PodCamp: Revenge of the narrowcasters

This weekend, I had a chance to drop in on PodCamp at Bunker Hill Community College on the edge of Charlestown, MA (see my Flickr Set of photos for a few pics I took).  I led two discussions, both of which were pretty well attended.
Written by David Berlind, Inactive
This weekend, I had a chance to drop in on PodCamp at Bunker Hill Community College on the edge of Charlestown, MA (see my Flickr Set of photos for a few pics I took).  I led two discussions, both of which were pretty well attended.

One of these (pictured left, photo by Beth Kanter) was a discussion I called Gear Talk where I shared a lot of what I've learned over the past year and a half of trying out all sorts of different gear.  Except for the JK Audio Inkeeper 1 that I use to "sieze" the phone line when bringing a phone call into the "mix," I brought just about everything I own with me so people could take a gander and ask questions. 

A few of my main points had to do with how you need to think hard about what your needs are before deciding what gear to get.  For example, if all of your podcasts are going to be "in-studio" and you never have to head out into the field (aka: "on-location"), then you probably won't need the same gear that I use. All of my gear (I'm holding a discontinued Behringer MXB 1002 mixer in the photo) is battery operated.  This to me was very important because I never know if there's going to be AC power readily available when I'm heading out to do an interview.

Sound quality is really important to me too which is why I'm willing to spend a little extra on the right microphone (which can make all the difference in the world) and, where possible, I dedicate a seperate microphone to each interviewee.  For my treatise on that, see Ode to the microphone: A podcaster's selection guide.  A lot of people had questions about the recorder I use, the Edirol R-4. For more about the gear I'm using all the time and why, see Podcasting Gear: What David Berlind is using now. I also talked about how eBay is a great place to get podcasting gear.  While I own the MXB 1002 shown above left, that wouldn't be my first choice for a battery operated field mixer. My first choice for that would be a Shure FP33 or one of its older siblings (the FP32 or FP31). They go up for sale all the time on eBay.

The other discussion I led was on small podcasts vs. the big media.  There are those in large media companies that don't agree with me.  But I think the reconciliation (my kind word for financial stress, audience attrition, etc.) that the established media is going through right now has a lot to do with the increasing attention going to blogs and podcasts.  In a room of about 35 people, I took an informal survey and asked people to think about the amount of time they spend on a daily basis with media and content whether it be text, video, or audio (in any medium) and whether or not they saw themselves ever increasing the amount of time they spend with content as a matter of habit.  Only one person raised their hand. 

My point was that as more attention is paid to blogs, podcasts, and other forms of citizen journalism, it's taking away from what is largely a fixed about of eyeball/eardrum seconds that all media (new, old, 1.0, 2.0, established, big, small, whatever you want to call it) must "share" or, the truth be told, compete for (whether you're in it for the competition or not).  Given that many media properties exist as a matter of a business (rather than a hobby), the resulting audience attrition is so badly hurting established media companies that their only choice, in my opinion, to reverse the trend and start growing their businesses (which relies on growing audience) is to acquire audience. 

Organic audience growth for established media companies is very very difficult.  They (established media) are culturally ill-equipped to create the next YouTube or MySpace and the result is, that they'll have to somehow "acquire" that audience. This, if you ask me, can result in opportunity for certain "indies" (bloggers, podcasters, vloggers, etc.) that are interested in working for larger outfits.  Anybody with a reasonable audience is someone that existing media companies looking to grow their audiences will be interested in.  Maybe not now.  But eventually.  They (the media companies) won't have much choice (and acquiring audience is nothing new in the media business.... it has happened for decades).

Outside of the two discussion I led, what I was really awestruck by at Podcamp was that podcasts in many ways are narrowcasted radio finally realized (revenge of the narrowcasters). I met one guy who calls himself Vic Podcaster who does a podcast called HotFromSiliconValley.com. Most people would consider a podcast about Silicon Valley to be very narrow in the big scheme of things. But, believe it or not, this podcast was one of the more broadly targeted ones at Podcamp. Guido Stein, a guy who claims to have "issues" with yarn, was there discussing his podcast about knitting (and to you single men out there worried about the compatibility of machismo and knitting, you should know that some of the female Podcampers appeared to be riveted by what Guido had to say). 

There was Whitney Hoffman who hosts LDPodcast.com the tagline of which is The Podcast for Parents by Parents of Kids with Learning Disabilities. One of her more recent shows had to do with the stress that people experience when their kids are "labeled" after being diagnosed with something like dyslexia or ADHD. Chris Wilson was there drumming up interest in the three-man podcast he contributes to: Answers For Freelancers (it's a show that's specifically targeted at freelance illustrators and, at its current rate, it comes out around twice per month). 

Perhaps the person that it was most inspiring to meet in the few hours that I was there was Brian Conley, founder of the Alive in Baghdad Project.  By bringing home the personal stories of the people of Iraq -- the ones who eschew violence despite the degree to which they've become disenfranchised by war -- Conley's project allows people all over the world but especially Americans to see how peaceful Iraqi's actually have a lot in common with you and me.  Conley has contacts in Iraq who are creating the content and sending it back to him in Somerville, MA for publication on the AliveInBaghdad.org Web site.

Some of the content takes a while before it is published because it has to go through translation.  But not all.  For example, I watched the most recent video that was posted to the AiB blog.  It was Sami Rasouli from an outfit called the Muslim Peacemaker Team and he tells the story of a year-old tragedy in Iraq where there was a stampede of people going across a bridge that resulted in more than 1,000 deaths -- many of them Shiite women and children who, in an effort to save their own lives, jumped off the bridge into the water below. Rasouli tells of how a gifted Sunni swimmer who lived near the bridge saw the tragedy in progress, jumped into the water, and didn't stop to ask the victims whether they were Sunni or Shi'a before attempting to save their lives. 

After watching the vlog, I found myself thinking about how little the stories we are told by the established media matter. What are they? Mostly bodycount scorecards? How many soldiers, innocent Iraqis, and alleged bad guys died that day?  After weeks, months, and years of that sort of coverage, the picture that most of us have of Iraq and the people is a bit different than the image one forms after paying attention to the Alive in Baghdad Project. I much rather read/listen/view stories of hope rather than the daily bodycount report card and, if you ask me, the audience of likeminded people (to me) isn't that narrow.  Pay attention big media.  These independently produced forms of content may be a bit rough on the edges, but they can still taste better going down. Even if it's only one in a 1000 that start to turn heads the way, say, Ze Frank is doing in the comedic/satirical strain of things, I'm a true believer that for every consumer of content that's out there, there will one day be hundreds of narrowly-focused podcasters (bloggers and vloggers too) that are better equipped to satisfy his or her information appetite (with RSS of course making it dead-simple to change the channel).

Oh, and if you're interested in helping the Alive in Baghdad Project out, Conley is looking for anyone (individuals, companies, vendors, etc.) to outfit his contacts in Iraq with some decent notebook computers (new or used).  Here's how to contact him if you can help. 

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