And now, some news about Away Message
Is the podcast back? Maybe? Will it continue to exist? Yes! What comes next? I don't know!
Hi! I’ve got news. It’s a lot of stuff about this newsletter and Substack Notes. But let’s start with the BREAKING PODCAST NEWS:
BREAKING PODCAST NEWS
This morning, I did something I haven’t done in two-and-a-half years. I dropped a new episode of Away Message into the feed:
Spoiler Alert: It’s just me talking for about seven minutes, mostly explaining why I haven’t made an episode of the show for two-and-a-half years.
For those of you who aren’t podcast people or don’t know: Away Message was a podcast that I made during my time at Our State magazine. I put out more than 40 episodes. At first, they were strictly about North Carolina’s remote places. After that, they morphed into, well, stuff that I happened to find particularly interesting about this state.
The first season was very much an experiment. Back in 2017, I discovered a nice microphone and recorder in a closet at Our State, and asked if I could use it. The deal was this: I’d take it with me on reporting trips for stories that I was already going to write for the print magazine, collect the audio from the interviews, tours, and experiences, and make some episodes out of it. I went for broke with the very first episode: A trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to find the most remote place in North Carolina.
Over the next four years, I made more than 40 episodes of the show, culminating with an 8-episode season where I followed two sets of hikers trying to cross North Carolina on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It was a ton of work—every half-hour episode took roughly 40 hours of work to produce, often late at night—but it was one of the most gratifying and satisfying experiences of my career.
When I left Our State, the podcast didn’t leave with me. In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise. I took all of the curious energy that I’d been pouring into Away Message and focused it on this here newsletter. I honestly believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that the North Carolina Rabbit Hole wouldn’t be what it’s become if I would’ve had the ability to keep making podcast episodes. Even so, I missed it.
Which brings us to now. Earlier this year, I talked to some of the fine folks at Our State about the possibility of acquiring the podcast. After a short discussion, we worked something out. So, if there’s anything resembling news here, it’s this:
Away Message is now part of the North Carolina Rabbit Hole.
So what does that mean? I’m not sure yet! If there’s any question (or demand, really) that I’ve gotten about the podcast over the last two years, it’s been this: When are you going to make new episodes? The answer is now only slightly different. It’s gone from “I can’t!” to “I don’t know!” I’m in a different place professionally than I was: I have a great, satisfying job at Wake Forest University now. I want to make sure I’m spending as much time with my family as I can. And, well, the media landscape is different! We may have reached peak podcast! Niche newsletters about weird North Carolina stuff are viable now!
So here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna experiment again.
Over the next few months, while I try to figure out what to do with Away Message in the long term, I’m going to try out a few things in the short term. I’m planning on releasing a few episodes here and there when I can get to them. Some might sound like the episodes I used to put out. Some might sound different. Likewise, there were a few old episodes that only existed as audio stories, and I’m planning on adapting them here as well. I’ve also put the entire archive of the show here, and I’ll make sure that the show sticks around on whatever platforms that you’ve already been listening on (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and so on). And, if you have any ideas, send them to me. The North Carolina Rabbit Hole (and now, Away Message) is a one-man operation, and I can use all the help I can get.
For now, I’m feeling grateful. Grateful to Our State for giving me the opportunity to travel this state for such a long time. My experience there helped me fall in love with North Carolina, and none of this is possible without the people at that magazine and the support they’ve given me. I’m especially grateful to Elizabeth Hudson and Todd Dulaney, who gave Away Message the opportunity to exist and grow, to Andy Busam who actually shepherded the show into existence, and to James Mieczkowski, whose feedback and production skills made the podcast a million times better. And to everyone who merely listened to it: Thank you. You were the ones who really made Away Message into what it was.
In the meantime, you can subscribe by searching for “Away Message” wherever you get your podcasts, or by tapping on one of the buttons below.
