Monday, August 08, 2005

Rush and NPR find a new way into ears

LA Times reports Steve Jobs has a good publicist. How else to explain July's monthlong media swoon over a phenomenon — podcasting — that is used by almost no one? Granted, an ever-increasing number of Internet users are being added to the ranks of "almost no one," so that in the near future podcasting may be a technology used by "nearly someone."

That is a cute expression, but I think it is designed to belittle something which may well become a new phenomenon. I must admit that I have not seriously looked into podcasting, but that is because my health problems result in me being homebound. If I got out of the house as often as most people do, I might well have bought an iPod, and if I had, the idea of loading it with something to listen to before I left the house would certainly have appeal. It is true that one can listen to PodCast broadcasts from a home computer, but the real power, IMHO, is being able to download and take it with you. While I am sitting at my computer, I am reading blogs, and listening to Fox News which is playing on a TV right next to my computer monitor.
But today, there are only 6,000 to 7,000 regular podcasts being created online, and the number of regular listeners probably doesn't exceed the lower reaches of "hundreds of thousands."
Podcasting is in its infancy, just as blogs were a few years ago. Blogs have certainly caught on (despite what the MSM might wish to think), but Podcasting just might grow up to be another major venue that the MSM does not control.
If you spent July in Tuscany and missed the mania, here's a primer: Podcasts are downloadable audio files — mostly containing talk-radio or talk-radio-like content — that are distributed over the Internet by radio stations, news sites and bloggers. They are designed to be listened to using an MP3 player such as Apple's iPod (hence the "podcasting" name), rather than through your desktop speakers, though they can be heard that way too. In late June, Apple released a new version of its popular iTunes software that includes support for podcasts.

The press responded by making July its first-ever Official Podcasting Coverage Month. Fortune, the Washington Post (which put it on the front page) and the Economist weighed in. The New York Times published four podcasting stories, each longer than 1,000 words. C-SPAN, the Fox television network and Slate began creating podcasts.

Media and technology reporters are obviously interested in podcasting, but so are political reporters (John Edwards podcasts! So does Nancy Pelosi! And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger!), religion reporters (for whom "Godcasts" is the neologism of choice) and local news reporters, who get to write about the podcasters in their backyards (and employ Onion-like headlines such as "Tri-state man part of communications 'revolution.' "). Although podcasting triumphalists deserve to be deflated, the technology actually is a big deal.

What makes podcasting new and exciting is that it's portable. The combination of iTunes and the iPod makes it obvious and easy, for the first time, to put the Internet's audio content in your pocket and take it on the road with you. That gives radio journalists and online bloviators optimism that podcasting is here to stay, even if online video news and video blogging can be seen on the horizon.
The advantage of an audio podcast is that you can listen to it (through an earphone), while jogging, or while riding the bus or subway, or just while strolling through a Shopping Center or a park.
"Radio's big strength has been portability," said Andy Bowers, a Los Angeles-based editor at Slate and producer for NPR's "Day to Day." "It's the one thing you can do while doing other things."
Precisely. And purchasing a radio station takes a lot of money, but recording a podcast and posting it on the net, is much much less inexpensive.

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