6.5 Audio: Podcasts and More

We are, in some ways, what we listen to. I love music, and I love the spoken word.

We’re in the early days of an audio revolution. Other digital media are also undergoing rapid change, but audio has a special nature of its own.

Whether you listen to the radio or podcasts or audio of other kinds, there is a special quality to listening. You are forced, in a good way, to use your imagination. When I listen to a news program on National Public Radio I am filling in gaps in my mind, visualizing the parts I’m not seeing.

Podcasting is the most important of the emerging audio methods, at least in the context of news and information. The easiest way to think of podcasts is as audio blogs: episodic, available over the Internet via syndication, and displaying the newest postings first. (I’d bet that most people find new podcasts through searches and links from other sites, however.)

As with blogs, the variety of podcasts is enormous. The most popular podcasting (and music) delivery system is Apple’s iTunes store, but you can find podcasts in many other ways as well. Also as with with blogs, you can host your audio files yourself, or you can find services that will host them on their computers (something I recommend for both audio and video).

The software tools you need to create good podcasts come with every new desktop or laptop computer. Apple’s GarageBand software has podcast-specific features, for example. There’s also a huge amount of free or low-cost software available online, if you decide to get more sophisticated about your recordings.

To join the audio movement, you should have a decent headset with a microphone for recording and playback at home or in the office. If you’re interviewing people in the field, you should consider buying a decent external microphone and audio recorder, although modern digital cameras usually let you record audio and video, and today’s smart phones can do what you need if you don’t mind not-so-great audio and picture quality.

Although an audio news show or segment—compiled material that is edited before distribution—is considerably more complex to create than most blog posts, you don’t have to be an audio or news-radio pro to create a useful podcast. Sometimes a recording of a conversation is all you need: Imagine talk radio, democratized. One of the most interesting podcast series around is called “Rebooting the News”; it was originated by blog pioneer Dave Winer and New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen (both friends of mine), who ruminate—often with guests, including me on one occasion—on the state of news. Their weekly series, far from getting stale, has only grown more interesting over time.

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