Fox News is widely regarded as the biggest game changer in media in the last 20 years. Fox politicized the news and helped spawn the outrage culture that consumes us today. Despite Fox’s dominance and the rise of left-leaning MSNBC in response, something big is happening in alternative media. It can’t come soon enough.
In 2018, an average of 2.4 million people watched Fox News during weeknight prime time. The lineup most evenings peaked at 3.2 million viewers during Sean Hannity’s hour. Both were #1 for cable news.
10 years ago, as Fox was gaining steam, a former B-list actor and comedian started a podcast to interview friends and have freewheeling discussions about current events - serious and otherwise. Today, the Joe Rogan Experience is listened to by over 10 million people each episode. It has been said to peak well over 20 million. These are numbers that rival 60 Minutes. And the podcasting revolution he started has exploded.
Joe Rogan is surely not for everyone. His audience skews male and he often interviews crude comedians and MMA fighters. But, he talks to all sorts whose ideas are relevant and thought-provoking - from physicists to business people to politicians. And his style and approach have created a set of norms for podcasting that is being followed by all sorts of voices. These norms are a welcome change that couldn’t be further from the standards of cable news.
First off, he dives deep into issues. Just this week, Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur turned Presidential candidate and chief advocate for universal basic income, was on the show - for two and a half hours. No four-minute, four-paneled yelling head segments. Two plus hours of real conversation and deep probing of the topics at hand - jobs, training and worker displacement. That is actually a short segment for Rogan. And it was interesting all the way through.
Second, he is genuinely curious. He wants to learn and brings little ego or arrogance to the conversation. His humility is endearing and opens guests up. He is not afraid of dumb questions because he is unashamed of his own ignorance and views himself as a regular person trying to figure things out.
Third, he is genuinely open to changing his mind. The left criticizes Rogan for talking to fringe figures like Alex Jones, but his views are clearly left of center. He is just no ideologue. His outlook is practical and fully aware that we live in a massively complex world where change is happening at such a pace that any opinion must be loosely held.
Finally, he takes his job seriously but has fun. He was recently criticized for going too easy on Jack Dorsey. He agreed - and said he could do better. But, he was mostly disappointed because the interview was boring. He wants to hold his audience for 3 hours - an almost impossible task in our low attention culture. He cusses too much and drinks with his guests. He gets at real issues and you can’t help learning deeply along with him.
Our cable news overlords do it exactly the opposite: rapid-fire outrage, talking heads with the hottest takes, headline level explanations. But anyone trying to dispute the simple story can do it easily by presenting the nuance and complexity behind the rhetoric. This dynamic is what has created the distrust of the media. The problem isn’t fake news, but shallow news.
Remember hearing that Elon Musk smoked pot in an interview? Well, that was on Joe Rogan. You likely heard about it on cable news. Or in the NY Times. Or the Wall St Journal. It was everywhere. But, the press lost the plot. If you listened to the full 3 hours you would know why Elon Musk is so successful and important. He explained the challenges of building a car company, the difficulty of escaping gravity at low cost, the unlikely emergence of flying cars, the threat of AI and tons more. Go listen to it. By the end, it is clear he is one of the most compelling and important people of this century. His deep understanding of his own inventions and the sheer audacity of each of them is just unparalleled.
Then he had one toke of a joint.
That’s all you heard if you just watch cable news. Or read a newspaper. Or surf the web.
Musk went on to say he didn’t like it. Why? It made people (and him) unproductive. Did you read that in the news? There was no time. There was no viewership in hard work and future ideas. But a CEO smoking dope? That’s cable news gold.
But, here’s what’s changing. 20 million people have watched the video on Youtube. 15 million more have listened to it in podcast form. That is massive reach. The power is shifting. People are getting informed and making their own judgments. Joe Rogan is just the start. Kara Swisher, Ezra Klein, Sam Harris and many more who used to write articles and books are consumed with long-form podcasts. They are learning that people want to hear the full story and will take the time to do it (just as they will watch 100 hours of Game of Thrones).
This information shift is massive and will impact public opinion in big ways in the years ahead. If 2016 was the Facebook election, 2020 might just be the podcast election. We will surely be better informed - and better off. Thanks Joe Rogan for starting it all.