The news was high-profile as Spotify recently ended its massive multi-million-dollar partnership and podcast deal with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Supposedly, Markle delivered fewer than the agreed-upon number of episodes. It had also been discovered, allegedly, that she hadn’t personally interviewed her guests. I can’t possibly be the only person to hear the news of how the interviews were conducted and found it to be nothing out of the ordinary.
The guests responded verbally to written questions and those were delivered to production where the voice of the Duchess of Sussex was edited into the podcast. There was an uproar over this. Despite whatever reason Spotify ended the deal, the furor over piecing together the interviews puzzled me.
Many columnists commented on how the interviews were loaded with “softball” questions, and that the sessions could have easily been recorded live by both parties to the conversation, but the structure and process that was used by the Royals is one that is frequently used in media for a variety of reasons: a guest isn’t available when the host is available. The guest requires that they have the questions in advance. Personalities use excerpts of conversations.
Many syndicated and network programs are recorded in advance and the Standard Operating Procedure is that the host and guest interviews are almost always edited together. Of course, it’s better if both parties are together and a real conversation is taking place. The unexpected that can come from such a conversation is what helps to build day-to-day tune-in.
Many of us in radio have seeded the clouds by calling a radio program to start the conversation. I’ve been called out for doing exactly that. Not one of my better moments. Of course, I certainly wasn’t the first to employ that tactic. Many shows use voice actors to set up satirical situations around romance, relationships, or hot topics. Family members are enlisted to serve a role on-air to provide a voice for a specific conversation. Stories are sometimes told by the host that have little truth in them. All to make a point, start a conversation, or entertain.
While there is generally nothing illegal about any of it, the potential damage to the credibility of a station or a talent is more possible today than in the past. We are living in a genuine fibers world. Being found out to be a fake is damaging. Real has value. Real makes one relatable. Real makes a talent or a station easier for a listener to connect to and identify with more easily. Despite Social Media being full of both falsehoods and realities, it demands you be real. Social Media can call out a “fake” more quickly than ever and enables an audience to see behind the curtain, whether you like it or not.
There was a time when talent who were single were encouraged to play an on-air role of being married and vice versa. Those without children were encouraged to present as a parent. I could go on. The bottom line is that being anything other than genuine in today's social media era doesn’t work, when a fact-check is a Facebook search away.
It may have never worked. We have no way of knowing for sure. What we do know is that the expectation of an audience that puts their faith in us is that we will be honest with them. It is damaging to a brand, as a talent or product, to be less than genuine. It is unwise to take an audience's loyalty and trust for granted.