By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – AL.com’s Reckon brand is branching out into the podcast medium. It’s new show, “Greek Gods” debuts Monday taking on a old and interesting subject: the secretive University of Alabama campus political organization called “The Machine.”
The Machine is known to influence campus elections for the Student Government Association through selecting a slate of candidates and consolidating the traditional greek vote. But stories of nefarious activities have followed the Machine for decades, creating what podcast co-host John Archibald calls “a sort of crucible” for generations of young people preparing for careers after college.
“The Machine creates a lot of politicians – it has for 100 years. And opposition to the Machine creates a lot of journalists,” Archibald said in a recent interview.
“To me it is just infinitely entertaining. What outraged me in college entertains me now.”
“There’s a lot of cloak and dagger and, in this sort of format, that kind of stuff is just really entertaining. And, frankly, I think it is a microchasm of the politics we are dealing with today in the state.”
Podcasts are an increasingly popular medium for news and storytelling. Runaway hit shows like “Serial” and “S-Town” have captivated listening audiences and generated millions of new podcast listeners.
The reporting itself isn’t done by Archibald or anyone else associated with either side of the campus politics. AL.com reporter Amy Yurkanin handles those duties and also hosts the podcast.
“We wanted someone who wasn’t colored by it,” Archibald said. “She doesn’t have any connections to the University and doesn’t have any of the baggage of people like me.”
That baggage comes from Archibald’s own run in with the Machine while attending the University of Alabama. His girlfriend, now wife, says she was threatened with losing her sorority pin if she didn’t break up him and quit her job at the Crimson White, Alabama’s campus newspaper. The couple had been writing stories about the Machine.
“Ultimately she chose me and the writing,” he said.
Archibald’s story and many others are shared in the podcasts’ four planned episodes. Special guests include well-known politicians like Secretary of State John Merrill, State Auditor Jim Zeigler and former State Rep. and current political columnist Steve Flowers.
So is it just a hit piece? An audio takedown of a secret and powerful organization? Not necessarily, Arcibald says.
“I don’t think it’s damning. The Machine side definitely gets their due.”
He said having Yurkanin’s fresh eyes helps give it an outsiders perspective.
“That’s the beauty of having someone come in who doesn’t really have a viewpoint. She can listen to all sides.”
In the podcast’s four episodes, Yurkanin and Archibald delve into the history of campus politics, race relations and gender and how each play into student government, and how incidents over the years show how school yard politics has gone too far.
Those might be sensitive subjects for anyone who was close to the situation while in college, but Archibald believes time helps put those heated memories in perspective. At least it has for him.
“You know, I think most people who have been through it over some period of time are able to look at it with a little bit of humor because, again, when you’re in college everything is so heightened. Everything is so important. You think you’re changing the world with everything you do. Everything matters so much and becomes so intense.
“Todd, I’m 55 years old and we’re sitting here talking about this college organization. It’s absurd on a lot of levels. You know, we asked Steve Flowers if he was a Machine rep and he said, ‘That’s a good question, but I’m not going to answer.'”
“So I hope people can both understand that it’s something that happens and also take it with a grain of salt.”