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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Podcasters can learn from the MSM

When the idea of training citizen journalists bounced around the ‘Nets, I was squarely against it. Training only serves to reinforce the narrow definitions that the mainstream media consider news. Citizen journalists are expanding the definition of news simply by not being brainwashed. Unfortunately, I can’t offer podcasters the same support. In fact, I’ve been listening to quite a few podcasts in my quiet time in my office lately, and I must admit I like the ones by broadcast journalists or entertainers the best. The biggest reason is they seem to understand things like pacing, filling dead-air, and time management a lot better. In fact, the MSM could do a lot to help train those who podcast.

I’m going to try to refrain from naming names because I’m a new member of the podcasting audience. I can also appreciate it when the average person without a media background or a fancy J School degree uses the tools in front of him or her to create good content. However, please don’t make me listen to two and a half hours of you rambling about hockey when all you cover is five topics. That is really my biggest beef so far. Many of the podcasts I have listened to in the last couple of days have no concept of time management. They seem to think like Super Dave Osborn, a guest on Bill SimmonsBS Report, which is one of the better podcasts I’ve listened to this week, complained that Bill was cutting him off.

“How do you have to go in an iPod?” he said. “How do you know when it’s time to go?”

“We’re almost at an hour,” Simmons said. “We never liked to go longer than an hour.”

Words to live by Mr. Simmons. Words to live by.

Next, and this might be a product of the lack of time management, try to tighten your rants. Have a plan on the number of topics you’d like to cover an allot each one a set time period. I think the best at this so far are E.J. Hradek and Barry Melrose on the Melrose Line. They stick to 20-30 minutes consistently, and I get a lot of information on hockey.

On the same front, avoid dead air. Maybe I’m sensitive to this after my summer in undergraduate as a board operator, but the last thing you want in your podcast is 10 second of dead space when all three participants are fumbling for something to say. I know it’s unavoidable sometimes, but it doesn’t have to happen between every segment.

At the same time, try not to involve too many people in the discussion. NPR’s podcasts, which, to be fair, are mostly just segments of the radio show, do a good job here. The host allows his guests to talk but ultimately maintains control. Too many of the podcasts I’ve heard the last couple of days sounds like a bunch of dudes at the bar. The loud-mouthed one with nothing to say ends up dominating the conversation.

By the same token, be careful how you integrate sponsors into the podcast. I love Leo LaPorte and his This Week in Technology, but if I have to hear about how great Ford and Microsoft Sync are one more time, I’m going to send him a virus. He even talked about Sync on the MacBreak Weekly podcast. He even had the audacity to claim he was no longer drawing a salary from the sponsors and would rely solely on donations from listeners as he went on an on about his Ford Mustang. That killed his credibility, to me.

There are a ton of good podcasting references on the Web. I really liked this one from Jack Herrington of O’Reilly Digital Media, because he combines the organic in podcasting with the professionalism of the MSM. He finds a way to make the personal and extemporaneous feel of the non-professional podcast shine through with a few simple tips broadcasters have known for a long time.

I also really like these tips from Kevin Yank. He sums up what I’ve been trying to get at in this post right at the beginning.

No matter what your podcast is about, a little extra work to get the details right will go a long way. Here are a few quick tips that I’ve learned through hard experience.

I don’t really have any experience podcasting. Really, I’m just ranting about what bugs me here. But I’m disappointed the mainstream media hasn’t stepped up to the plate here. They seem so eager to “train” citizen journalists in media ideals, but they’ll let the podcasters who are creating just as valuable content muddle on. To me it represents the MSM’s zeal to remain in control, and sooner or later, they must acknowledge they can’t control the flow of information they way they used to. Instead, they need to embrace the new sources the see online, like the podcasters, and find ways to help them create a better product. The end goal needs to be informing citizens, and podcasters will play a vital role. But like any journalists I’d like to see them hone their craft to the post of providing the best information in the easiest to digest chunks.

I hope in this post I’m not coming across as a media elitist. I don’t think a J School degree is the only way to a journalism career. But I’d like to hear from the podcasters of why I’m wrong. Are there benefits to a less professional style in podcasting? Who are some of the best non-professional podcasters out there? Please leave me a comment if you know.

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2 Responses to “Podcasters can learn from the MSM”

  1. This American Life is always worth listening to. And Kevin Smith’s Smodcast is one of my favorite things that new media has ever produced…you just need to appreciate bodily humor to enjoy it.

    December 11, 2009 at 9:30 pm
  2. Thanks for the tips Alec. I saw Smodcast on iTunes, but haven’t tried it yet. I’ve also heard good things about Ira Glass.

    December 11, 2009 at 10:18 pm

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