Goodbye, Localist Podcast

I’ve just announced that the Localist podcast is going on hiatus, maybe permanently. (More on that in the last few minutes of this episode.) I’ve done so much that I’m proud of with the Localist, but instead of being happy about its successes, I find myself dwelling on the thought that it should have been more — had more listeners, gotten more likes, been more popular, made more (or any) money.

In short, I’ve been judging the Localist against a bar of success that I never set out to hit.

Here’s what I wanted to do when I started the Localist:

  • Tell stories that aren’t being told
  • Create a resource for new business owners
  • Write about what I was learning
  • Practice ethical journalism

Except for writing about the interviews, which I quickly learned I didn’t have time to do, I think I’ve come through. But when I compare my little podcast to others, it’s easy to think that nobody cares (even when I have plenty of evidence to the contrary — good reviews, texts of appreciation and comments from friends and listeners).

The problem is, even though I set out to value substance, I still judged myself by the metric of popularity. I imagined that success looks like thousands of likes, downloads and comments — a blue checkmark, or an award, or a significant change to my bank statement. In the words of my husband, “You’re playing baseball and complaining that you didn’t get a touchdown.”

I’m writing about this because I don’t think I’m the only person who’s been trying to create something of value and judging it when its impact is small.

Every day, we see messages saying that real impact results in immediate, large-scale recognition. But that’s not the definition of impact — that’s the definition of a trend. That’s something that feels incredibly important for a moment, but that we’ll completely forget about in five or ten years. We’re so obsessed with wanting our ideas to go viral that we forget that what we try to do to viruses is kill them.

Most really important things aren’t good at generating the kind of frenzy that social media rewards. My cause is buying local and supporting local businesses, and it often feels like I’m shouting into the void. But that would probably have been the case if I’d written about conservation, or foster care, or overcrowding in prisons, or the war in Ukraine, or anything of importance.

This isn’t to say that a cause can’t be important and also have a large following, although I do think that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s also not to ignore the fact that I could’ve done certain things to boost my audience and income. I could’ve sold ads, filmed more Reels, started a YouTube channel or taken sponsored interviews — but each of those things either took more time than I had to give, or compromised what I wanted to do. I decided not to play that game, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t win by those rules.

What if I measured the Localist by the small business owners whose work and sacrifice was recognized, if just for the hour that I interviewed them? In the phone calls and Instagram messages I occasionally got saying one individual felt inspired by an episode? By the support of my team, who helped me put the Localist together every week for years?

Could I measure my work by the quality of its impact, instead of by the size of it?

Because if I do that, I’m a success. And maybe you are, too, if you’re fighting for something that matters. Maybe that’s not through a podcast or a social media account. Maybe it’s through meaningful conversations and small, real-life actions. Those things won’t get you recognized on the street (or on a stage, or on social media). They won’t get you paid. But ultimately, those small, quality interactions are the things that I believe are probably going to change the world.

And if creating real value and change isn’t success — what is?

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