Notes from Andy Bowers’ webinar on podcasts for NPR Digital Services

Microphone and computer. (Photo: Mark Hunter/Flickr)“Podcasting” is a terrible name says Slate’s Andy Bowers. It stems from a device that a lot of people don’t really use anymore, and it sounds like it comes from 2004-2005 (which it does). Andy’s beef with the word “podcasting” aside, he offered a lot of compelling insights for producers during a presentation on podcasting during a webinar over at NPR Digital Services.

I finally got a chance to watch the much tweeted about webinar, the first in a new series at Digital Services, and I’m glad that I did. Andy, formerly of NPR West, joined Slate to become their Podcasts chief more than seven years ago (though he still maintains a desk at the NPR bureau).

Here are some highlights from the presentation:

1. Podcasting is simply on-demand audio. As television consumers, we have grown accustomed to the time-shifting that DVRs and services like Netflix offer. This behavior will become more and more the norm. We’re beginning to see the disruption in the world of radio in similar ways. Andy suggests, podcasting will thrive as people demand more control over all their media.

2. Podcasting is mobile, and always has been. The widespread shift to smartphones has put in your pocket an extremely powerful tool that has only made listening to podcasts easier. Cleverly (and correctly), Andy phrased audio in the digital space this way: “podcasting is the original mobile app.” Podcasts will remain one of the most important things in mobile.

3. Most importantly: Podcasting is about experimentation. There is a low risk of experimentation on the internet. If you’re an audio professional and have an idea for a podcast, make a pilot. Just try.

Andy spoke of Google’s 80-20 philosophy (which I love) and framed it in terms of piloting a new podcast in the way technologists think of agile development: fail faster.

“It’s worth the experiment even if it is a failure,” Andy says. You might have just one success for every 10 tries, but that success might become a national success. He added “the up side is very big as opposed the cost of trying.”

Andy also noted that when Slate tries out a new podcast they think of it as the beginning of a process. During this throw-everything-at-the-wall process in the evolution of new audio ideas, Andy’s team encourages listeners/audiences/users to offer critiques. He wants the audience to tell them what they hate, as well as what they love. The two-way street is important for the process and in new Slate podcasts, “We’ve changed a lot of things because of that (audience response).

There seems to be a growing interest in audio in the digital space. I am endlessly curious and impressed by the thinking over at SoundCloud and other digital audio upstarts.

Experimentation is key. Digital disruption in radio is here.

Digital Services has a good review of the webinar here from Ki-Min Sung. And if you have time, watch Andy’s presentation, it’s good.

[Photo: Mark Hunter/Flickr)

The Explosion of Social Media and the News

[Note: This blog was posted in advance of a class discussion at Michigan State University's School of Journalism.]

Hi everyone, ahead of our discussion on social media and news I thought I would pass along a few conversation starters.

Professor Detjen and I thought it might be good to talk about some of the background on the growth of social media and perhaps provide a some interesting examples of the many ways it is being used.

SOME BACKGROUND:
A great place to start (if you haven’t seen it yet) is this TED talk from social media researcher and NYU prof Clay Shirky.

Shirky (author of some very good books, here and here) gives the background on the media landscape of the 20th century and suggests:

The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time. The phone gave us the one to one pattern; TV, radio, magazines, newspapers gave us the one to many pattern.

The Internet is the many to many pattern.

The Internet has disrupted media and created a landscape where everyone has the power of publication. It’s a two way conversation for the first time in history. Dan Gillmor has famously called this shift in the audience, the “former audience”.

NYU J-school Prof and “future of news” thinker Jay Rosen elaborates on the former audience here.

QUESTIONS:
What kind of interaction with users (readers/listeners etc) have you had with your journalism? What benefits or problems could result with more user engagement?

It turns out the former audience has a lot to say. Not only are new voices being heard, but people can now find one another and organize.

Where I work we have been actively covering the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. It’s truly been a remarkable year first with Tunisia, then Egypt and now Libya. Social media has played a major role in facilitating conversation and organization.

Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have been tremendously important tools for journalists covering the uprisings. One journalist I wanted to highlight is Andy Carvin. During the Arab Spring Carvin has been aggregating and curating streams of information about the protests across the Middle East and North Africa.

Internet thought leader and researcher Ethan Zuckerman spoke with Carvin about Twitter in the Arab Spring.

QUESTIONS:
Is curration journalism? What role does curration have in journalism? What challenges arise with source verification using social media?

Another interesting example of the use of social media and storytelling is the @MayorEmanuel Twitter account “deftly satirizing Rahm Emanuel”. @MayorEmanuel was written by Dan Sinker. Take a look at Alexis Madrigal’s piece on how Sinker took the 140 character platform to new heights.

QUESTIONS:
How can social media tools help improve storytelling?

One last little exchange about social media that is fodder for more conversation was what former NYTimes Executive Editor Bill Keller called “The Twitter Trap“. Also take a look at the response from Bits blog Nick Bilton.

QUESTIONS:
Does social media make you stupid? What impact could this have on journalism?

There’s probably too much here for a 20 minute conversation but I thought I would put these few examples forward to see what you think. It you have questions or want to get a jump on the conversation, add a comment below.

I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

-Steven

[Photo: Spencer E Holtaway]

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