Hear some of the best stories on Medium, straight from the authors who wrote them. On each episode of Medium's flagship podcast, we invite an author to the studio to perform a recent story they wrote for Medium and then talk with us about it. Hosted by journalist Manoush Zomorodi and writer Kara Brown, Playback features insightful, first-person stories on timely topics affecting the world today — and then gives you the story behind the story from the writer.
This week's Playback features an investigative showdown. Journalist Ben Blum looks into the reality of the most famous psychology study to ever be conducted, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and makes some shocking discoveries himself. Embedded in Blum's story, you'll hear clips from his interviews with psychologist Philip Zimbardo and participants, as well as real archival audio from the experiment Blum uncovered in his reporting. The experiment became famous for the finding that people can be influenced to do horrible things by their environment — or “powerful situational forces” — and not through their own malicious intent. In "The Lifespan of a Lie," Blum looks back into the cracks and fissures of the methodology and speaks with participants who claim they were just playing along rather than expressing real fears and desires while locked up. Who's telling the truth? You'll hear the author read his story and chat with host Manoush Zomorodi about the lasting societal impact of the experiment and the troublesome behaviors it has helped to excuse.
Nov 14th • 40:20
The final episode of Medium Playback's first season is about those who are just peering into the adult years that lay ahead. Right now, teenagers face a deeply unstable future — but maybe that's always been the case. Journalist Alyssa Giacobbe was one of the nine reporters who interviewed 46 teenagers for the collection The Edge of Adulthood. The results are both intriguing and familiar. This episode includes the original audio from four interviews Alyssa conducted so that you can hear from each teen, in the moment. 17-year-old Albuquerquan Juan Rubel Martinez was a high school dropout before finding ACE Leadership High School, which provides him with a more supportive, alternative form of education. Mckenzie Marquez, also 17, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and is waiting for the results after her second round of treatment. Dylan Fontaine, a computer enthusiast, battles depression. Finally, Texan Lucy (whose name was changed for the interview to protect her identity) is an abortion patient whose parents still think she’s a virgin. Each teenager is formidable and forward-looking, but have real worries that weigh on them as they fight for their futures.
Oct 17th • 1:00:35
The dark web was her safe space. Meghan Daum, a long-time L.A. Times columnist, faced two endings: Obama’s government and her marriage. What resulted was a distancing from her gentrified bubble and a new love affair with the shadowy corners of free-speech internet. In “Nuance: A Love Story,” Meghan charts her growing infatuation with the public intellectuals touting controversial political ideas. They’re the folks arguing against identity politics, for example, and in favor of fundamental biological differences between men and women that shape their roles in society. But to Daum, these issues are all more complicated than what you can put in a sound bite or summarize in 280 characters. They require nuance. “I didn’t agree with my Free Speech YouTube friends on every point; far from it,” she explains. “Still, I was invigorated, even electrified, by their willingness to ask (if not ever totally answer) questions that had lately been deemed too messy somehow to deal with in mainstream public discourse.” Suddenly, the intractable problems of the day — and of Meghan’s life — seemed like they could be dealt with head-on.
Sep 26th • 28:17
Is there any place where a black person can just be herself? Three contributors to the collection Traveling While Black — Mateo Askaripour, Jamilah Lemieux, and collection editor Morgan Jerkins — read their stories on their adventures (and disturbances) while making their way across the country and globe. Of course, traveling is a luxury, and it can sound strange to complain about the time you spent in Europe or boarding with your first class ticket. But when you’ve fought through a rigged system to have access to a wider world, it’s a slap in the face to hear that you’re still not good enough. This three writers reckon with this double bind on this episode. After hearing three stories, host Kara Brown chats with Jerkins about putting the collection together, Roxane Gay's influence, and the most black-friendly travel destination.
Sep 5th • 34:07
This week’s Playback gets into the psyche of some big-money overlords — the ones who can’t make it to Mars with Elon, anyway. In his wildly popular story “Survival of the Richest,” researcher Douglas Rushkoff starts off writing about an invitation he received last year to give a keynote speech to some wealthy investors at a deluxe private resort. On the face of it, they wanted Douglas’s advice on how to escape environmental collapse. But quickly, he realized that these one-percenters just shy of the .01 percent really sought an escape — and reliable protection from — human beings. Listen to the author read his story and then chat with host Manoush Zomorodi about apocalypse preparation and the history of digital technology’s relationship with individualism.
