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JournalistI am Andrew Marantz, a writer at The New Yorker.

Mar 14th 2018 by A_Marantz • 10 Questions • 36 Points

We’ve been making Endless Thread for about two months now, and we’ve covered everything on the show from near-death experiences, to the story of a vault that could save humanity, to overcoming heroin addiction, to unexpected love stories, to homelessness, to one of Reddit’s greatest mysteries. Listen to all of our episodes here: http://www.wbur.org/endlessthread

We are public radio producers who have worked in the past on the podcasts Modern Love and Codebreaker. Ben is the former host of the radio show Marketplace Tech, and Amory is the former director of the daily news program Radio Boston. Past interviews: Jay-Z, Run the Jewels, Stoya, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Neil Young, Astronaut Chris Hadfield Sarah Silverman, Herbie Hancock, John Cleese, Minnie Driver, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Issa Rae.

Favorite Subreddits: r/legaladvice, r/babyelephantgifs, r/oddlysatisfying, r/spiderbro, r/personalfinance, r/holdmybeer, r/cyberpunk, r/oldschoolcool, r/doge, r/powerwashingporn, r/askreddit. Goal: To tell some of your stories in beautiful, rich audio.

More about Ben: I have interviewed many of the members of the Wu-Tang Clan; My 8th grade obsession with Arthurian legend and the Middle Ages led to a Society or Creative Anachronism membership and a school project on megaliths that got me special access to Stonehenge; I lived in a yurt while I was attending high school; My favorite audio editing program is ProTools; My favorite radio trick is getting people to record themselves with an iPhone; My favorite board game is Talisman; My favorite TV shows are Peep Show, The Office, Fargo and GOT; I once ran out of money in Florence, Italy, and worked illegally for Albanians selling leather bags to tourists; I have never said no to an opportunity to go swimming; When I’m not making radio I am playing music, and the band I played with most recently, High Pony, just released its first album.

More about Amory: I have interviewed zero members of the Wu-Tang Clan, so I’m currently very jealous of Ben; I’m a Cleveland native (Believeland!); I’m the pitcher of WBUR’s intramural softball team; I can make balloon animals; I won’t let anything come between me and my TV when women’s gymnastics is on; I’ve been skydiving, but I quietly cried the entire morning of as I prepared to face my death; I will defeat anyone (ANYONE) at the card game Set; I’m a cyclist and a runner and will be running the Boston Marathon next month; I love faces in places and public typos; I’m in search of the world’s greatest vegan desserts; When not making radio, I’m making music. I’ll be releasing my fourth full-length album verrrrrry soon, but in the meantime, here’s the old stuff.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/5ewmysuixcl01.jpg

EDIT:

Ben: Dear fans. Goodbye. Thanks a lot for participating and asking us questions. We're on Reddit so you can hit us up anytime and please listen to Endless Thread it's a show we care about and are really excited to make. Thanks for having us.

Amory: I hope that more Redditors will give it a shot if you haven't listened to it already and we want you to be part of it so reach out.

Q:

I’m curious what you think the role of Twitter has been in the rise of trolling, the altright and the current state of our political discourse. When people talk about social media they often refer to FB but it seems like the culture and personalities of Twitter have a much larger impact that we might think. Someone like Cernovich for example appears to reach millions and millions of people on Twitter but less so on other platforms.

A:

For Amory: Would you rather play a game of softball against a horse sized duck or 50 duck sized horses?


Q:

Clearly, racism and the art of pissing people off both predated the internet. That said, just as clearly, the internet has at the very least been an accelerant. Twitter and Facebook (and Reddit and Snap and everything else) all play different roles, but I actually quibble with your premise a bit: I often find that people talk about Twitter more than they should and Facebook less than they should. Maybe we're hearing from different "people," or maybe the current news cycle explains the discrepancy. Either way, both are hugely influential, but obviously Twitter is smaller and more targeted. Cernovich actually reaches millions of people on both of those platforms. Not on Medium, though, because they just kicked him off.

A:

Horse sized duck obvs.


Q:

I guess my thinking is media Twitter influences the influencers who influence the masses...whereas Facebook is the masses.

A:

Hey Amory, where did you get those perfect teeth?


