Print Project Proposal: The Rise of Podcasts

            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.

The Paradox of Customer Service Mediums

            Throughout most of history, the only way to spread ideas and information was through physical materials, such as books and newspapers. However, with the invention and increase of accessibility to the internet, spreading and accessing new information becomes increasingly easy. This difference has also created a dispute between the web and publishing industries, who feel threatened by content that is inexpensive, culturally relevant and has the ability to be tweaked or edited at any point.

            Although traditional mediums, are now exploring new formats to interact with their audiences, the main issue that arises is that once it is published, there is an inability to involve others in the work, unless a follow-up is published. This may be why physical newspaper are losing readers, while audiences transition to online news sites, where they can interact with projects and comment on articles.

            Other sites have gone further with collaboration by uplifting audiences’ knowledge to create content. These sites – including Wikipedia, Youtube, Twitter and Yelp – avoid paying experts by giving anyone the ability to make content and share their ideas.

            At first glance, these interactions seem positive. Such platforms expand the marketplace of ideas by accepting that anyone can be an expert. However, they also pose a serious question: are these sites exploiting their content creators?

            Take Youtube, for example. Any individual who wants to be in front of a camera can post a vlog, tutorial or any other video. This is made easier by the accessibility to cellphones with high quality cameras. In addition, viewers can comment, like and subscribe, thus further engaging in the conversation.

            However, Youtube collects a profit from both their creators and viewers by adding advertisements, which are largely unavoidable. Although creators may see a share of the profit, it is little compared to what the company is making. Creators also see more profit based on the number of subscribers that they obtain. Unfortunately, a large percentage of viewers will watch content, but not subscribe.

            This is why Paul Ford argues that these platforms are not a publishing medium. They don’t create or edit content. They are a customer service medium that moderate users.

Although there are other similar video-sharing sites, such as Vimeo, as the second most popular website in the world (https://merchdope.com/youtube-stats/), Youtube largely dominates the industry, giving creators little incentive to use a different site.

            Furthermore, these websites draw subscriptions from websites and organizations that rely on subscribers to exist. Alison Miner expresses frustration in this fact when she asks, “how can I get paid for my profession if there are people out there who are willing to do the work for free?”

            Say you’re writing an essay on megabats (part of my Wikipedia deep dive this morning – it’s worth the google image search). You google it and find a New York Times article. Unfortunately, when you click on the article, you hit the paywall. You’ve used the three freebees that the Times gives you each month. Instead of subscribing, you go back to Google and access a free Wikipedia page on the subject. While you’re happy because you’ve gotten all the information you need, the Times editors and analytics team sees that the article has not received much readership and decides to layoff their reporter on the subject.

            That’s dark, but it’s essentially the impact that the internet is having on the publishing industry (among other influences). Still, it’s understandable. Why should readers pay for content they need if other sources provide it for free? Maybe it shouldn’t just be because they have a soft heart for experts that need their clicks to put food on the table? Or maybe they should understand that even the free work requires effort that should be paid for? But then it becomes a question of who can afford to access information.  

Introduction to Sasha

Hi all! My name is Sasha Jones. I am an undergraduate senior majoring in Journalism with a minor in Law and Society. I’m mainly interested in pursuing long-form print journalism, however, I also have an interest in multimedia (and serve as the Multimedia Managing Editor for The Eagle). Outside of the classroom, I am currently the newsroom intern at Education Week, where I report on education issues and policy.

I have also lived in D.C. area for most of my life, having been raising in Rockville, Maryland.

Although I have not taken a history course at AU, history has always been of interest to me. In high school, I took a two year course on the cold war. For this class, I hope to learn more about how digital media impacts how history is – or is not – told. I believe that multimedia forces a storyteller to rethink their work, and examine the story from different perspectives. Furthermore, new forms of multimedia and technology can be more inclusive of audiences who cannot or will not read and view traditional media. Still, inclusivity is often a challenge, and requires awareness that most storytellers should strive for.

I have also taken a class called Storytelling with Emerging Media, which seems fairly similar to this class in that it asks how journalists can use innovative technologies to reach new audiences. As such, I have reported using social media, 360 video and video games. I hope I can use and advance some of the skills that I acquired in that class in this one.

Although this class is a bit intimidating to me as my first history class in college (and most likely only as I’ll be graduating in May), I am excited to participate and learn from both Professor Owens and my classmates, who all seem excited and incredibly knowledgeable about history as a whole.

Outside of my education and work, I’m interested in art, film and music. My favorite museum in D.C. is the Hirshhorn and I often listen to rap and R&B.