While print journalism continues its decline, podcasting is a serious contender for the future of journalism. With podcasting, journalists have an opportunity to tell a story via audio media and reach a new and growing world of listeners. Podcasts are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, and audiences appreciate the sense of personal connection with a program host.
The Podcast Revolution
Meagan Perry is one of Canada’s leading podcast producers and designers and recently redesigned the CBC’s flagship news podcast, As It Happens. She talks to Communicate Influence about the revival of podcasting and her work in with audio media.
In part two, Meagan explains how journalists can develop audiences through podcasts, and the next steps editors and journalists can make to produce their work in podcast form. In Meagan’s final segment, she’ll talk about podcasting as a tool for corporate communications and non-profit organizations.
When did you begin podcasting and what drew you to the medium?
I have always been fascinated by new technologies and I like to get in there and try them as soon as I can. It was early 2004 when I first heard about podcasting. Then, in 2005, after I had left CBC’s As It Happens where I was directing, I moved to Whitehorse, Yukon, to work for The Yukon News, an independent newspaper at the time.
Around the same time, rabble.ca was looking for audio producers so I got in touch. I have always been interested in learning new technologies and new ways of sharing stories and information. I was especially excited by podcasting because I wanted to keep working in audio and radio and keep reporting, and it was obvious from the start that podcasting could change the face of audio media and journalism.
Podcasting: Disparate offerings
Thanks to the BBC’s podcasts, as well as shows such as Serial and the network Radiotopia, podcasts seem to be springing up everywhere. What’s happening? Is it a podcast renaissance or is more attention being paid to podcasts? Or is it partly better podcast marketing?
Some important developments have happened to move podcasts forward. First, the technology for producing and listening has become a lot simpler to use. Secondly, the move to online media consumption in all areas has made the idea of online audio more accessible. Thirdly, most recently, bigger media outlets have started podcasting and even more importantly promoting podcasting, which has really helped to make it a less intimidating leap for listeners. Having radio programs available by podcast drew in a lot of folks who might otherwise not have engaged with podcasts.
All of this said, the podcast market will continue to grow. I heard an interview with Ira Glass where he quoted something like only a small percentage of the U.S. public knows what a podcast is. So there is a big untapped marked out there.
It’s also important to remember that there are different streams of podcasts. It’s the same as blogs – there are some mainstream and others are much less formal. Podcasts are the same. There is mainstream radio, audio blogging, citizen journalism, and audio fiction. It’s a very deep and broad set of producers and innovators who create this content.
When I listen to podcasts, I’m reminded of my very early years of listening to radio. Radio can be an intimate experience where the listener becomes totally absorbed in the subject. Is this intimacy part of the renewed appeal of podcasts? Why are people suddenly flocking to podcasts as if they’re quite a new thing, even though they began in 2004?
That’s an interesting question. In some ways, it just takes a long time for a technology to catch on – for the online infrastructure and the public engagement to catch up with the possibilities. But I think that, yes, the sense of loyalty can be high with podcast listeners, and many do feel a real connection with the host.
CBC’s As It Happens
You recently worked with CBC on a redesign of its national current affairs program podcast As It Happens. Tell us a bit about this project.
CBC’s As It Happens is a venerable, very well respected program with established listenership for the radio show. So the question was: What to do to make it also appeal to the podcast listeners, or to draw listeners who already like the show to engage with it as a podcast as well?
What I proposed was drawing together the professional journalistic format of As It Happens and some of the immediacy and informality that independent podcasts have. I worked with the As It Happens team to bring in some of the producer and director voices, to give the listener a feel for what the production day at As It Happens is like. So for instance on the podcast, you’d hear the director cueing the hosts, which is not something that you hear on the radio version.
Another element we added was content that distinguished the podcast from the radio show. We did this by producing content exclusive to the podcast, such as these features each week that pull back the curtain on the production of the program to give listeners more of a connection with the team. An example is a producer describing how they tracked down an elusive guest for the show, or the host looking back on an archival story and the way history informed its coverage.
Rabble.ca’s podcast network offers an alternative take on politics, entertainment, society and more. The range of content is truly impressive! How did you develop this podcast network?
First of all, a big shout out to Wayne MacPhail who spearheaded the development of the podcast network, and to Judy Rebick, the co-founder of rabble.ca who supported it as emerging media in 2004.
I came on after the second episode of the flagship podcast rabble radio. The development of the network was a very organic kind of reaching out across our networks to find people who were using the technology to expand the range of news covered in media. There were commentators and reporters. We had storytellers and we had documentarians, sound artists. It was all at the rabble podcast network. We found that many of the podcasters were also working in radio, and for people in under-represented groups, podcasting gave them a way to report on important issues that just weren’t hitting the mainstream.
A particular example is a program called Africafiles, which was produced by African ex-pats, speaking to Africans living in Canada who weren’t able to get much news from home. It was a great way to use podcasting and the blend of information was very innovative, and they were able to get news from across the continent. There were a number of hosts over the years, producing in countries from Cameroon to England to Canada. Watching that program develop and change was a real testament to the way podcasting had opened up the media landscape.
Which news podcasts are you listening to these days?
You know everyone asks me this and I’m always reluctant to say because I switch up a lot, so what I’m listening to now might not be what I’m listening to in a few weeks. Basically, what I like to do is to listen to the traditional news sources and then go looking for panel discussions like Slate’s Double X podcasts or Media Indigena or the less formal ones like Ryan McMahon and see what other folks are saying about the issues.
I’ve also, been listening to a lot of audio fiction these days, which is a growing field in podcasting. There is a lot of innovative mixing and storytelling there. It’s a very satisfying listening experience, but not in the slightest bit journalistic.
Who have been the biggest influences on you, your thinking, and your approach to your work?
Cathy FitzGerald is an incredible producer. Here’s a link to some of her work at the Third Coast Audio Festival (she played a bit of my audio in it). Adrian Nicole Leblanc has done incredible work. A good friend of mine named Kent Hoffman has produced many a moving and deep piece over at the CBC, and there are so many great producers over there.
I love George Orwell (who doesn’t?) and I often think about his essay “Poetry and the Microphone” when I am thinking about how to get an otherwise uninterested audience to engage with a particular podcast – know your audience!
Podcaster Meagan Perry
Meagan Perry has been podcasting for more than a decade and has produced hundreds of podcasts for the media, businesses, and organizations. She led the creation of Canada’s first podcast network, founded by progressive news magazine rabble.ca in 2005. From 2013-2015 Meagan was rabble’ca’s editor-in-chief. Based in Toronto, Canada, Meagan is Director of MAP Communications, where she is a writer, project co-ordinator, and journalist. She has a BA in Women’s Studies and Japanese Literature from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Find Meagan on Linkedin and Twitter.
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