Q:

Fair point. But a) speaking directly to the masses has always been important, and is only becoming more important; b) Facebook is just so much bigger, and c) I interact with a lot of media types, who tend to rate Twitter's importance properly, when they're not overrating it (or feeling themselves way too hard for having a blue check mark or a lot of followers). But of course both are hugely important. Also Twitter is more open, in the sense that it's easy to see exactly what someone has or hasn't tweeted, what the responses have been, etc., whereas Facebook is walled off in all sorts of ways.

A:

Amory: Whoa...

Ben: I've wondered this too

Amory: This is actually a hot debate in my family because I had braces for eleven months, and my sister did not need braces at all. And so my sister's joke is always to my parents that they owe her $4,000 because at least when I had braces they were roughly $4,000. so Julia still feels like she is owed $4,000 from my parents.

I was very diligent about my retainers. I'm like the poster child for wearing my retainers. I still wear mine at night.


Q:

What is your favourite New Yorker cover?

A:

Thank you. Maybe I should put my retainers in again at night.


Q:

There have been a lot of really good ones. I have a poster of this one: http://www.xradiograph.com/wmd/typewriter_monkeys.htm. I'm also partial to this one: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kanye-west-new-yorker-cover_us_55e9aac9e4b03784e2759abd. I have been accused of resembling this one, which I find deeply offensive: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/02/new-yorker-hipster-eustace-tilley/318718/

A:

Amory: Definitely. Embrace super-nerd- hood in your sleep and your awake self will thank you.


Q:

how awesome is the fact-checker who worked on the reddit piece?

A:

Do smooth NPR personalities like yourselves all hang out together? Does Terri Gross have any great party tricks? What's Ira Glass like when he's angry?


Q:

you went above and beyond.

A:

Hooooo boy. We DO all hang out together sometimes! But mostly it's for work functions. Certain personalities party hard and good and long and strong. Who are they? We will never tell. Ira Glass. Angry? You wouldn't like him when he's angry.


Q:

Hey spezbag! Gonna ban /r/the_donald yet? You know, after letting russia interfere with the election and spread misinformation, i'm wondering why you think its alright for this to occur while the subreddit also radicalizes people to violence.

Just curious. I know you won't answer.

Ban /r/the_donald . Do it.

A:

What is best/worst part about having to talk alllll the time for work?


Q:

Hey, it says ask me anything

A:

Ben: Oh man, for Amory maybe it's like waiting for me to shut up?

Amory: I don't wait, I just ask him to.

Ben: I guess part of what's great about this job is that we actually, we do talk a lot, but we also listen a lot. I think being a journalist, and especially on this podcast Endless Thread where we talk to people from all parts of Reddit and all aspects of Reddit and their own stories, is that we get to hear form people who are experts in their feild or academics, but we also get to hear from just like regular people. And we get to hear about what's happening in their life, and I think that's the best part about that. I think the worst part is like, when you get a cold and your voice doesn't work anymore. That's like the terrible thing that I feel like happens to me at least, as someone who's like, you know, the golden vocal chords. Or pewter, haha. I don't know, what about you?

Amory: Yeah, I mean I think that if you're getting sick of talking, that should tell you something. That should tell you that either you're not listening enough to what the other person is saying, or you're not genuine in what you're asking them. You're not asking because you're actually curious about something that they've said, or want to get something from them, you're just talking for the sake of hearing the sound of your own voice. Which at that point someone should cut your mic off or tell you to stop talking. So hopefully--

Ben: If you're saying "this is more a comment than a question" then you are going down the wrong path.

Amory: Yea, or if you say "I want to ask you about..." blah blah blah, just ask it. You don't need to tell me that you want to ask me.

Ben: I've been basically interviewing people since I was 26, and when I go back to old recordings--like I have a few old recordings of interviews, like I was really lucky to get to interview Jay-Z once for an hour, and whenever I go back to that the way I was asking questions was like the worst way you could ever ask questions. Like I was always you know, "I always wanted to ask you this thing." instead of just asking the question. And it's really interesting too like when we were moving to broadcast and podcasts thinking about how to actually shorten your questions and keep them tighter and just be direct. Because I think that makes for the best audio.