A Note about Notes
Perhaps you’ve heard about Substack Notes! It’s like Twitter, but for Substack! Well guess what? I’m trying out Substack Notes! It’ll be like Twitter! But on Substack!
Okay, need to explain a few things here. First: Substack is the platform that I use to publish the Rabbit Hole. It does really boring but crucial things like, say, pushing the newsletter out to everyone who’s signed up for it, hosting the website version of it, collecting and managing free and paid subscriptions, and so forth. For a cut of the revenue, Substack takes care of a lot of the business-side of the Rabbit Hole, and has a lot of easy-to-use tools to help the newsletter grow. It’s also started to create a community of other Substacks and writers, which has manifested itself in the form of Notes, which is a Twitter clone that’s not as big but (for now) seems to be less of a hellsite.
I’ve tried (and failed) to break myself of my Twitter habits over the years. It’s been a place to connect with people. But, as digital publishers already know, Twitter doesn’t actually drive website traffic. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have value. I don’t think my career would be where it is today if not for Twitter. But, increasingly, it feels like it’s less important and taking too much of my focus and attention. I’d rather be here, not there.
Increasingly, I’m going to post the little things on Notes that I used to post on Twitter. Things like this!
That, plus interesting stories, links, and little things that are on my mind. You should check it out! If you’re using a web browser, you can try this:
And if you’re using the Substack App, you can find Notes at the bottom:
I’m not leaving Twitter, but I’m going to be hanging out a little more here these days, and I hope you’ll join me.
The State of this Newsletter
(Extreme presidential voice): The state of this newsletter is strong.
Folks, it has been quite a year so far. I wrote about how possum crimes are legal in North Carolina for five days annually. Then I wrote about how a dude named Ronnie (“Everybody knows Ronnie,” was the quote from the local police chief) stole a John Deere farm tractor and led officers on an hour long chase that topped out at 20 miles per hour. After that, I published a story about the late Jack ReVelle, the man who defused two nuclear bombs that accidentally fell on North Carolina. Then, I watched a hockey game with the governor. I waded into the nabs debate. I tried to find a strange pond from a half-century old Fleetwood Mac song. And so on.
In the meantime, we’ve crossed over 5,600 free subscribers to this newsletter. That’s a lot! A lot more than I thought I’d get to. And yet, here we are. The Year of the Rabbit is fully underway.
Can I keep this up? No? Yes? I don’t know.
I do know that this has been a rewarding start to the year, and it’s only possible because of you. The growth of this here newsletter over the last 2 1/2 years has been slow, steady, and meaningful. I’ve grown with it. I think. But you’re the ones who keep it going.
And now, a little word about money. I love this, but as a writer, part of the equation is being compensated, somehow, for your time. I’ve done things for “exposure” before, yes, but “exposure” only goes so far. It’s paid subscribers, more than 230 of them at this point, who keep this newsletter going. What their money means is this: A story that I might have sold to another outlet is going here instead. It provided cash that justifies trips. For the hockey game, I hired a photographer. It’s paid for meals. And, it’s made this economically possible. I’m not getting rich off of this, if you must know, but it’s helped make things a little easier for my family and I. And for that, we thank you.
So, should you become a paid subscriber? Totally up to you. I don’t really plan to start writing a ton of subscriber-only stories like others do, partially because it just feels weird to put stuff behind a paywall (although if you want access to my way-too-intense thoughts about the TV show Outer Banks, pony up). I do try to give paid folks a heads up on things whenever I can. But I still like the idea of free. If you don’t want to pay, don’t. But if you enjoy this and want to throw me some money in the form of a monthly or yearly subscription, it helps. Plus, I’ll send you a super secret paper newsletter and a sticker. (Note to self, those who sent in their addresses in the last round will get their stuff next month, once things slow down for me with [gestures broadly].) If more people do it, that frees me up to do more ambitious things. Like, say, a podcast!
Sorry! This feels weird. It always does. But I do appreciate anything that you feel like you can contribute here. As always, thanks you for your support, in any way that you give it.