By Sara Michael ’23
There aren’t many journalists who have garnered a cult following quite like Michael Barbaro, host of The New York Times “The Daily” podcast, has. Despite covering serious topics like the peril of vaping, the burning of the Amazon, and the Hong Kong protests that can feel distant and confusing to listen to, there’s something about Barbaro’s interviewing that invites a deep level of human connection and emotion to both the interviewee and the audience.
On Tuesday, Oct. 29, Barbaro spoke to a packed audience in Garrison theatre. Barbaro was interviewed by Alex Cohen, anchor of Spectrum News 1 SoCal’s “The Beat on 1,” and spoke about his long history with the journalism industry.
While working as a paperboy in middle school, Barbaro became consumed by the news: how and where a story began and how it unraveled, the layout of the page, and the font used in the article. According to Barbaro, his love for journalism peaked when his mother subscribed to The New York Times. From then on, he knew he wanted to become a journalist. In essence, Barbaro had a career awakening.
After graduating from Yale in 2002, Barbaro worked at The Washington Post as a financial reporter. Three years later, he joined the Times as a retail reporter, and he later covered Donald Trump and the 2016 election.
Pivoting from newspaper writing to podcasts was“terrifying,” according to Barbaro. It was incredibly challenging to figure out what it should sound like, especially because print and radio journalism require very different skill sets.
In the midst of pre-production, Barbaro and his co-workers tried to whip up the perfect concoction of tone and personality, while interweaving dialogue and narrative as well. The best advice he got? “Laugh.” According to Barbaro, by allowing himself to be himself, it became much easier to engage with the interviewee on a personal level.
The resultant impact of Barbaro’s candidness and warmth during interviews is that there’s a new wave of audience members who listen to the podcast. According to Cohen, more than half of the people who listen to “The Daily” do not read or subscribe to The New York Times. According to a 2018 study by Recode, the podcast’s weekly average number of downloads reached 1.1 million.
Barbaro talked about how his role as a journalist is never to come into an interview with preconceived judgement or disdain. Rather, he explained that in order for someone to open up and be vulnerable, there needs to be a curious and compassionate approach to interviewing.
Lucia Stein ’23, who attended the event, explained most memorable moment for her during the evening.
“I think it was less something he said than something he did,” Stein said. “He talked about how “The Daily” had interviewed the woman at the center of the current [Supreme Court Case] about discrimination in the work place based on gender identity. He talked a little about her story, and how she had finally transitioned and was going to be able to live the life she had always wanted to live, and then she got fired for it. He told the story and looked up at the ceiling to hold back the tears in both the student session and in the talk in Garrison. I just thought it was remarkable that, as he essentially said to us, even after all his time as a journalist and putting out a different podcast literally daily, there are still stories that after hearing them and repeating them make you cry.”