According to the audience measurement service Bride Ratings, podcast usage has experienced a boom from 820,000 users in late 2004 to almost 5 million one year later.
Still in the media-defined “innovation stage” of development, the evolutionary potential for the journalism and communications markets looks promising. Along with the blog revolution, however, this ambiguously blended medium of expression and journalism presents questions of integrity in providing a public service.
Podcasts are essentially digital MP3 files that can be downloaded from the Internet onto a portable device, such as an iPod. What makes podcasts exceptionally convenient to audiences is that they can be listened to anywhere. Never before has a media source so completely accommodated the provision of information to its audiences.
Like blogs, almost anyone with a basic knowledge of computer skills and audio recording software can create a podcast. As a result of this, podcasting “shows” cover anything from two housewives talking in their living room about feminism and teenagers discussing pot to actual network news products.
In line with what many experts conjectured about the Internet, blogging and podcasting seem to be populating and revolutionizing a national, even global forum for democratic expression.
“Getting an accurate count of podcasts that actually offer news seems almost impossible,” Executive Director of NewsLab Deborah Potter said in an article from American Journalism Review.
Her article mentioned that the directory PodcastAlley.com lists more than 400 in the news category, but this “news” list includes “Muggle Cast,” a show that discloses the magical secrets of Harry Potter, and “Viking Youth Power Hour,” a drunken farce of CNN’s Crossfire.
Even still, anyone who’s interested in preserving their media product in a contemporary market has invested in podcasting to some extent. While CBS offers mostly features and commentaries, ABC and NBC are including podcast versions of Nightline, Good Morning America, Nightly News and Meet the Press.
National Public Radio, another active force in podcasting, produces almost 200 different podcasts that range greatly in length and form. Not just limited to broadcasting, about a dozen national newspapers are launching MP3 versions of their product as well.
Whether created in the home or as an affiliated media product, “news” podcasts tend to be shorter and more concise, informal and personalized than their media counterparts. Content proves more entertainment-oriented, or infotainment-oriented, than full of news. Because the government has not enacted any regulatory legislation, there is no restriction on obscenity, pornography and other questionable material. Probably the greatest feature of podcasting, since it is not a profitable industry yet, is that most shows are delivered free and without commercials.
While an absolute triumph for free speech and journalism for and by the people, there are no whistleblowers to ensure that the people are being provided with a reliable public service. Fact-checking organizations and commissions are not in place to hold podcasters accountable for their news or to speak authoritatively on questions of journalistic integrity.
Additionally, podcasting has propensity to actually downgrade journalism if the content continues to accommodate the public’s inclination toward immediate gratification and frivolous news.
The podcasting revolution is long under way. This new medium may promote journalism of the people, and it may enhance the already established democratic forum of the Internet, but the more realistic possibility is that it could reduce journalism to a pandering circus of unqualified nonsense.
Erin Cusack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.