This week marked the end of Reply All, a podcast I’ve been following since it began eight years ago. I’d been a fan of its hosts, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, who helmed a prototype podcast of sorts called TL;DR years earlier.
Reply All was and remains completely unique. It’s a show that explains and explores all internet phenomena great and small, diving to the bottom of every proverbial rabbit hole until the origins and motivations can be understood in real-world terms.
Want to understand what happens when your Instagram account is stolen? Get ready for a deep dive into the world of hacker culture as PJ and Alex infiltrate their chatrooms and find out how their economy works and how they exploit the system. Sick of the daily telemarketing calls from Mumbai? These guys actually track down, befriend, and travel to India to meet some of these call operators.
As someone who thrives on obscure memes and cultural references, PJ and Alex spoke my language. They’re people I would actually hang out with for a good time.
PJ left the show last year following a controversy around a toxic work environment that he supposedly contributed to alongside one of his reporters, Sruthi Pinnamaneni (a bunch of former employees took umbrage with the apparent hypocrisy of a story they produced regarding the toxic work culture at another media outlet). His spot was filled by Emmanuel Dzotsi, who despite his apparent enthusiasm was frankly a poor fit for the show’s enigmatic but ultimately nerdy bearing.
The show never recovered.
In the final episode, Goodbye All, Dzotsi waxes lyrical about the difficulty of finding the right words to say to end such an iconic show before allowing various staff to say goodbye in their own way.
The goodbye I wanted, however, and what I didn’t get (and what I suspect most people wanted), was answers to the questions that have lingered since PJ left.
- Why was he forced to leave? I get that he may have been an asshole to his former colleagues, but since when was that a hanging offence?
- Why were there no plans for succession? I actually messaged Alex Blumberg, the editorial director at Gimlet, but I suspect the recent upheaval at the Gimlet’s executive level puts the management of one of its many assets pretty low on the list of priorities.
- Was the show really doing that badly? I mean, since PJ’s departure the stories became annoyingly predictable in the same way Joss Whedon puts an oversharing introvert into every single one of his movies and TV shows… but I was prepared to give it a chance. In fact I was giving it a chance.
But Cancel Culture doesn’t give chances. It didn’t give PJ a chance, which bewilders me somewhat. It didn’t give the show much of a chance either. As a consumer, I honestly couldn’t care less that he was unkind to other journalists who I have never heard of. And, having been a journalist myself, I question whether those who instigated his removal are simply bitter for having ‘played the game’ and lost. (I don’t think I’m being insensitive – that’s just how the sausage is made).
Was this really the goal? To destroy him and the show? What about all the other people who worked on it? No one was murdered or sexually assaulted. When considering the spectrum of possible outcomes from a difficult situation, this seems needlessly destructive.
That’s all moot, of course. The show is over. No answers, no closure… and for me, eerily, this is how things do in fact end.
I hear PJ has started a new podcast about crypto. I don’t know the first thing about the subject, but I hope he does well.