January 15, 2014

Re: Why Tech Podcasts Bother Me

Ben Brooks:

The goal of a podcast should not be that the podcasters enjoy the show, but that the listeners enjoy the show. I think that’s lost on most podcast hosts.

Who is talking should be less important than what’s being said — just like writing a blog — and yet that’s not the case.

I’m linking to Brooks because he’s brought up a problem with podcasts that I fear will quickly become the de facto opinion the majority of people will have. Podcasts are a weird medium, and their relationship with radio is confusing. That Brooks praises This American Life as the best podcast around is telling, because This American Life is a radio program that’s simply available to download. That makes it a podcast, but it isn’t produced to be one, nor is its original or current purpose to be one. It’s a podcast in the same way a movie becomes a TV show after it’s been cut up for commercials.

The International Object Podcast is guilty of every single thing Brooks hates about podcasts: subject-jumping, inside jokes, somewhat shoddy production quality, and the sense that you’re eaves-dropping on a conversation instead of being part of it. Finally, it’s guilty of the most major grievance: the hosts appear to be the largest fans of the show. I love the IO podcast. And I do, honestly, do it mostly for me. I wonder if most other podcast producers feel the same way: that what they’re having is a great conversation with a friend or colleague about a shared cultural artifact or experience, and if other people like it, great.

I agree with Brooks about every single criticism about podcasting, and I know far more people with his mindset than my own. Oddly enough, I don’t mind these things in other shows. I listen to something like On Taking Pictures and don’t get some of the jokes (or, frankly, much of the technical parts of photography), but there is something there I do enjoy. It’s a bit like a director’s commentary track on a DVD: certainly not for everyone—and not even particularly for the subject enthusiasts—but perhaps for people who enjoy a new layer in a palimpsest, the writings of an amateur in the margins of a more official work.


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