Why was one of the biggest law podcasts shut down?

The Verge

Just before the holidays, Law360 canceled its long-running and well-regarded podcast Pro Say, much to the surprise of people in law and legal media. Pro Say, which debuted in 2017, was considered one of the top legal news podcasts on the market and was particularly popular among lawyers and law students. It even had its Hollywood moment in 2022 when the titular character of Disney Plus’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was shown listening to the podcast.

The decision to cut the show came, seemingly, out of nowhere. Pro Say co-host and Law360 senior reporter Alex Lawson told Hot Pod that the team was notified only two days before they recorded the show’s last episode, which published on December 21st. According to senior producer Steven Trader, the show hadn’t experienced a decline in listenership or any other hiccups that usually precede a cancellation. Even more confusingly, only 10 days prior, the Pro Say team had given a presentation — at the request of management — for staffers on how to pitch the show.

But Pro Say was a departure from Law360’s normal model. Nearly all of the work produced by the legal publication, which is owned by legal information and analytics company LexisNexis, which is in turn owned by general business analytics company RELX, is behind a (very high) paywall. For seven years, how much or little the podcast generated didn’t matter. The weekly show was a side gig for staffers who produced journalism that went behind the paywall. Trader said only in 2022 did the show seek to seriously pursue analytics and ads when it started publishing with Megaphone. And even then, nobody in management was hounding the team about downloads or ad sales.

“Overall, it was a success,” Trader told Hot Pod. “It got the company’s name out there and highlighted reporters’ work that would otherwise be behind a paywall.”

But whatever Pro Say brought to Law360 in terms of brand recognition was no longer enough. “I was told that the company is not interested in anything that doesn’t generate revenue,” Lawson said. “So if it’s in front of the paywall, and it’s free forever, and it’s free to access, it’s not going to be a part of the plan.” Lawson said the team brought up the idea of bringing the podcast behind the paywall, which was rejected. Representatives from LexisNexis and RELX did not return Hot Pod’s request for comment.

It is also not entirely clear what Law360 and its parent companies gain from canceling Pro Say. Normally, the cost benefit comes from the layoffs that accompany the cancellation (and even that is questionable), but all the people who worked on the show — Trader, Lawson, and his co-hosts managing editor Amber McKinney and reporter Hailey Konnath — still have jobs. They just can’t spend their (company) time podcasting.

Although the situation at Law360 may be specific, Pro Say’s cancellation reflects a larger trend in podcasting. Companies (and even public media organizations!) now have a much lower tolerance for shows that have more in the way of prestige than they do margin. Heavyweight and Stolen are the prime examples of this, but the same can be said of public media shows like Death, Sex & Money and Invisibilia. Podcasts that were once considered safe can easily be on the chopping block.

The notion that every podcast has to sustain itself, and not have some cushion from the organization that produces it, is going to have a real impact on what we see in 2024. It is an approach that benefits high-volume, low-lift, mass-appeal shows. While Pro Say didn’t cost Law360 much to make and could publish each week with relative ease, the audience for in-the-weeds legal news is only so big. On the merits, that is not a bad thing — but the industry has to find a way to make more targeted shows work. Otherwise, we’ll end up swimming in an endless sea of C-list celebrity chat podcasts and scammy wellness shows. I really don’t want that, and I don’t think you do either.

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