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Standard Deviations: New ‘Agree to Disagree’ podcast offers all kinds of stuff

By Mark Saal - | Sep 18, 2016
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You know how you convince yourself that you absolutely hate something, only to discover that — as it turns out — you actually love it?

When I was a lad of 8 or 9 years of age, I’d somehow convinced myself that I hated cheesecake. I’d never even tried the stuff, but just the combination of those two words — “cheese” and “cake” — had me convinced it was the worst food combination since chicken and (shudder!) waffles.

As a result, all throughout my childhood I turned up my nose at slices of cheesecake. No one could convince me to even give it a shot, this cake made out of cheese.

But then, the summer I turned 16, our family took a vacation to Southern California where we ate at the Sycamore Inn, a well-known restaurant there. For dessert, my sister ordered a slice of cheesecake, and everyone at the table kept raving about how the cheesecake at the Sycamore Inn was considered world-famous, and possibly the best on the planet.

Somehow, they talked me into trying a tiny taste.

I still remember that bite of cheesecake to this day, and how it tasted of neither cheese nor cake. Rather, it was as if someone had sliced off a little corner of heaven, dipped it in a dream, and served it on a platter of pure ecstasy.

Today, I never miss a chance for a slice of cheesecake; it’s easily my favorite dessert. Which is really saying something, because there aren’t many desserts that don’t enjoy most-favored-foods status with me.

So when editors at the Standard-Examiner approached fellow reporter Mitch Shaw and me about doing a bi-weekly podcast for our website, I was fully prepared — like my early views on cheesecake — to hate the entire concept.

RELATED: Agree to Disagree podcast: Take this EpiPen and shove it

Don’t misunderstand. This wasn’t one of those Luddite things, where I was basically yelling, “Hey, you punk kids! Get off my bandwidth!” I love technology, and would sooner give up a kidney than things like my smartphone and tablet.

Rather, my aversion to podcasting was more of a print-journalism thing, as I have neither the face for video nor the voice for audio.

Heck, I barely have the vocabulary for print.

Still, some editor — likely cognitively impaired at the time — had the brilliant idea to put Mitch and me in front of microphones. I can only imagine the conversation in THAT editor’s meeting.

FIRST EDITOR: Hey, I know! Let’s give Mitch and Mark a podcast where they basically talk about the first thing that pops into their pointy little heads.

SECOND EDITOR: Great idea! We should also think about printing the newspaper on bubble wrap.

FIRST EDITOR: I don’t know why everybody’s so squeamish about this new ‘pink’ drug. I feel fine.

The concept of the podcast seemed deceptively simple.

“You just sit down in front of a microphone, and talk about stuff,” one editor explained.

“Stuff?” I inquired.

“Yeah, you know, stuff,” came the reply.

“Ah. But what sorts of stuff, specifically,” I pressed.

“Oh, just, well, lots of … stuff.”

And thus was the “Agree to Disagree” podcast born. You can check it out at www.standard.net.

Our first couple of podcasts were painful. Frankly, I hated them, because all I kept thinking was, “Who in his or her right mind would listen to this?”

The subset of people answering that question was depressing. Crazy folk. Cat ladies. People so starved for human conversation that they were willing to endure 30 minutes of two guys going, “Sooooo, what do you want to talk about now?”

And our only other potential audience seemed equally demoralizing: People who have thought about doing their own podcast, but just haven’t been able to screw up the courage to pull the trigger. Five minutes with our ruminations, and they’d have to know it wasn’t exactly rocket science.

But then, a few weeks ago, something incredible happened.  As with cheesecake, I discovered I really enjoy doing a podcast. These days, I no longer care if anybody else listens in on “Agree to Disagree” — it’s just a lot of fun to sit down with Mitch every other week and vent about anything and everything.

Recently, Standard-Examiner editors sobered up long enough to offer a second bi-weekly podcast, called “Out Standing in a Field.” You can check it out at www.standard.net, too. Unlike “ATD,” “OSIAF” features actual, serious journalists doing actual, serious journalism.

RELATED: Get out in the field with new Standard-Examiner podcast

This one stars S-E visual journalist Benjamin Zack and environment reporter Leia Larsen, talking with local experts and sharing stories about science and the environment. Their first podcast just dropped this past week — a fascinating conversation with wildlife biologist David Stoner about cougars in Utah.

Mitch and I had talked about doing our own cougar podcast, but ours would have had less to do with actual members of the cat family, if you catch our drift.

And so, while you’ll learn all sorts of interesting facts and figures from Ben and Leia’s informative “Outstanding In a Field” podcasts, about the only thing you’ll learn from Mitch and Mark’s “Agree to Disagree” is, well, you know …


Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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