Few voices divide an already famously divided nation like that of Michael Barbaro of The Daily, the New York Times’s podcasting titan. It’s not the content that’s the problem: Barbaro is a respected reporter who, as host, asks all the right questions and is deft and probing with his presentation of current affairs and in interviews with reporters and experts. The issue is the singsong, super deliberate and pauseful cadence that can land as affected and performative, the delivery often sounding at odds with the hard news delivered.
Strangely, after years in the make-it-stop camp, I’ve found myself growing fonder of Barbaro’s voice as my Daily episodes have racked up. Familiarity has bred the contempt out of me, I guess, and now there’s a reassurance in hearing that up-and-downy introduction of a morning. No matter the chaos – and it’s often chaos when it comes to the stories of our troubled times – Barbaro will make some kind of sense of it.
That’s what The Daily does in its daily missives – most of which come in somewhere around 30 minutes – with five dropping every week, not including the longer and more in-depth Sunday Read. Unsurprisingly for the flagship podcast of one of the largest media companies in the world, the production values are high.
It also packs a tight journalistic punch: the premise of The Daily is that each episode takes a dive into a story in the public domain, likely on the Times’s own front page, and often through interviews with the reporters on that beat, or those who broke the story itself. This means we hear from journalists including Roger Cohen, the New York Times’ Paris bureau chief, on the difficulty of prosecuting war crimes in an episode broadcast after Russia’s retreat from Bucha, in Ukraine, revealed the horrors they left behind. Or Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent, on the US government shutdown. Or Raja Abdulrahim, a Middle East correspondent for the paper, on Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
Other guests are also invited on occasion – the mother of an Israeli teenager who was abducted by Hamas, or a hard-right Republican congressman who helped oust the speaker of the House of Representatives. And what The Daily can do with all of this – with access to high-calibre reporters, sources, articles and production – is bring valuable context and insight into the stories of our days.
Recent standout examples include a gripping and incisive episode entitled 1948, an exhaustive and illuminating look at what happened in that year and how those events shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, presented largely in an interview with the former Jerusalem bureau chief and author David Shipler. Further back is last July’s Menopause Is Having a Moment, a deft interweaving of archival interviews, pop-culture moments and an interview with New York Times Magazine writer Susan Dominus on the likely undeserved bad rap that certain treatments for menopause have received and that merit re-examination. It should be noted that the latter is hosted by Sabrina Tavernise, herself an established war reporter and frequent guest on the show, who joined as an official host in March 2022. (Her voice, FWIW, also has its detractors – and, yep, there’s a Reddit thread for that too.)
But the show itself consistently ranks at the top of US podcast charts and boasts a staggering following even outside that country, including in Ireland. Wherever you land on Barbaro’s intonation, or for that matter Tavernise’s, you’re as likely to press play on The Daily on your work commute as Don Draper was to unfurl a New York Times on his. This newspaper is alive and well and coming to an earbud near you.