In the past decade, if not in just the past five years, the popularity of podcasts has skyrocketed. According to the Nielsen Company, in the fall of 2016, 13 million homes identified as “avid fans” of podcasts. By the fall of 2017, this number grew to 16 million (https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2018/what-s-in-podcast-fans-shopping-carts.html). Although this may be due to the growth of streaming and downfall of traditional radio, much of podcasting’s rise in popularity may be tracked back to Serial, an investigative journalism series.
Season one of Serial follows the disappearance and death of Baltimore high school senior Hae Min Lee, as well as the trial that followed. Serial became the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads and streams, and defined podcasting to the general public. A year after Serial premiered in 2014, the Interactive Advertising Bureau hosted their first presentation on podcasts, encouraging companies to start advertising on podcasts. This was also when podcasters could begin earning revenue for their work (https://www.wired.com/story/podcast-three-watershed-moments/).
This project would examine how Serial tells a compelling story through podcasting, and how it has influenced historians to use podcasting as a medium of storytelling and exploration. Furthermore, it would examine how podcasting makes history more digestible in order to reach a wider audience.
For example, the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class reached over two million people in its two-part segment on Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Now, it consistently sees over three million downloads per episode and is one of the most downloaded podcasts every month.
But Stuff You Missed in History Class is not alone in the history podcasting world. It is estimated that there are over 200 history podcasts available on the iTunes store alone. Surprisingly, only a few of these are produced by academics, meaning that podcasts not only drawing in an audience of non-historians, but that the platform is also gives space to those without a history degree to give history lessons (https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2016/history-on-the-download-podcasting-the-past).
The article “History on the Download: Podcasting the Past” (previously linked) also mentions that academics who have started podcasting have said that podcasting has allowed them to become better teachers. Unlike inside classroom walls, podcasting forces professors to rethink how they explain concepts in more straightforward terms. Considerations of new audiences further expands the idea of who can consume a product or lesson and what they may get out of it. Additionally, in doing so, podcasting also expands the notion of what a history lesson should look like.
This also relates to our class on crowdsourcing. The ability for anyone to tell stories via podcasts brings up questions on how facts are checked, how inaccurate information is regulated and whether this platform draws audiences away from academics who may present their research in other, more traditional, ways. It may be interesting to explore whether there have been instances where podcasts have spread myths or inaccurate information to listeners, and how academics can or cannot combat this issue.