Thanks for All the Fish: Some Reflections on Podcasting

This Saturday we recorded our 200th episode of the Catholic Weekend show on SQPN, featuring clips of memorable moments from the show over the last four years.  You can watch the recording of the episode, or download the podcast by following this link.  We recorded the episode on a rather large Google Hangout featuring all of our regulars and our CEO Father Roderick, as well as several guests who have been on the show before; we also played audio feedback and read email feedback from a number of our listeners.  And of course, we laughed a lot.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on podcasting itself, now that I have been involved in it for nearly two years.  I won’t pretend to be an expert in journalism or broadcasting, but I hope I have learned a little bit from my experience so far.  And I think podcasting can be seen as a hearkening to the past, a radical departure from the present, and a promise for the future.

Podcasting speaks to the past, first of all, in that it reminds us of the early days of radio programming, with people setting up radio stations in their basements.  They talked about whatever interested them, played whatever music they liked, and oftentimes never knew how many people were really listening, but still kept trying to hold true to good standards of quality and content.  However podcasting can also at times remind one a bit of community access programming on cable, which still exists in a number of places, including here in D.C.  I remember during law school, I was fascinated by a local community cable show in South Bend run by a couple of teenagers, who filmed very complex adventure stories which seemed to have no point or resolution whatsoever.  It was not great art, but it was certainly different.

Podcasting is also a radical departure from the present pre-packaged, pre-determined type of media we have become so used to consuming.  For example, a news program owned by an entertainment conglomerate will just so happen to find nice things to say in their reporting about a new film being produced by that entertainment company, even if it is not very good at all.  They will also run advertisements with tie-ins to products related to some other aspect of that film or another product from that media empire, or by one of its affiliate companies or major shareholders.  And of course, most of us never really stop to think about these things, or analyze the relationships between the various content providers and advertisers.

Another, related reason as to why podcast discussions of events are often so much more interesting than what one hears or watches in today’s media environment, i.e. why there are fewer lengthy discussions and more curt sound bytes, is that those who put out the content we see on the major networks and the 24-hour-news channels have ad revenues to think about, and a short window of time in which to make their sales.  By contrast, as most podcasters will tell you, you are not going to become wealthy putting out a podcast.  In fact, in most cases you won’t even be able to make any money off of it all, whether for yourself or for anyone else.

However there is that question of promise, because today’s podcaster, doing something they love in their spare time, may find their career taking quite a new turn.  Recently a friend of mine who has been podcasting for quite awhile on a historical-business subject he loves, suddenly found himself negotiating a book deal from a major international publishing house; they had become aware of his work through his podcast.  What is particularly interesting about this step up in visibility is how it creates not only a larger audience for his work, but it also adds him to an increasing pool of new talent which more people can dip into when they are seeking information.  There are many smart, talented, and interesting people we might not otherwise have heard of, who are passionate about the subjects they follow, and who are getting their chance to become known to more and more people through podcasting.

Not everyone should be podcasting of course, any more than everyone should be blogging: some people are better writers than they are speakers, or vice versa.  Some people are not good at either activity, and are happy to be content consumers rather than content generators.  However I can say from my own experience of doing both, there is a spontaneity to podcasting that I quite enjoy for its uncertainty.  It’s a bit like putting on a play or even arguing in court, where even if you think you know what your part is and what is going to happen, you can never be completely certain that everything is going to go to script.

However much longer I am permitted to be on the Catholic Weekend show then, I want to say to both SQPN and all the listeners, to quote one of our co-hosts quoting another: thanks for all the fish!


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