WASHINGTON – Rep. Keith Ellison has taken his liberal-leaning viewpoint — oft touted on cable television and seen in Twin Cities media outlets — to a podcast on iTunes in hopes of offering his political platform to a younger, more national audience.
Ellison, a Democrat representing Minneapolis, has had about 8,000 listens to his “We The Podcast,” which takes on subjects having to do with the downtrodden and how they interact with the economy, with topics from the cost of diapers to prison phone rates to criminal justice reform.
“We The Podcast” presents itself as a one-sided news story, with polished production, complete with fade-in and fade-out contemporary music, lengthy interviews, and Ellison usually summing up his viewpoints or an idea for legislation at the end. They range from 10 to 43 minutes and are usually broadcast about once a month.
Ellison says that besides some staff time to help put it all together, the broadcasts don’t cost him anything. He does most of the interviews himself, including one with former felons working at Tech Dump in Golden Valley, an electronics recycling center.
“I’m not trying to be a fake journalist,” Ellison said. “I hope no one thinks I’m trying to represent this as a straight news thing. It’s another way to offer an opinion. I’m not just talking on the House floor or on CSPAN. It’s not just giving an interview. It’s not always easy to present why people may want to support a bill that I’m working on.”
Members of Congress go to great lengths to reach their voters.
There is the standard in-person town hall — a favorite medium of GOP Rep. Tom Emmer, who did 14 in 2015 and is planning another seven this year. There are e-newsletters — Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson often embeds photos of Minnesotans standing in his Capitol Hill office bedecked with mounted heads from hunts. Most members report signing at least a few traditional mail letters a week, and a typical House office receives more than 40,000 letters and e-mails a year. GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen answers constituent questions sent in by video and the whole exchange is available on YouTube.
Yet Ellison is the first member of Congress to do his own podcasts.
“I guess I did it because on the TV news, they don’t really talk about the economy and how it impacts ordinary citizens,” he said. “I thought there needed to be more focus on economic news that impacts regular citizens.”
A conversation about why he does podcasts often leads to ideas about future podcasts, like he wants to do one on 401(k)s vs. pensions and payday lending and health care access for undocumented immigrants.
Asked about the irony of using a podcast — a medium that draws a more affluent, educated audience due to its requirement that listeners have a smartphone or Internet line and the free time to listen — to talk about poverty, Ellison stressed his reports were not just for the poor.
“It’s about anybody who is not a millionaire or a billionaire,” he said. “Anybody who is working hard every single day trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
Allison Sherry covers politics for the Star Tribune. Read more at startribune.com/hotdish.