Podcast listening is rising sharply though many people still find podcasts hard to fathom. On the one hand podcasts’ ‘long form’ story structure doesn’t fit into some people’s social media consumption habit filled with memes and GIFs. Or, they tend to be dismissed as too mundane, given how many ‘vlogs’ (video blogs) bubble over with rants and risqué material guaranteed to harvest clicks. There is, however, a wide chasm between these two. Plenty of gaps being filled by experimental podcasts. Atlantic magazine has ‘The Experiment’ to do a deep dive into the culture and politics. Slate, in 2016 began what it called a ‘rolling podcast’ style of delivering fresh content around the elections, as did the New York Times’ podcast ‘The Daily.’ While these niches await proper nomenclature many podcasts have mined the gaps that the media were once reluctant to invest in.
My hypothesis is that podcasts are lighting a fire under the media, giving rise to a new journalism. The climate couldn’t more right for it, with people cloistered in make-shift home offices, or tired of the formulaic story arc on the evening news. There’s also the smart-speaker set, who can listen to something different while making coffee, or doing laundry.
The term ‘New Journalism’ isn’t a new label. It was used in the Nineteen sixties and seventies when journalism was invigorated by fiction writing techniques.
What differentiates this kind of journalism is that in a podcast, the journalist-as-host brings in a sense of immediacy not possible in print media. The journalist tiptoes in and out of the story to connect the dots.
In December 2019, the Pulitzer Board announced a new category for audio reporting – basically podcasts. It called this an experimental move in recognition of a “renaissance of audio journalism” that opened up “non-fiction storytelling.” I’ve been listening to The Daily for about a year now, alongside This American Life, On the Media and This Week in Tech. So I was delighted when This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass won the first Pulitzer. This long-running show may have been the spark for many podcasts today.
Even as the pandemic closed many, many doors, podcasting strolled in through the side entrance, let out the stale air of traditional media, and is causing a renaissance in storytelling. Here’s to audio journalism!
Note: A longer version of this post appears in Medium
I often teach podcasting, but from a different angle now – nearly ten years after I began one at ASU. Now it is all about the planning, the content, and the delivery –rather than the technology and distribution.
In my Public Speaking (COM225) class at junior college, I ask my students to work on a group podcast when we cover ‘Speaking to a global audience‘ and ‘Virtual audiences.’ This semester too I threw out the challenge to create a podcast on topics they randomly picked.
Here is one, created with some planning plus a great interview that makes it sound quite authentic, rather than a class project. The surprise: It was basically recorded on a phone! She used the app from Anchor FM, which provides unlimited hosting.
Gone are the days of needing to buy a special device such as the Zoom H2N I once used. Or downloading software such as Audacity, which I still find valuable. Take a listen and see what I mean.
Podcasting just keeps evolving! Whenever I bring up the topic, either in class or is a media discussion, I find the old definitions are inadequate. The production quality, and the platforms have changed. The content creators have certainly got more comfortable with the format.
So this week I like to showcase a podcast from an old friend, Dan Wool. A solid communications and PR pro (he co-taught a webinar with me in 2010), Dan is now on his way to becoming a doctor! His podcast focuses on –what else?- health issues. His website, cubicleclinic.com is filled with his take on health and lifestyle issues cubicle dwellers face.
If this topic interests you, please click on this link, or the icon on the right and give it a listen.
I listen to a podcast of one of the driest subjects on earth, grammar. But what makes Grammar Girl, so extremely listenable /valuable /addictive is a lesson for a lot of marketing communications that’s too self conscious. This short, no-frills podcast never reveals the person behind the mike –Mignon Fogerty — who interestingly is from our neck of the woods –Gilbert Arizona.
But I bring this up because of another reason. It’s a good example of why you should pay attention to content, and not get too distracted with format and style. Grammar Girl has no well-produced intros and outros (the intro is simple and memorable.) Just riveting content. She opens with three words that becomes her de-facto signature, “Grammar girl here,” and leaps straight into the topic.
Topics are those you may be too embarrassed to ask about (but rather look it up on Wikipedia) such as when and how to use an ellipsis … the proper use of bring/take, and things you never new existed (“eggcorns“)! She also responds to reader queries, and comes across as the person next door, rather than some snooty English major or language guru. Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean.