Posted on February 15, 2009
RGMP 5: Listen to podcasts
This is the fifth post in a series titled “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency.” In the fourth post, I explained how you can get started with editing audio for use online. Today I’m going to encourage you to invest some time in hearing good audio stories — because while journalism is basically the same across all presentation and delivery platforms, the way we tell the story needs to be appropriate to the medium of delivery.
Radio journalism in the style of National Public Radio offers some of the best examples of how to transport your listeners — take them inside the story and provide for them an experience of the place, the situation, the people of the story.
I used to scoff at people who raved on and on about podcasts.
All the podcasts I had listened to (then) were either deadly boring, or straight-up radio (and what was new about that?). I wasted time sampling around, and I listened to a number of dreadful podcasts produced by newspaper reporters who sounded like they were reading — with someone twisting their arm behind their back while they did it.
But gradually, I discovered some independent podcasts that I really enjoyed. I wrote about this in an earlier post and recommended these two podcasts (neither of which features journalistic stories, by the way):
- Coffee Break Spanish: Learn to speak Spanish while you’re drinking one latte a day.
- SCTRCST (Scootercast): About once a week, DaveM talks about scooters — you know, those two-wheeled vehicles that are smaller than a motorcycle and bigger than a moped.
I urge you to take note of how they are promoted and archived: You see, podcasting is not only about sitting down with a microphone and talking.
For journalists who are now without a salary and a corporate home, developing a podcast (in conjunction with a blog, of course) might provide the foundation of a new freelance career.
Before I get to the radio journalism examples, I’m going to point to two other successful podcasts:
- The Digital Story: Tips and techniques for digital photography, from Derrick Story. My colleague Craig loves this podcast — he’s a avid amateur photographer.
- Buddhist Geeks: Another truly niche product — this podcast features American Buddhist teachers, writers, and the like, being interviewed by assorted hosts; part of the Personal Life Media network, which carries a vast variety of podcast shows.
I’m not saying you should sit down today and plan a career in podcasting — but I do see podcasts as another way for journalists to build up some multimedia savvy. Particularly if you’re a person who often says you’re not very good with technology.
Ways to listen to podcasts (without an iPod)
Many folks think you need an iPod to listen to podcasts. NOT TRUE. Most podcast home pages have a “Listen Now” button. All you need is a decent pair of speakers connected to your computer, or headphones or earbuds. You don’t have to subscribe. Just choose an episode and start listening. You don’t need to download anything.
Another common misconception is that iTunes is only for iPod owners. Also not true! Anyone can download and use iTunes (free), on a Windows computer or on a Mac. This simple guide shows you how to subscribe to podcasts in iTunes — which I recommend, because it takes all the work out of the process. You set a subscription, and then, every time you open iTunes, it goes out and gets the latest episodes for you.
This page from Apple can help you answer any questions you might have about using iTunes.
One of the best times for Americans to listen to podcasts is while driving in cars. Again, people who have no iPod (or other MP3 player) might think there is no way for them to listen to podcasts. Wrong again! You can burn an audio CD from iTunes. You don’t need any equipment other than the CD player that is already in your car. Apple has a help page just for Windows users who are having trouble burning a CD.
The best radio journalism
Now that we’re past the usual hurdles, let’s look at how to find great audio stories to listen to. National Public Radio offers all its programming, plus programming from other public radio entities, via one handy online page: NPR Podcast Directory. Some of the best journalistic stories can be found in Driveway Moments, a title that refers to the kind of story you just can’t turn off, even though you’ve arrived at home and are sitting in the car in your driveway.
Another source of wonderful stories is This American Life. The latest episode is always free for downloading at the Web site, and you can listen there to anything from the archives (but downloading old episodes costs 95 cents each, via iTunes). If you subscribe at iTunes, you’ll get every episode free and can listen whenever you have time.
Do you have a favorite podcast? If you do, please leave a link in the comments.
For additional insights into making great audio stories, I heartily recommend the book Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production (2008). Unlike the majority of journalism and reporting textbooks, it speaks to the readers as if they are already journalists, and intelligent. And it’s all about the work, the journalism.
Finally, the best 17 minutes you will ever spend thinking about how we tell stories:
- Ira Glass on Storytelling #1 (5:23)
- Ira Glass on Storytelling #2 (4:02)
- Ira Glass on Storytelling #3 (5:19)
- Ira Glass on Storytelling #4 (2:46)
These are on YouTube; while Glass (host and executive producer of This American Life) is not talking about podcasting per se, he is talking frankly (and with heaps of experience) about how a journalist gathers good audio and transforms it into a real story.
And that, after all, is the magical, marvelous thing a print journalist needs to learn how to do.
Previous posts in this series: