Podcasting is gaining ground as a viable information delivery channel for news organizations. Back in 2004, when podcasting first hit the personal technology scene, most traditional news organizations foundered with the new technology. Some either put too much effort into producing and distributing podcasts with less than profitable results, while others chose to ignore the technology as merely a trend for a niche audience.
But technology, skills and audience preferences have evolved quickly in the past four years. Portable audio and video are now penetrating American consumer culture. Online audio and video have become part of the mainstream due in part to the incredible influence of YouTube and iTunes.
A survey conducted by eMarketer in January 2007 put the “active” U.S. podcast audience at 6.5 million and projected growth to 10 million the end of 2008. Other research by Bridge Ratings LLC projects that 63 million people will be plugging into podcasts by 2010. That’s a huge potential audience – many of them young people – whose everyday hardware regimen includes mobile phones and earbuds for listening to portable audio.
Every news organization now has a good second chance to jump on the podcasting bandwagon.
So what is a podcast exactly? It is a free, prerecorded audio or video program that can be automatically downloaded to a user’s computer through a voluntary subscription feed. Once the podcast file is on the user’s computer, the user can transfer it to a portable, digital media device and listen/watch the content on his or her own schedule, while on the go or doing other things.
Both the technology of podcasting and the consumer-chosen content advances the popular phenomenon of “personal media.” People nowadays are creating their own media space by ripping bits from disparate products and reintegrating the parts in new ways.
By making news information personalized and convenient, the rapid penetration of portable audio devices represents an opportunity for news organizations to re-engage news consumers in a manner consistent with modern lifestyles and behaviors.
“[Podcasts are] a way to reach listeners you weren’t going to get anyway,” like people in their offices or on the subway, observed Steve Dolge, managing editor of wtopnews.com in Washington, D.C. “We need to go where the people are instead of trying to force them where we are.”
There are a number of news organizations who have recognized the growth potential in podcasts and are using the medium effectively as another means to dissipate information. For example, in February 2006, the British newspaper The Telegraph hired its first “podcast editor.” That same year, all-news radio stations such as WTOP in Washington, D.C., and WBBM in Chicago created special “news to go” podcasts for commuters to listen to in transit or at work. The headline on the WBBM podcast web site marketed the effort with the tagline: “We report. You download.”
What’s the podcasting risk for news organizations? The risk is wasting money and time on the production of “boring” podcasts that garner little audience. Journalism organizations looking to expand into podcasting should partner with professional broadcasters so the quality, production value and interestingness of the content maintains high standards.
Anyone with decent computer skills can produce a podcast. User-generated podcasts present competition for the mainstream media. So if anyone can produce a podcast, traditional news organizations have no excuse for not attempting to do it, too.
The content should influence the technology. News organizations shouldn’t force a reason to create a podcast, but rather, decide through journalistic judgment whether a podcast or vodcast could be the most effective way to get a particular piece of information out to the world. Podcasting cannot yet replicate the live, up-to-the-minute quality of broadcast news. But as portable players go wireless, “news on demand”— both audio and video — should become reality.
Amy Gahran, an e-media news expert at the Poynter Institute, suggests this carte du jour for better news podcasts:
- Keep news podcasts snappy, lively and less than 5 minutes.
- Get right to the point. Intrigue the audience as well as inform.
- Provide links to stories mentioned in the podcast. Post daily show notes and make them easy to find – for mobile users, too.
- Measure the results. Can additional traffic to the site be credited it to the podcast? Track which stories are most engaging to your podcast audience, which will help you refine your show to suit them.
- Lastly, podcasts done right can help to turn “news grazers” into regular readers or listeners.
Outing, Steve. “New Newspaper Job: Podcast Editor.” Poynter Online, E-Media Tidbits. Feb. 6, 2006. Retrieved on 10/8/2008 from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=73502
Huntsberger, Michael & Stavistky, Alan. “The New ‘Podagogy’: Incorporating Podcasting into Journalism Education.” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. Columbia: Winter 2007. Vol. 61, Issue. 4; pg. 397-411
Palser, Barb. “Second-mover advantage: when launching online products, listening to the audience is more important than speed” American Journalism Review: April-May 2008. Vol. 30; Issue 2; p. 46
Zorn, Eric. “Pull up a chair, then plug in to some podcasts.” Chicago Tribune: Sep 6, 2007. pg.1
Potter, Deborah. “Podcasting the Future.” American Journalism Review: February/March 2006.
Yelvington, Steve. “Podcasting and the Rise of Personal Media.” Poynter Online – E-Media Tidbits: Oct. 27, 2004. Retrieved on 10/8/2008 from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=73502
Gahran, Amy. “Getting Smart About News Podcasts.” Poynter Online – E-Media Tidbits: Jan 23, 2008. Retrieved on 10/8/2008 from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=136334