Some backstory to Episode 4

A new episode of Hi-Phi Nation is out today about a group of workers who tried to peek inside the black box algorithm that was paying them. It is available here.

I want to tell you the backstory of how this came together. Seth Lazar at the ANU asked me to help design a submission process for people out in the world to receive money to create narrative media content for an international conference on AI and technology ethics, the FaCCT conference. One of those submissions was the story of this episode, which I immediately selected as the winner, and subsequently started pitching to various media organizations to tell this story in audio. It ultimately caught the attention of Latif Nasser at Radiolab and we worked for months on getting the story aired there. But it was a short story, only one of three in that episode, which didn’t leave enough time to talk about the very substantive questions of fairness, ethics, and wages for gig workers, so I knew I had to do a longform Hi-Phi Nation version of the story.

But really what I wanted to mention is that in a lot of places I pitched, the response I got was that this story was “some kind of looney left-wing labor stuff” and “we don’t do stories like that.” I severely misjudged things. I never thought that this was a kind of reaction I could ever receive amongst what I’m told is a very “liberal” media environment. To me, there is nothing particularly “left-wing” about this story, though it is about labor. But any story about work where people think they’re underpaid and then try to do something about it is a story about labor. But it did open my eyes up to the fact that media, particularly New York, national-facing media, or some other kinds of elite cultural media, do have a perspective from which a certain kind of story seems to be off the map for them, outside of the range of what they think is appropriate to air. Maybe they think their readers/listeners don’t care about these kinds of issues, or are of an ideological bent that makes these issues distasteful. But I’ve always tried to buck the conventional media-criticism narrative, I’ve always given elite NY media the benefit of the doubt that they will accept any story on any topic provided it is told well and speaks to larger issues. But I guess I’m wrong about that. Lesson learned. That’s why its good to have your own platform. Anyhow, enjoy the episode, two more left this season.

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