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Podcasting unsilences the silent

“2020 will undoubtedly be a big podcast year for movie stars, presidential candidates, and the like. But we can’t let this commercialized, hyper-celebrity noise drown out the diverse voices, perspectives, and stories that can and should call podcasting home.”

Podcasting was a much different landscape ten years ago, back when we still had iTunes (not Apple Podcasts), when This American Life was still in its podcast infancy and when USA Today was so curious about these “free amateur chatfests.” It was the Wild West of on-demand audio, where podcasting’s rules could be made, broken, and remolded into anything that could fit into an RSS feed.

Needless to say, we’ve grown a great deal since this “dawn of podcasting,” from dynamic ad insertion capabilities to informative analytics dashboards and robust marketing strategies to, of course, Casper mattresses. It’s easy to see what we’ve gained along the way; it’s harder to see what we’ve lost in the process.

We’ve taken boundless show ideas and tied them down with hopes of being optioned for television and film. We’ve turned podcast feeds into self-promotional vehicles centered around selling instead of serving. We’ve focused on the profit rather than the power of connecting audiences. And in doing so, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of podcasting: to give anyone (no matter who and no matter where) a voice.

2020 will undoubtedly be a big podcast year for movie stars, presidential candidates, and the like. But we can’t let this commercialized, hyper-celebrity noise drown out the diverse voices, perspectives, and stories that can and should call podcasting home.

So what can we do to avoid the wasteland of this pod-ageddon? How can we ensure that podcasting remains open and vibrant instead of digitally gentrified?

  • Activate the community. They say that podcasting is “mainstream,” but remember: only 50 percent of Americans have ever listened to a podcast. The general population doesn’t understand podcasting, doesn’t know how (or where) to even listen, and doesn’t know why they might need the content in the first place. How can podcasting reflect communities if some individuals have never listened to one? We need to activate communities and educate listeners on the power of podcasting (more than repeating plugs to “listen on Apple Podcasts”). We need to emphasize the freedom of the format, the accessibility of the content, and the opportunity to grow from listener to creator.
  • Democratize the pod-public. Give everyone the tools to be able to build podcasts from the ground up. And if you don’t know where to start, just look to PRX as a model: Between establishing community spaces for audio storytelling, releasing a series of Podcasting 101 videos and designing podcast bootcamps to train individuals from around the world, PRX is setting the standard for what podcasting can and should be.
  • Collaborate, partner, and get out there. Podcasting doesn’t have to be a solitary medium. There are more than 500,000 active shows on Apple Podcasts, and there are countless organizations and individuals in your town/region/state that can learn and grow with you during the podcast process. Partner with a local school, library, or nonprofit. Collaborate with another podcast. Rethink your ideas and don’t be afraid to experiment with new sounds and stories.

Podcasts still have the capability to be one media’ greatest equalizers. You don’t need expensive recording equipment or editing software; you don’t need to abide by a broadcast clock or have a set length of time to record; you don’t need to have a certain voice or sound. Podcasts are for anyone to speak, to create, to be empowered, to break their silence. At its best, podcasts unsilence the silent.

In 2020, we must strive to create a more supportive landscape for equitable, community-minded podcasting — one that has value and, as such, is valued.

Joni Deutsch is on-demand content and audience engagement manager for WFAE in Charlotte.

Podcasting was a much different landscape ten years ago, back when we still had iTunes (not Apple Podcasts), when This American Life was still in its podcast infancy and when USA Today was so curious about these “free amateur chatfests.” It was the Wild West of on-demand audio, where podcasting’s rules could be made, broken, and remolded into anything that could fit into an RSS feed.

Needless to say, we’ve grown a great deal since this “dawn of podcasting,” from dynamic ad insertion capabilities to informative analytics dashboards and robust marketing strategies to, of course, Casper mattresses. It’s easy to see what we’ve gained along the way; it’s harder to see what we’ve lost in the process.

We’ve taken boundless show ideas and tied them down with hopes of being optioned for television and film. We’ve turned podcast feeds into self-promotional vehicles centered around selling instead of serving. We’ve focused on the profit rather than the power of connecting audiences. And in doing so, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of podcasting: to give anyone (no matter who and no matter where) a voice.

2020 will undoubtedly be a big podcast year for movie stars, presidential candidates, and the like. But we can’t let this commercialized, hyper-celebrity noise drown out the diverse voices, perspectives, and stories that can and should call podcasting home.

So what can we do to avoid the wasteland of this pod-ageddon? How can we ensure that podcasting remains open and vibrant instead of digitally gentrified?

  • Activate the community. They say that podcasting is “mainstream,” but remember: only 50 percent of Americans have ever listened to a podcast. The general population doesn’t understand podcasting, doesn’t know how (or where) to even listen, and doesn’t know why they might need the content in the first place. How can podcasting reflect communities if some individuals have never listened to one? We need to activate communities and educate listeners on the power of podcasting (more than repeating plugs to “listen on Apple Podcasts”). We need to emphasize the freedom of the format, the accessibility of the content, and the opportunity to grow from listener to creator.
  • Democratize the pod-public. Give everyone the tools to be able to build podcasts from the ground up. And if you don’t know where to start, just look to PRX as a model: Between establishing community spaces for audio storytelling, releasing a series of Podcasting 101 videos and designing podcast bootcamps to train individuals from around the world, PRX is setting the standard for what podcasting can and should be.
  • Collaborate, partner, and get out there. Podcasting doesn’t have to be a solitary medium. There are more than 500,000 active shows on Apple Podcasts, and there are countless organizations and individuals in your town/region/state that can learn and grow with you during the podcast process. Partner with a local school, library, or nonprofit. Collaborate with another podcast. Rethink your ideas and don’t be afraid to experiment with new sounds and stories.

Podcasts still have the capability to be one media’ greatest equalizers. You don’t need expensive recording equipment or editing software; you don’t need to abide by a broadcast clock or have a set length of time to record; you don’t need to have a certain voice or sound. Podcasts are for anyone to speak, to create, to be empowered, to break their silence. At its best, podcasts unsilence the silent.

In 2020, we must strive to create a more supportive landscape for equitable, community-minded podcasting — one that has value and, as such, is valued.

Joni Deutsch is on-demand content and audience engagement manager for WFAE in Charlotte.

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