The New York Times is bringing a new layer of management to its audio division in the wake of the revelation that erroneous information was used in its “Caliphate” series. A retraction and subsequent criticism of how the affair was handled led several public radio stations to drop their simulcast of “The Daily” podcast. To help calm the storm, Cliff Levy, who has been the Times metro section editor since 2018, has been brought in to help oversee the audio unit.
In a memo to Times staff, Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn described Levy’s audio role as an “interim assignment” in which he will help Assistant Managing Editor Sam Dolnick and Executive Audio Producer Lisa Tobin expand the division’s structure “to match its ambitious growth and the crucial role that audio plays in our journalism.”
That will include a “more fully integrated” audio department into the broader New York Times newsroom. “Cliff will spend the coming weeks getting to know the rhythms of ‘The Daily’ and the broader audio team,” the memo said. “Among his focuses will be developing new procedures to vet ambitious audio series.”
The staff memo from Times leadership acknowledges how important podcasts and other audio projects have become to the company, noting “The Daily” now has more than four million downloads each day. “Few, if any, departments have more quickly come to be more central to the future of the Times,” it said. The Times has not released any podcast revenue figures but the Wall Street Journal reports the division had $29 million in revenue during 2019.
The Times last month retracted a portion of “Caliphate,” saying the series did not meet the newspaper’s standards for accuracy. The podcast was based extensively on the story of a Toronto man who created a false identify for himself, sharing stories of how he traveled to Syria to take part in killings for the Islamic State. Canadian police have since charged Shehroze Chaudhry, who called himself Abu Huzayfah in the podcast, with perpetrating a terrorist hoax.
But the Public Radio Program Directors Association has been critical of how the Times has used its daily news podcast “The Daily” to explain the situation. The public radio program directors were critical of what they say were attempts by “The Daily” host Michael Barbaro to influence coverage of the incident on the podcast while also failing to disclose his personal relationship with Tobin, his fiancée, during an episode which sought to set the record straight. The Public Radio Program Directors Association also accused Barbaro of reaching out to several journalists in an “attempt to influence their coverage” of the errors made in the production of “Caliphate.” In recent weeks stations in Los Angeles, Houston, Austin, and Marfa, TX have dropped their rebroadcast of “The Daily” in response. Barbaro issued an apology last week about how he handled criticism of “Caliphate.”
In April 2019 the judges from the Peabody awards said “Caliphate” had an “absorbing style” but after the retraction, the Overseas Press Club Board of Governors announced it had rescinded the Peabody award.
Audio Team Gets Fact Checker
As the Times continues to deal with the fallout of the “Caliphate” retraction, the company has made a hire that it hopes will prevent a similar problem in the future. Michelle Harris has been hired as a fact checker for the Opinion audio team. That is the unit that produces the just launched “The Ezra Klein Show.”