Aug 8th • 41:02
This week, Playback is a throwback, but the story timeless. Society is fine-tuned for hardworking women — executives, moms, daughters, creatives, and yogis alike — to get drunk. In “Enjoli,” writer and former Amazon employee Kristi Coulter constructs a diary that turns into a radical reframing of what a “having it all” culture actually looks like: socially accepted forms of alcohol dependence in overspent women. “I’m newly sober and dog-paddling through the booze all around me,” Kristi begins. The story, which went viral when it was published on Medium two years ago, is full of sharpness, tenderness, hilarity, and real anguish — and not just for Kristi’s own experiences, but also for the realities of the “24-hour women” around her, prodded and medicated with wine and cocktails every color of the rainbow at every moment of the day.
Jul 25th • 40:18
For episode four, we hear from designer and founder Mike Monteiro, who has a strong word for his creative ilk. In “Design’s Lost Generation,” he insists that designers, especially UX designers — who play a huge role in theorizing and building the technological systems that determine much of the future of humanity — should only be able to practice their craft after getting licensed. After reading the story, he chats with host Manoush Zomorodi about it. “We’ve been moving fast. We’ve been breaking things,” he points out. “Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes out of ignorance. The effects are the same.” Whether you’re a designer or not, the piece ignites an important debate about personal and political responsibility amongst the creative class. And Mike’s argument is compelling: Doctors do it, lawyers do it, even San Franciscan dog walkers do it! So should we do it, should we get licensed?
Jul 11th • 1:01:05
Episode three is all about Jesus Christ and his superstars. In his piece “Jesus, Mary, and Joe Jonas,” writer Jonathan Parks-Ramage discovers Reality L.A., an evangelical Christian church that attracts the lost kids of Hollywood with top 40-like ballads and an attractive promise of love and absolution. Unfortunately, the gospel is not so sweet for Jonathan — the hip-seeming church is truly conservative, and non-belief, abortion, premarital sex, and gay sex will each earn you a one-way ticket to hell. Unofficially, we’re calling this episode “Fundamentalism, but Make It Fashion.” After performing his essay, Jonathan sits down with host Kara Brown to talk church. The two discuss the moving experience of worship, how Reality L.A. is inseparable from its dogma, the unsustainability of gay repression, and the importance of spiritual people finding a god who loves them for who they are.
For our second episode, futurist, comedian, and activist Baratunde Thurston joins the podcast with a word — and then some — on big data, big tech, and his own data detox. In his story "How To Do a Data Detox In a Zillion Easy Steps," Baratunde takes us through his jarring encounter with the hoard of personal information collected by the 300+ apps on his phone. That's right, 300 apps with digital records of his photos, notes, contact lists, minute-to-minute location, and more, all for the benefit of big tech's bottom line. Because "the next big things — artificial intelligence, machine learning, speech and facial recognition — will be powered by more of our data," Baratunde explains, it is essential that each of us reckon with how and how much of that data is collected. "We're the raw material for the next phase in computer science." After reading his story, Baratunde and host Manoush Zomorodi chat about his deep dive into hefty terms of service documents to write the essay, why big tech deserves a second chance, his new tech manifesto, and how data detoxing can feel like having an argument with your significant other.
Jun 13th • 41:15
For the first episode of our first-ever podcast, there was only one guest we had in mind: bestselling author Roxane Gay. Her powerful and devastatingly honest essay “What Fullness Is” is one of the most read stories on Medium this year. In the piece, Roxane discloses her decision to undergo bariatric surgery — from the instant in her car when she made up her mind, to the painfully awkward moment with the nurse post-surgery, to her fears about how her fans might respond. It’s the type of story that stays with you for months: “I was an unruly body for him to fix, nothing less, nothing more,” she writes. After reading her story, Roxane discusses the aftermath of the surgery with our host, Kara Brown.
Jun 5th • 2:04
At Medium, we love a good story. So when we were dreaming up our first podcast, we knew it should center on what our readers come to Medium for — compelling, insightful stories and the people who write them. We’re launching our flagship podcast, Medium Playback, next week, and this is the trailer for season one.