Q:

Great article. Thanks for writing it, and thanks for coming here to do an AMA!

A:

How did you first encounter reddit?


Q:

thanks!

A:

Amory: I don't think I encountered it or really approached it in earnest until I knew that I was going to be working on this project.

Ben: She's a noob.

Amory: I'm a noob.

Ben: It's cool.

Amory: But I think there's value to that. Ben is very much not a noob and I think our audience is somewhere in that spectrum. People who have been with reddit from the beginning and people who are like me and are like "ahh I've heard of it but I don't know what to do there". and I believe in the storytelling that is on Reddit and I believe in the content that we're finding there but I'm actually, I don't mind waving my flag as the new Redditor on the project because I hope that we reach people like me, and you know when we're doing interviews now, we'll always ask people, whether we're talking to them or not, because they are on Reddit - are you a Redditor? What do you do on there? People tell me kind of apologetically almost like "no but I promise to get into it" and I'm like "no no no you don't have to" If you want to great, but I'm hoping we bring something to you from Reddit that you find value in without having to be a long time Redditor like Ben is.

Ben: I think for me I was working at Slate at the time and a part of my job was, I mean this is sort of a bad word in the media industry, but like news aggregation. I was trying to find what was popping up or becoming the most popular stories of the day and then serving them up to Slate readers, doing re-writes, always with attribution for the company that did the reporting but basically kind of serving some of this stuff up to Slate readers, and there was a story that I think is now sort of famous on Reddit for, I think it was about a bus monitor, a woman in upstate New York and I'm forgetting the name right now but she, essentially someone posted a video that was on Youtube originally I think and then got re-posted to Reddit and went crazy viral and basically some of the kids on the bus were being really mean to this bus monitor and Redditors came together and raised, I dont think patreon was around yet, but Redditors basically said like "let’s take this woman on vacation, lets give this woman some money" and I think they raised like 700,000 dollars and she was able to retire, and that was I think that to me was, maybe not the first time I encountered Reddit but was the first time I was like "wow! this is a really powerful thing" that this sort of thing could happen in a community online. And I think generally speaking it was a very positive thing and it ended up- it was something negative and it got turned into a positive and I thought that was really powerful and that was the first time I understood Reddit at a certain level.


Q:

Do you think we can actually solve the fake news problem? Or is this something we're going to have to live with now? Especially with fake video now coming our way.

A:

What's the story you most want to tell with Endless Thread that you haven't touched on yet?


Q:

Good question. I don't think we can ever fully solve the problem; nor, as the president and his supporters are fond of (correctly) pointing out, can we fully solve the problem of mainstream news outlets getting things wrong. But that doesn't mean we have to throw up our hands. I think the answer is both: we have to work to minimize the impact of misinformation and disinformation, and we also have to live with -- and get smarter about seeing through and navigating around -- various forms of bullshit.

A:

I'd like to tackle The_Donald in the right way, and I'm fascinated by r/gonewildaudio (Ben)

I want to tell the true story of u/IGotYouThisCake (Amory)


Q:

Who is the mastermind behind trolling/fake-news on the internet and where did it start?

A:

what's the most mysterious post you've found on reddit?


Q:

It was all one guy named Tim. He lives in Iowa. He's the worst.

J/K, there's no one mastermind (headlines, including some of my own, to the contrary). Obviously, as in anything, some people are hugely, disproportionately influential. And, because the internet is so open and the barriers to entry are so low, sometimes those hugely influential people are not big media corporations but just one guy (usually a guy) sitting in his living room, with no extensive resources or bona fides. Overall, as with any intractable issue, I'd be inclined to guess that the underlying problem is human nature, not any one human being.

