Alex Blumberg, Co-Founder of Gimlet Media
Alex Blumberg is a radio journalist, producer and co-founder of Gimlet Media. A longtime contributor and producer of the landmark radio program This American Life, Alex broke away to form his own independent podcast platform, the story of which was dramatically told in the first season of StartUp (a favorite among the staff here at Campfires).
Where do you work and what is your current title?
Co-Founder and CEO of Gimlet Media.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.
I worked for over 15 years in public radio, as a journalist and producer. Mostly for the public radio program This American Life. I also founded, with Adam Davidson, the NPR podcast Planet Money. Before that I taught middle school science for 4 years, and before that I was a resettlement counselor for Russian refugees.
When did you first realize you wanted to make podcasts?
I was seeing a growing enthusiasm around podcasting. More and more people listening to This American Life and Planet Money. It seemed like someone should be making more of those kinds of programs. I decided eventually, that that person should be me.
What was your first industry related job? Any interesting stories about how you broke in?
I consider my industry narrative audio journalism. And one of the first stories I ever did on my own was a travel story for a now defunct public radio program. They sent me to Club Med. I wasn’t prepared for the level of inebriation I witnessed. It turned into a good story though.
Please describe a normal day at your current job. What’s the workflow like? What are your primary responsibilities?
I’m in charge of all content, essentially. So a typical day can be anything. I will listen in on edits to shows. I’ll consult with our development team on new shows we’re working on. I’ll meet with my co-founder Matt to talk strategy and partnerships. I do a lot of press. It’s a weird job.
Are there any memorable war stories, client interactions or close calls that have stuck with you over the years? An event that taught you something important about workflow or how the industry works?
I was in the creation business for many years. At This American Life, we labored over stories, edit after edit. And we were rewarded with a large, passionate and growing audience. That’s a lesson that’s stuck with me. There aren’t really shortcuts. If you’re making something and you want it to stand out, you need to labor over the details. That’s what cuts through. Things want to be bad, or at least mediocre. You have to fight to make them good.
What’s a common mistake you often see entry level designers make? What are some tips to avoid or overcome it?
Thinking it’ll be easy. Nothing’s ever easy.
Any industry sites or blogs you read on a regular basis, or anything else you read for inspiration?
I listen to work that inspires me. This American Life, Planet Money, Radiolab. And new stuff from new outfits. I love a lot of the Radiotopia stuff, 99% Invisible, Love + Radio, Strangers. And the Earwolf network. They have a really cool new podcast called Blacklist Table Reads which I’m a fan of.
There’s something new and amazing coming out every day. What’s something awesome you’ve seen recently that you’re dying to share, or something you’re excited about?
Oh man, I have 2 small kids, and I just launched a business, so I’m behind on everything. I just started watching Season 1 of True Detective, which is, if possible, even better than I thought it would be. I’m only 2 episodes in though. I love the blog Marginal Revolution. And I recently read On the Run by Alice Goffman, which is just amazing.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?
Copy people you admire until you find your own voice.
What do you think is the future of radio podcasts?
Radio is finally entering the on-demand era, where print and TV have already gone. In a way, this is the second golden age of audio. We have people carrying around listening devices wherever they go, commutes getting longer and longer. That’s a lot of listening time. And people are going to want compelling, absorbing audio to keep them company.