Here’s what else … you need … to know today. This week, the New York Times announced that The Daily will be getting a second host alongside Michael Barbaro: Sabrina Tavernise.
Tavernise should be familiar to Daily-heads. She was one of the main fill-ins for Barbaro when the star anchor was on paternity leave for a decent portion of 2021, rotating host responsibilities with the political reporter Astead W. Herndon and the tech columnist Kevin Roose. She was also the featured reporter on several notable projects launched through the construct of The Daily over the years, including a five-part series on race and policing in post–Freddie Gray Baltimore called “Charm City” and several multipart deep dives of the embattled state of abortion in the United States. Tavernise is a Times veteran; she joined the paper in 2000, and according to the accompanying press release about her appointment, she served as a foreign correspondent for ten years, reporting out of places such as Russia, Turkey, and Pakistan.
This development is significant for several reasons. There’s the obvious stuff: The Daily is the Gray Lady’s highly lucrative flagship audio program and one of the biggest podcasts in the world, and there’s always going to be some amount of intrigue and drama when it comes to a major adjustment to the core construction of a product like this. More to the point, there’s the fact that so much of The Daily’s rapid ascent into a legitimate media phenomenon in its earliest years — the show turned five this past February — was uniquely tethered to a sense of celebrity that blossomed around Barbaro. His visibility was fueled in large part by key aesthetic innovations in the audio news format that hinged on positioning him as a host whose humanity you could latch on to as a listener, pitched well below the larger-than-life personas of cable-news anchors but much more of a free-flowing hang than your standard NPR newscaster. In case you weren’t clued in at the time, it was the kind of thing where paeans and appreciations were openly written about the bespectacled, bearded Barbaro (see here and here, among others). The tenor of that celebrity was unexpected and more than a little unorthodox, in general but especially at the Times, which has a complicated history with the notion of a newsroom star system. While it has opened up over the past few years, it hasn’t been fast enough for some.
What was tricky about Barbaro’s celebrity, however, was the strategic risk it suggested. Historically speaking, there existed a very real question as to whether the success of The Daily was too dependent on Barbaro as a personality and presence. If he decided to leave The Daily, perhaps due to burnout or boredom or the siren call of television (or CNN+, I guess), would listeners stick around?
That risk feels lessened these days. Much of this, I believe, has to do with Barbaro going on that paternity leave for a solid amount of time last year, which created a permission structure between the show and its listeners such that the Times’ audio team could systematically run a series of trials with other hosting voices and prepare listeners for the possibility of a Daily without Barbaro, or at least a Daily that isn’t just Barbaro. The permanent addition of Tavernise as a host equal to Barbaro strikes me as the logical end point of this risk-mitigating shift. For all intents and purposes, The Daily’s foundation is now fully set for the long run, far into the future. The question now — for me, at least, operating as the observing gossip — is whether Tavernise’s appointment was simply to codify taking stuff off Barbaro’s plate or if it’s to help set him up for a Daily departure.