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Special Project

Special Project
From the 8th Annual Shorty Impact Awards

Views on First

Entered in Podcast


With Elon Musk dismantling Twitter, and the Supreme Court poised to consider cases that could profoundly change how we communicate online, it’s critical that audiences understand the political legal landscapes shaping public discourse and free speech online. The Knight First Amendment Institute set out to use audio storytelling as a dynamic format for public education about free speech in the digital age. Through Views on First, our debut podcast, we ask: What happens when social media collides with the First Amendment? 

First Amendment discussions are often confined to law review articles and academic symposia, much of which is inaccessible to non-academic audiences. Podcasts, meanwhile, can be funny, conversational, and digestible. We wanted to pair the accessibility of podcasts with the Institute’s legal and policy expertise to bring questions of the First Amendment and social media to a broader audience, including students and people interested in law and tech news. Throughout the five episodes, Views on First speaks to ongoing debates around social media regulation, serves as an informative primer into First Amendment issues online, and encourages listeners to think critically about speech online.

Strategy and Execution

Our central goal to engage non-legal and non-academic audiences about the First Amendment and social media influenced the plan and execution of our project. First, we turned to First Amendment scholar, then-Knight Institute visiting fellow, and self-described content moderation nerd Evelyn Douek to host the podcast. Evelyn brought a unique voice to the production, introducing complex legal concepts in simple terms and peppering the story with a mix of insightful commentary and humor. Through the inclusion of guests from a variety of backgrounds—including a U.S. senator, legal scholars, and tech executives—the podcast speaks to audiences from different backgrounds, and with Evelyn at the helm, it engages listeners with varying levels of prior exposure to legal concepts.

We structured Views on First in the documentary narrative format; Evelyn interviewed guests and then the team scripted episodes around those interviews. The show starts with a close look at the Knight Institute’s groundbreaking lawsuit—Knight v. Trump—which established that the First Amendment bars public officials who use their social media accounts—as then-President Trump did—to conduct official business from blocking critics. Over subsequent episodes, Views on First explores the impact of this litigation, asking: How would it affect other government officials? What might it mean for the development of the law more generally? Could the ruling be used in ways that the Knight Institute didn't expect and doesn’t agree with? Episodes also consider how law and policy have evolved over the last decade and how they have struggled to meet the challenges posed by social media and the rise of Big Tech.   

We faced several challenges that required our small staff–6 people on the communications and production teams—to be nimble and creative. For example, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, which happened in the middle of production, not only created new issues surrounding the platform’s relationship with journalists, news, and misinformation, but it caused production hurdles weeks away from our first airdate. To ensure that Views on First’s content would be current at the time of release, the team adjusted our production process, stayed abreast of developments in the news, and re-scripted an entire episode just days before our scheduled launch date. 

Once production ended, we knew we had created a great podcast. Our next challenge was building an audience with no previous presence in the podcasting space. With our limited budget, we conducted a traditional advertising campaign with the Vox Media Podcast Network and WNYC. To promote beyond our budget, we turned to social media, asking  major voices in tech law, including episode guests, to amplify the show. We also conducted direct outreach to law and media studies professors, academic departments, and peer institutes around the country. 


Our reach demonstrates that we achieved our goal of appealing to a broad audience. 

Views on First has more than 5,500 downloads. Those downloaders liked what they were hearing. 85% of our Spotify listeners followed the podcast. And after the release of each episode, the number of listeners in the first seven days significantly increased. 

Views on First also resonated with audiences around the world, demonstrating that we were able to tell our story in a way that appeals to a variety of audiences. The podcast reached #12 in India and #9 in Poland in news commentary. In some countries, Views on First has outranked news commentary podcasts from major production companies. Our show is in the top 10% of podcasts globally on Listen Notes, reaching in five episodes what our peer institutions’ podcasts did in hundreds.

Leaders in the field listened, too. Prominent law schools, leading First Amendment organizations like FIRE, and the Center for Democracy and Technology shared the podcast with their large networks. Professors recommended Views on First to their students.

The show is a testament to our team’s dedication to storytelling. With clarity, humor, and rigorously vetted facts, Views on First clearly articulates key points about constitutional law and the tech industry–two topics that even subject-matter experts sometimes find daunting.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University


Entry Credits