A:

Ben: Oh man. no, I just feel like there's so many. Reddit is so amazing because there are so many different corners of it and so many places that you can find these mysterious...I didn't mean like scary corner, but just like the legal advice subreddit was interesting to me, as is the personal finance subreddit. I have like three. Like the one where someone posted--we tried to get this person to talk to us, but they wouldn't talk to us--someone was doing a renovation. They were given a house by a family member, they basically inherited a house in the Seattle area, and they were doing some repairs to the house and like, put a hole in the wall during the process and they found a pack of money. And they were like "Oh, this is weird" so they opened up the wall more and there was $100,000 in their wall. And a video tape. Which to me is just like "Aaahh!" And especially for making radio or making a podcast, we're like, "Okay, we have to talk to this guy, look at the videotape and play that on the podcast." But this person was basically like "I want to pay off my car and pay off my student loans and do it in the way with the least sort of financial penalty possible. The videotape by the way, spoiler, apparently was their uncle spouting anti government conspiracies. So this person basically had discovered like, the hole in the mattress, right? So I guess I'll just do that one.

We also had one recently that was...is that our most recent episode?

Amory: u/RBradbury1920?

Ben: Yeah, u/RBradbury1920.

Amory: I can talk about that one.

Ben: Yea, go ahead.

Amory:So our most recent episode is devoted to this now famous Reddit mystery of a user called u/RBradbury1920 who was living in an apartment somewhere in Massachusetts, and they're waking up in the morning and finding mysterious post-it notes. I think the first one was on the back of their desk chair, and it's in a handwriting that they don't recognize. The first one had a to-do list of just things that they needed to do but they didn't tell anyone else about, so they're very freaked out about this post-it note and how it got there. The second one says something like "Save your documents. You need to save your documents." So again it's in handwriting that they don't recognize, just using one of their post-it notes. The third one gets even creepier. It says "Our landlord won't let me talk to you, but it's important we do." What I love about this, because this is something that as far as I know can only happen on Reddit, because this person posts on the legal advice subreddit--because you can't just google "mysterious post-it notes in my apartment", that's not something you can google, but you can go to reddit and say "Hey, can I sue my landlord? I think my landlord's breaking in. I don't really have evidence. The handwriting kind of looks like my landlord's handwriting, is that enough?" So it was this great mystery that another Redditor solved, and in solving it most likely ended up saving this person's life. But that's all that I'll say, because if people haven't listened to this episode you really should.


Q:

Who is the most difficult person you've ever interviewed?

A:

Ben: I'm ready.

Amory: You are? I'm sorta ready.

Ben: Yeah, I think I have two. One was Wanda Sykes who I love and who's work I love and who is amazingly funny and awesome. I don't want to call her out but also it was a really hard interview because I think she was doing this thing where she -- you know this happens all the time with celebrities they'll be sorta like, their publicists will set them up with like ten interviews over like an hour and a half and I was one of those jerks who was like a nobody from a tiny small town paper talking about her appearance in that town and I had maybe like 20 minutes with her and it was really weird. I called her up and all the questions I asked -- I was super excited to talk to her, super well prepared, or at least so I thought and I asked her all these questions and she was basically giving me all these one word answers on all of them and I was like "what am I doing wrong, what is happening?" Then at the very end of the conversation she said something like, "did you see this guy who jumped in the pool during the Olympics?" She had been watching television the whole time. Either I was too boring for her or... celebrities are real people too... like, if I'm watching television and someone's trying to ask me questions I'm gonna be bad at answering them. So, that was hard for me and then there was another one that I feel was like a lost in translation thing. I interviewed this guy Buju Banton who is a Jamaican artist and again he was coming to New York to perform and he had this, at least one, pretty controversial song, I think it's called Boom Boom Bye (actual title Boom Bye Bye) and it received a lot of coverage in the press for being homophobic and about killing gay people and I made the mistake about starting the interview with a question about that and instead of getting him to the place where he could answer that question thoughtfully and really consider what I brought to him -- he immediately clammed up and I remember when he first heard it in the beginning of the conversation being like, "where are you right now, like where am I calling you at?" just a like a very easy, trying to sorta reset and being sort of like "so, are you like in New York already or whatever?" and he was like, "I don't tell people my location." Just from there on, the Boom Boom Bye question followed by the location question just got super awkward and that was a tough interview for me.

Amory: I've mostly been the producer behind interviews so I'm writing a lot of the questions but they're not coming out of my mouth in particular. On the production side I remember we did an interview with Ric Ocasek of The Cars. Everyone pronounces his name Oh-Kay-Sick which the world has just been mispronouncing his name.

Ben: Is that true?

