The ‘Longform’ Podcast Told The Story Of An Industry


Wednesday morning, I saw a tweet from the Longform podcast: Jay Caspian Kang, a staff writer at The New Yorker, was the guest on for their 583rd episode. I perked up. Kang was one of the founding editors of Grantland, a site I came across when the only sportswriting I had previously read was match reports. Reading talented writers describe their experiences and perceptions while watching sports, rather than mechanically recap a game, made me realize I wanted to do the same thing for a career.

Naturally, I started the episode right away. The three co-hosts—Max Linsky, Evan Ratliff, and Aaron Lammer—started talking about how this was their third-to-last episode. At first I thought I had missed a previous announcement due to the unceremonious nature of the discussion. But no, this was the first indication. “It’s been a really long and really incredible run,” Linsky said. “But from my vantage point, it’s really simple. Sometimes, it’s time. And after 12 years, it’s time.”

I’m sad. The Longform podcast featured an interview with a nonfiction writer in each episode. The guests came from a variety of backgrounds and outlets, and one of the hosts would ask them questions about their work. Sometimes an episode would be a career retrospective, sometimes it would focus on a single piece that consumed the internet (like Michael Schulman’s profile of Jeremy Strong in the New Yorker), but unfailingly a host would extract a fascinating new piece of information about the writer or their life.

The show worked as well as it did for as long as it did because of the hosts’ skillful interviewing, especially Linsky’s. He has a knack for asking unflinching and unexpected questions in a style that comes off as more curious than intrusive. I still remember a 2017 episode, in which he interviewed White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, and probed into her relationship with Donald Trump. “Do you like him?” he asked at one point. The bluntness, aimed at a journalist, transfixed me.

“It’s not my job to personally like or not like these folks, it’s just my job to cover him,” she said, giving the stock journalist answer. Then she went a step further. “But I do enjoy talking to him.” I was stunned that Haberman would go on the record with something like that.

Towards the end of an interview with Ariel Levy on the 78th episode of the podcast, Linsky fell apart while trying to ask her about her heartrending experience of giving birth and watching her baby die in a bathtub in Mongolia. “Do you want me to help you along?” Levy asked. She did help him along, and in doing so invited listeners into her retelling of what she called “the most intense experience of my life.” In another episode, recorded in the cramped office of a bookstore, Linsky bluntly asked George Saunders what his deathbed regrets will be. He got an answer that makes my heart shift in my chest.

More so than any individual interview or moment, Longform’s greatest gift will be its archive. Its 12-year run chronicles the media landscape in a more defined way, perhaps, than any other outlet. Since my interest in online writing developed, I’ve read everything I could find on the rise and fall of various websites, but nothing situates me in the moment quite like a Longform episode. When I get consumed by a writer’s old work (or current work for this very website) and the shuttered publications they wrote for, more often than not there is a Longform episode to supplement the written history. If you want to learn about writers’ processes, it’s the place to go. If you want to hear rejection stories and tales of someone taking a chance on writers, it’s the place to go. A single Longform episode can invoke fierce inspiration or great sorrow, sometimes both within an hour. 

The power of a podcast is often found in its ability to distract the listener from events in their own life they would rather not think about. Longform was both expansive and accessible enough to let a new listener enjoy that power for hours on end if they chose. I’ve thought for a while that writers make for the best interviews, both because they work with words for a living and are conscious of how to give interesting answers. Longform valued what writers had to say outside their work, and I will miss that.

In the last few minutes of Kang’s recent episode, he mentioned how everyone who recognized him in previous years would only want to talk about Grantland, even after he had written for The New York Times for years. Recently, more people have been recognizing him from his own podcast, Time To Say Goodbye. But the fact that for so many years, readers associated Kang with a publication from his past, speaks to the relationship they had with that website.

“That’s the kind of work I wanna do in the world, is the work that makes people feel that way,” Lammer responded. Longform made me feel that way, and I expect the hosts’ next projects will too.

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