Why I Don't Support FreeTalkLive
by Ethan Glover, Wed, Dec 30, 2015 - (Edited) Sun, Sep 10, 2017
When asked about the value of media within the context of Mark Edge's departure from FreeTalkLive, the Porcupines Facebook group didn't really understand the question. The majority of replies were low quality, flag waving, canned responses. Half of that majority were lewd and irrelevant 'memes.'
This is the sort of thing you have to expect from any group or community on the internet. The communication consists of low-quality performances rather than original thought and discussion. However, there is still an issue worth paying attention to. The inability to find and take on challenges to current ideas.
As much as I love the idea of FreeTalkLive (FTL), I have to be realistic about its quality and ability to attract donations. If the contributions to the shows "AMP Program" are low, my first reaction is that it's not worth it. The question then becomes, what would motivate people to donate? My personal answer, probably nothing, and there's no need.
Media basically has an infinite supply. It's not worth a penny. What is worth money, is the audience. FTL already makes money in advertising and every host has multiple sources of income. The AMP Program isn't for those hosts, it's for the shows growth. And the show is growing. So what's Mark's problem anyway?
Mark offered to give me a run down with more detail on how this all works, and I await that upon his return to New Hampshire. But whether or not FTL makes money isn't the point. The issue at hand is Mark's reaction to the lack of growth in the AMP program. The question is, should he expect more donations?
This Christmas, as The Verge puts it, Hollywood saw an 'unprecedented' level of leaks. Movies are hitting torrents with DVD quality on the same day or earlier than the box office release. When Netflix began its online streaming, people who previously pirated regularly rushed to the new paid platform instead. Netflix has become the ultimate place for casual watchers who like to sit down and watch any movie from a specific genre, or anything recommended to them by the service.
However, Netflix doesn't cover those who like to watch the movies that others are currently talking about. These people often lose interest in a movie by the time it hits Blu-Ray or regular availability. Personally, I think the box office should die. Theaters may remain if they can provide a unique, quality experience. Most theaters do not. Restricting availability to a certain 'style' of viewing only helps pirates justify downloading and viewing movies in their homes. An experience they prefer over the theater. For the most part, it's not the cost of the movie that's the problem, it's the experience and limited availability.
Two problems exist, Hollywood isn't meeting customer demands, and the home experience is often the same as or better than the theater experience. Netflix provided something better than the constant torrenting of random movies for casual viewers. But until AMC Theatres starts an online service for the 'box office,' the torrenting and leaks will most likely continue.
If this all seems off topic, just bear with me for a little longer.
On the PBS Idea Channel, Mike Rugnetta discussed the problem of access and piracy. He notes that the top pirated TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones all have issues with access. It's hard to see the shows the day they come out without cable access. So people turn to online piracy.
HBO knows they have this issue with limited access, but the deals given to them by cable companies are too hard to pass up. Game of Thrones director David Petrarcam calls file sharers an asset. To him, the show thrives on the cultural buzz that they help create. The CEO of HBO Richard Pieplar doesn't care about people sharing HBO Go passwords. In his words, "We're in the business of creating addicts."
Netflix and HBO attract audiences by providing them what they want and by being original. HBO could gain a larger audience by syndicating access as widely as possible, but cable companies pay the difference. The point is, they know what their customers want, and mostly provide it.
FreeTalkLive doesn't seem to be sure what it's or who it's for. It claims to be a diverse talk show, a religious outreach program, and the "largest libertarian educational platform." The show provides no interest to most people who have been a libertarian for more than a few months, and only a passive interest to those who tune in on the radio.
I'm speaking generally of course. Complaints about a lack of data are well-founded. These are only my opinions based on what I consistently hear from people in New Hampshire. Libertarians tend to stop listening to FTL after moving because it's no longer interesting or relevant to them. FTL is a bit of a one trick pony, but we'll get to that in a minute.
I've never really liked FTL. The idea of a radio show that "you control" is great. Being able to submit what you want the hosts to talk about is a fine idea. Except, the submission system isn't really used and isn't given much attention. Not that doing so would help make FTL a higher quality show. But you can throw "radio you control" onto the pile with the other buzzword claims like diversity, outreach, and education.