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: Count me among those people.

Amory: But you never would have known this because the whole interview he's just one of these guys who loves making music and doesn't really care about your questions and that's okay, I mean I get it -- but he did have a book to promote (laughs) so we were talking to him about the book and the whole interview was just... he didn't really want to talk about the book and that's okay. At the very end of the interview we had him do kind of a self I.D. where he was gonna say, "Hi, I'm Ric Ocasek of The Cars..." and he said his name O-Cah-Sek and we had been calling him O-Kay-Sick the entire interview.

Ben: That's awkward.

Amory: and we just, I remember the host just ask him, "why didn't you correct us... why haven't you corrected the world over the last 40 years?" and he just said, "nuuh, uh, it's not that important," and that kind of summed up everything in the interview. He doesn't even care if you say your name right. I feel like we perfectly captured the aloof rockstar of Ric Ocasek in that interview and sometimes that's the best you're gonna get and the best that you can hope for is just to give people an essence of what/who this person is. It's better than the person who turns on for the camera and they walk off... walk away from the microphone and nobody will really know who they really are. As frustrating as it may be to sit on the other side of the microphone or behind the glass if you're in the producers role and say like, "oh, why aren't they just turning it on for us?" it's like, "meh" it might be better to just be real. Take what you get.

Amory: I don't know, even as I'm thinking of people, I'm like defending them in my head as they're coming to mind like oh maybe they just had a tough morning. I don't know.

Ben: It's hard because what's interesting about this, is in a way it's our job to make the interview not difficult and that's something we consistently think about and that's part of our craft and how we approach something when we're doing an interview we try to think about what order will these questions be in, to sort of design for the right conversation. Like what is going to get, if its the case of a celebrity or someone whos sort of media crafted and doing interviews since however long and sort of has these stock answers, you kind of want to break them out of that and shake them out of that and find something about them that gets them to respond in a genuine way. But then you also have cases where like, so I worked the cops beat for a while in the newspapers that I worked at and when I did that I basically talked to a lot of people who didn’t want to talk to the press, family members of murder victims, people who had had terrible things happen to them and one of the ones that I remember, I guess this person was difficult because of their state or mind but I went to a fire. An apartment building caught on fire and I was assigned to the fire. This is one of those wonderful things about being a cops reporter, when something catches on fire you have to go to the fire instead of running away from the fire. I went to the apartment building and everyone except one tennant was out of the building when I got there and the fire had been put out but there was this guy, really distraught, he was a Vietnam vet, or he told me he was, and his girlfriend had died the night before and he was super upset and he didn’t want to talk also just super upset, but I needed to sort of get as much information from him as I could but he was you know, pretty unhappy so that was a really difficult interview to conduct because it was just I'm trying to do my job but at the same time this person doesn’t want to talk to me, and it was interesting too because everyone else in the building thought that he started the fire.

It was an arson case?

Ben: It seemed like it at the time and I don't know if it was ever settled but then also the building, this is something I learned about fires after being a cops reporter often the building will catch on fire again if its like not effectively put out so I was like interviewing the guy and the building caught on fire again and it started burning again and like all the firemen came back into the building and were spraying the hose, so that was a difficult interview.


Q:

What's your ideal cat sweater design?

A:

Ben: Okay, I feel like for me it would be a sweater made out of the cat hair that my cat sheds everywhere.

Amory: That's a thing! That's a thing. People have sweaters and scarves made out of their cat's fur as a way to celebrate their cat.

Ben: Is there a "cat sweater's cat sweaters" subreddit or something?

Amory: There should be, haha.

Ben: If only just to get rid of the hair that already my cat leaves around the house, I feel like that could be the reason for the sweater. But I don’t know, I like tessellations, so like the sort of MC Escher one thing fits perfectly into the other thing and it's just repeated over and over, I feel like that would make a great cat sweater.

Amory: Yea, like a big cat head fractal? I could do like a cat head fractal sweater. Or my dream sweater is the sweater from -- this girl is wearing it in the butcher shop from season 2 of Fargo. People who know Fargo and love sweaters know what I'm talking about. And if the triangles on that sweater could be replaced with little cat heads, sold. I'll show you the sweater sometime.