but an undeniable one is that people pouring resources into projects with the intent of gaining online traction want coverage, not criticism. 

Most successful newsletters and outlets-that-occasionally-cover-podcasts favor regurgitating press releases and name-dropping popular cast or crew over genuinely engaging with the subject matter. To put it in more traditional media terms: there’s more SEO motivation to post 200 word weekly recaps of the Game of Thrones spinoff than a well-constructed 1,500 word review of Half Life VR but the AI is Self Aware, even if the latter is a format-breaking blend of theatre technique, meta commentary, and post-performance editing. 

Meanwhile, indie journalists tend to subscribe to the idiom “if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” This seems a noble stance to take when considering the dearth of hyper-specific uWu smol bean podcasts with fifteen downloads all knocking on bloggers’ digital doors for coverage. I myself attempted to do this when writing reviews somewhat regularly. 

Hell, at times it’s a defense mechanism.

Caroline Crampton dared have a negative opinion about a popular Reply All episode and one of the show’s top producers got so bent out of shape she took to Twitter with a Notes App essay about how hard it is to make Reply All. Scores of fans – fueled by convictions that’d die the second the Bon Appetit scandal broke – took to Twitter with a fury so strong you’d think Crampton shot Alex Goldman in the street.

Podcake dared have a opinion about recurring tropes in horror audio drama with one erroneous clerical detail (unimportant to the greater argument) which sparked off an um-actually firestorm so bad Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink – clearly having not read the article – mocked her on Twitter.

Fuck that noise.

Over time I’ve come to find this methodology has two bad side effects. 

  1. Indie creators don’t know what they don’t know and could cement into bad habits if all they hear is the silence around an easily-addressed issue. Audiences might also not have any clue something random is derivative of a much better work they’ll never heard of because comparing the two is considered rude.
  2. Some works of art are only created for profit and openly exploit the environment of convenient silence meant to help the smol beans. 

Of course the second side effect far outweighs the first in intensity, but it can also be quickly taken apart.

Positivity for the sake of positivity can let bad things fester. Part of embracing what is good about a piece of art is embracing critical thinking and staring down the unsuccessful parts square in the eye to discuss them. 

What is off about the piece? 

Why is it off? 

How did it happen? 

I’ve been fortunate enough to occasionally land gigs that have allowed me to lovingly craft long-form reviews of podcasts – good and bad – with free reign to be a legit critic. Though, as fun as it is to construct massive postmortems of darlings like S-Town, there was one position in particular I had a lot of fun with. 

In March of 2021 I became the somewhat anonymous author of DiscoverPods’ Podcast Spotlight. Over my tenure I wrote 31 spotlights, a third of which were some of the most rewarding and direct criticism I’ve written. When the position was first pitched to me it was simple: podcast creators paid a flat fee to have their podcast featured on the website with a generic Q&A section and a 200 word bespoke review. 

At first I was given full rein to be honest. Later in the run I was encouraged to find positive things to say about the show to appease the people who weren’t explicitly told negative reviews were possible. I still cherish the direct message from my editor asking if comedy chat cast Girl Interrupter was “that bad,” to which I replied an enthusiastic “yes.” Apparently the host was none too pleased to read my… direct three-paragraph review. Aside from the typo left over from re-phrasing a sentence, I stand by what it says. In a world of mindless ‘supportive’ five-star reviews it’s important to explain the why and how a show fucked up for posterity’s sake.

Of course it wasn’t all negativity. In the bargain bin of stinkers like Band of Mothers or The Pursuit of Learning I found delights like REACH: A Space Podcast for Kids and Improv is Dead

I wanna find more diamonds in the rough.

As of this article going up there are FIVE commission slots open. Podcasts with crews over 50% comprised of marginalized identities are eligible for a discount.

Get you (or a podcast you love) a Pinpoint today!

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