Reply All: #33 @ISIS
July 23, 2015 9:35 AM - Subscribe

Rukmini Callimachi covers Islamic terrorism for the New York Times, and she seems to have access that other reporters just don't have. Part of the way she gets that access is by communicating with Islamic extremists online. She talks to PJ about how she communicates with her sources. Also, a new segment called "Super Tech Support." In this installment, Alex tries to figure out why it's so f@#*ing hard to cancel a Handy subscription.
posted by radioamy (9 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm about 50/50 on whether I like this podcast. And so this episode.

The first half on ISIS was fantastic. A really interesting story about social media and violent jihadis and then a great interview with the NYT reporter who is an expert on it. Hilarious and depressing and informative, super well done. Rukmini Callimachi's profile page on the NYT site is good followup reading; a biography and a collection of her stories. The podcast makes it sound like she's just an Internet reporter (which would be fascinating in itself) but she has a lot of on-the-ground experience around the world, too.

The second half of the podcast felt like filler. I feel the same way about the "Yes Yes No" feature, it harkens back to crappy amateur podcasts which are mostly buddies cracking dumb jokes on mike for 55 minutes. The Reply All version is way better produced but the content seems more about the podcasters' personalities than the story they're reporting. The factual content could have been replaced with 15 seconds. "Turns out Handy doesn't let you cancel online because they want to try to retain you as a customer". The rest turns on you wanting to hear the entertaining comments from the podcasters. And they are entertaining, but there's too much of it for me. At least "Yes Yes No" lets them get to the actual substance of whatever they're talking; this Handy story had no substance.

I'll keep listening though, because the 50% of the podcast I like is great. And I love Gimlet's production and editing skills, makes even the filler fun listening.
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on July 24, 2015

I was fine with the second half. It is a podcast. I'm fine with it doing things that podcasts do, so long as it does them well.
posted by maxsparber at 8:42 AM on July 24, 2015

It felt like filler, but I thought it was funny filler, albeit a bit drawn-out. Maybe that's just my sense of humor.

Also, it looks like they're tracking down the hold music for next week's episode.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:35 PM on July 24, 2015

I thought both parts were hugely entertaining but in completely different ways, essentially like two mini-episodes combined into one (as they basically acknowledge during the transition to the second segment). As someone who really hates the sort of aggressive customer retention policy that Handy employs--a policy that is hardly uncommon but still supremely frustrating--I think it can only be a good thing to have them called out on it.
posted by Kosh at 12:59 PM on July 24, 2015

I loved the first part. I had heard about ISIS recruiting people on social media but it seems so unreal that an American journalist would be able to converse with their members. I can't imagine how tough that is for her psychologically. Also potentially very dangerous.

Not sure what to think of the second section. It was a weird juxtaposition to the ISIS story. It was a little too long, but quite funny. Their riffing about the hold music was great.

Speaking of the hold music, my friend swears she has heard it before. It didn't ring a bell for me, but it was catchy. Apparently there is going to be an update about the music next week.
posted by radioamy at 7:32 PM on July 24, 2015

With this story, and the girl scouts in China story, it feels like these guys are straining at the constraints of their show being "about the internet".
posted by garlic at 6:02 AM on July 28, 2015

I liked this episode, but it was really two episodes smooshed together with very different feels.

The ISIS half was interesting and it seems to be a running thread with Reply All that the internet provides us with new avenues to humanize otherwise distant others, in this case people advocating for a violent jihad. I like these stories of the connections that are made via the internet, they are just as much about the internet as stories on the latest tech startup (cut to a scene with Charlton Heston screaming "The internet is made of people!" while being dragged away by jack booted thugs)

I am disappointed with Alex that his catch-phrase wasn't "Have you tried turning it off and on?". Have you tried "restarting" just doesn't have the same feel to it. Someone should do up some graphics on his outfit tho'. I demand the full comic book superhero treatment, except that he's wearing khakis and a golf-shirt (tucked in).

I think there's value in confronting the ways companies treat us in "customer service" and noting how the end goal of successful customer service is wrangling us into continuing to pay. Our collective relationship with apps like this are often not interrogated very well, we discuss what uber is doing to taxis (for example) but not what they are doing to us the non-taxi drivers. In this case we get a peek at how companies use reduced-rates to lure you in and then make it difficult to cancel your service so that you stay out of complacency (reminds me of Columbia House). I hope they do more of this.
posted by selenized at 2:39 PM on July 28, 2015

I'm kind of glad there was an acknowledgement of Handy's supremely shitty practices, considering we had a fairly deep FPP about their awfulness last fall.
posted by psoas at 2:44 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, that was a jarring transition -- so much so that they commented on it in-show as a big change of pace.

Is there a target runtime that the episodes are trying to fill? I'm not sure that's particularly meaningful in a podcast environment -- just let the story find its natural length. The ISIS story would have been fine as a standalone ~15m episode.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:24 PM on August 10, 2015

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