Every time I've started to listen to FTL, or gone back to listening, it was for the same reason. Because it's libertarian and I should listen to it and support it. I've done the same with The Tom Woods Show, Anarchast, and a few others. While listening to them, I talk about how great they are by describing them as a libertarian show, not by describing why I like them.
Basically, I listened because I felt an obligation to do so, and to root on my team. I don't think I'm alone in that. I can listen to podcasts by Dan Carlin and Joe Rogan because they keep their shows varied and interesting. It's not the same tropes and simple ideas every time. There are no timed segments or rushed calls.
I get it, maybe I just don't like talk radio, so be it. But I need to state the opinions above in order to make the point as clear as possible. FreeTalkLive has a very specific and limited theme. There are no original ideas coming out of FTL and the libertarians who do listen often do so because they're libertarian or because they love echo chambers. The point is, we're talking about a small subset of listeners within an already small libertarian audience.
To expect to be able to make any considerable amount of money from a small group of people who are OK with hearing the same things over and over with small differences in context is naive.
Sure, you've always got the general radio audience. These are the people on their commute listening to talk radio across the country. But again, we're talking about a passive audience who has zero investment in what the hosts are talking about. These aren't people looking to change their mind, they're bored drivers who pushed the seek button. Expecting any donations from them at all is even more naive.
Audience problems aren't the only ones FTL faces. I mentioned earlier that the show is a bit of a one trick pony. Well, that's because this listener controlled, diverse, educational, outreach program is really just news. The first thought someone has before starting a really bad podcast is usually, "I'm going to talk about news stories that represent my personal bias. I bet I can make lots of money doing that!"
Let's get real, not only is FTL an echo chamber, but it's a low-quality, 3-hour, biased news show. No, thank you. I can read the news on my phone in about 15 minutes and I don't need anyone's commentary to tell me what to think about it.
I'll put it as simply as possible. This is just my opinion, but I don't think it's unique. There is no reason to listen to FreeTalkLive. And there is certainly no reason to support it with donations.
It's cool to think that there are liberty related messages going out over the airwaves on over 150 stations. There are a few people out there who have simply never heard of the ideas. That's something. But it's inefficient.
Almost everyone I talk to who don't listen to podcasts, don't listen to them because they think they're all like FTL and talk radio. Monotonous talking about the news, every show focused on a specific bias, all low-quality bullshit. Talk radio has given a future medium, podcasts, a bad name. But not all podcasts are like that. There's some serious creativity in top quality podcasts that can keep the most easily bored and cynical coming back for years.
For the interested, here's the list of every podcast I, as an easily bored and cynical person, listen to regularly and why.
Dan Carlin's Common Sense - This right-wing show blows my mind every time. Dan has a perspective and view on things that no one else has, that I won't hear anywhere else, and that I've found intellectually stimulating. This show is absolutely worth any donations.
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Brilliant storytelling. This show will give you a vivid picture of history that you never got out of a textbook. Oftentimes, this historically accurate program is more exciting and easy to imagine than fiction. Worth donations.
Joe Rogan Experience - Scientists, fighters, comedians, professors. Any interesting person, Joe gets them on the show. You never get the same out of each episode. They're all fresh with new thoughts and stories. There's no particular thing anyone talks about. Put a microphone in front of a legitimately interesting person, give them no commercial interruptions with plenty of time and you get interesting things. Every time.
Penn's Sunday School - Admittedly there is less reason to listen to this show than any of the others. I often think I'm listening to the inside jokes mindlessly as I did with Freedom Feens without realizing nothing is going on. So maybe pass on this one, but Penn usually has some great stories to tell.
Radiolab - Stories. RadioLab does information journalism right. They track down interesting stories on subjects even more varied than the Joe Rogan Experience. If you want to learn about things or details you never heard of before, this is the show. Their consistent presentation of fresh, interesting topics keeps the show exciting every single week.
