By Jane Carroll Andrade
Nearly 100 years after the first radio broadcast, who would have guessed that today, audio would be one of the hottest forms of communications? Americans’ ears are more engaged than ever, thanks to the popularity of podcasts.
According to dictionary.com, a podcast is a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer. The word originated by combining Apple’s iPod with broadcast.
More than a quarter of Americans over age 12 listen to podcasts, according to Edison Research. What accounts for this popularity?
“It fits the way content is consumed today,” says Becky Brooks, executive director of the Alliance for Women in Media, which recognizes exemplary programming created by women, including podcasts, with its Gracie awards. “The phrase we’ve been using is ‘snackable.’ Podcasts disseminate snackable, or short, and relevant content that is available anywhere at any time, whether you’re driving in your car, sitting in your office or working out.”
Brooks and LINCS sponsor Rob Stoddard of NCTA convened top podcasters for a session at the Legislative Information and Communications Staff’s annual professional development seminar in Lexington, Ky.
Podcaster Gayle Trotter advised attendees who were considering starting a podcast to be clear about their mission, commit to their subject, know their audience, and be consistent. Martha Little of Audible added that authenticity is the most important element of podcasting.
NCSL found that only a few states currently produce podcasts, although interest among legislative communicators is high.
The Texas Senate Media department has been producing audio content for many years, according to staffer Richard Lee, a journalist and legislative technician for the nonpartisan office. He started by writing summaries of Senate activities, then combined them with audio recordings that were put online and made available for download. Local radio stations that didn’t have reporters covering the Capitol would pick them up for news stories.
“The word ‘podcast’ wasn’t really in the lexicon then,” Lee says.
But changes in the news business prompted Texas Senate Media to evolve with the times.
“Radio stations that were once local are now conglomerates,” he says, adding that he “eschews politics” and nonpartisan content is not necessarily what news stations are looking for. Plus, the internet allows legislators and their staffs to communicate directly with constituents.
The department now produces a weekly podcast, which runs during Texas’s biennial and special sessions. It’s not a conventional podcast, in that Lee continues to write his weekly wrapup, which he records and intersperses with clips from recorded committee meetings.
“I cut those clips out with free apps and incorporate them into the podcast and people really like it,” he says. “I try to make sure I get some solid quotes every week. You can let the members speak for themselves that way.”
Lee believes the podcast will continue to evolve because it is popular with his colleagues and members, and inexpensive to produce.
Think podcasting might be in your future? Register for NCSL’s webinar, "The Power of Podcasting," taking place at 2 p.m. ET, Thursday, Dec. 13. It will be facilitated by Gene Rose of At Last Communications. Rose produces NCSL’s podcast, "Our American States." The webinar will also be archived on NCSL’s webinar webpage.
Jane Carroll Andrade, a program director in NCSL’s Communications division, is liaison to the Legislative Information and Communications Staff (LINCS), one of nine professional staff associations at NCSL.