Waking Up With Sam Harris - With Islam being his favorite subject for the past while, Sam has a laser-like focus on his most recent interests. That's not to say it gets boring. Sam always has something interesting to say with a perspective so deep it always takes a long time to digest properly. When most people listen to Sam Harris they immediately pass him off with insults. On the subject of Islam, he's often called a racist. But if you take the time to understand what he's saying, you find it's just the opposite. Listening to Harris on any subject is bound to broaden your perspective and understanding about it.
Skeptoid - Urban legends and conspiracy theories somehow captivate people into belief all the time. Skeptoid has a tendency to change my previously held beliefs. The 1914 Christmas Truce wasn't a big deal, black mold isn't dangerous, holocaust deniers know more details about the holocaust than historians. I learned all these things from Sketpoid and each gave me a different understanding of the subject that helped me to learn even more.
This Week In Google - Yeah... a whole show about Google. Google does a lot of things... Look I said I'd mention every show I listen to and I'm doing it. It's hard to explain TWiG to those who don't already listen to it. I never know what I'm going to get from this show, it presents information that I would never have thought to find myself. And I look for everything about Google. Trust me... it ain't a boring talk show. That's all I can say.
We The People Live - This one is another that's a bit low-quality and is circling the drain on my list. They're on Episode 20. The idea was to allow real-time feedback from a live audience to gauge opinions on issues and arguments. So far it's been liberals talking about the news. It's been a snoozefest. But at least most of the guests are professional comedians. (Come to think of it, this one reminds me of FreeTalkLive... minus the comedians.)
You Are Not So Smart - This is a brilliant show that finds a new way every week to prove how much of a dumb animal you are. It concentrates on the weird quirks in our brains that cause us to believe things that are wrong, misinterpret simple situations, and get fooled by little tricks. I feel like I'm able to think better and see a bigger picture with greater effectiveness after every show. This is another one completely worth donations.
Three out of ten, in my opinion, worth donations. With the exception of We The People (which I'm starting to dislike anyway) and possibly TWiG (by a slight technicality) none are one-dimensional talk shows.
In a certain, non-financial sense I do support FreeTalkLive. I don't despise the idea of it being on the radio. I'm skeptical the show has been helpful to as many people as the hosts would tell you, but I'm sure it's made a difference somewhere. I don't think the show is worth anyone's time, I think people should find other avenues to learn about libertarianism, but FTL is there.
In this sense, you could say the title of this blog is misleading. If you've made it this far into reading without passing judgment, if you've considered my points objectively, and with a grain of salt, rather than dismissing me as a 'hater,' I thank you. Very much.
I'm no troll. I think if FTL strived to be more original than picking news off of a Reddit page and figured out what their exact purpose is, it could be pretty good. I don't think that'll happen at this point, and I especially don't think I'd ever have an influence on that. In 5-years, I hope to see FTL replaced by something better. But given the current competition, I don't see that happening either.
I once said that libertarians hold the monopoly on legitimate criticisms of themselves. I wish this weren't true. I wish I were writing a defense of my brothers in arms rather than an 'attack.' But with the lack of any real conflict, we as humans have a tendency to create it. This is not an attack piece in reality, but only an attack in training. It is a challenge to think more critically about how liberty media could be better, and how to set expectations on where the financial results should be.
That's not to say anything I've said above is fake or doesn't represent my real opinions 100%. It's to say that 1.) It's great that we must criticize ourselves in order to grow, but it won't always be that way and 2.) Mark's announcement is simply what has been on my mind.
Of the podcasts I listed above, the core reason I listen to each is because they can challenge everyone. They're not just "libertarian," even Common Sense is not just "conservative." They bring new ideas, new perspectives, purely unique content, and present them with skill and style. FreeTalkLive has none of these things. It's great that FTL exists. But it is very rare to find media worth donating to and FTL doesn't come close to gaining that privilege.
I think leaving FTL is a good move for Mark, but if he were to drop out of the movement altogether, that'd be a huge loss. I hope he finds another project and finds greater success.
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Many libertarian activists have opted for taking an aggressive approach in the hopes of getting more attention. I've offered a better, more precise approach.