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Why am I telling the story this way?

by Abigail Dawn November 9, 2021
Why am I telling the story this way?

Podcasts are a form of journalism that reach audiences differently with various perspectives

Podcasts are the new radio. They create a space where listeners can plug in their devices during their daily commute and gain insight not only into what’s happening in the world but to any topic they can enter in the search bar. In the 2020 Signal Hill podcast report, Canadian adults represent 27 per cent of monthly podcast listeners, showing that there is a good reason to look at this medium as a form of journalism. Concerns about news representation and the format of podcasts has led to several discussions about the journalistic value they have. Catching popularity in the early 2000s, this is not a discussion we should still be having. Podcasts are a form of journalism.

Indeed, podcasts can extend to various topics, from news to lifestyle content, and listeners might not categorize every show they listen to as reporting. Still, what journalism is and how we cover stories are highly debated topics and adding podcasts as a medium has created differing opinions on how journalism should be represented. However, the fact is that podcasting fits into various categories of recognized journalism like investigation, news, reviews, features, and columns.

One of the answers to the question “What is a journalist?” often argues that journalists are primarily content producers. This can put them in the same boat with content creators and online platforms who create content in a specific niche to share with followers and subscribers, including but not limited to podcast channels.

“We’re all journalists in some right,” said Alyson Fair, consultant at Bluesky Strategy Group, a public relations firm. “Podcasts are an extension of journalism and allow more voices to be heard.” Fair explained that while being a producer for CTV and working with Don Martin, the two saw podcasting being introduced as a way to share stories, news and content — prompting them to jump in and not fall behind.

In recent years, the amount of adult podcast listeners has increased and the 18-34 age range make up over half of adult Canadian listeners, according to the 2020 Signal Hill podcast report. More specifically, the top podcast genres for this age range include society and culture, news, arts and sports. This shows that all the topics we find in traditional media are also being covered on podcasts, the majority of which have no extra cost to the listeners.

“You have a worldwide audience. You never had that before with traditional media,” Fair said, adding that podcasts are a way to engage in longer, more in-depth conversations about topics in all spheres, including news and politics. The less restricted media becomes, the more opportunity it gets to grow its audience.

Millennials and older Gen Zs spend more time listening to podcasts, with news remaining in the top three most popular genres, according to Signal Hill in 2020. These generations demonstrate an interest in understanding what is happening in the world, but crave a more in-depth comprehension compared to the short clips we see or hear in traditional media. The younger generations live in a time where cellphones are ubiquitous, as they are how we gain access to information. With podcasts readily available for free through multiple platforms and applications, we are more likely to gravitate towards podcasts to hear stories and gain knowledge whenever we want, as opposed to tuning into a timely broadcast or paying a subscription to a newspaper.

In 2019, 34 per cent of Francophone and 28 per cent Anglophone Canadians read the news almost exclusively in text form, according to the Digital News Report; this is only marginally higher than the number of Canadians that listen to podcasts. This shows that the use of podcasts as a form of absorbing news is similar to text-based news, one of the most traditional mediums.

Podcasts create in-depth stories, a format that doesn’t fall under “hard news.” Still, it shows that hard news is not the only news. Canadians are interested in different approaches and perspectives to the same stories we hear in shorter, less detailed formats, like television and radio news packs. Podcasts build on many niches, subjects, and themes, but what is common is that they have details about a topic that helps their listeners build a better understanding by sharing a storyline with relatable conversation. They integrate interviews, clips, and research that creates depth in a simple way that makes them easy to listen to. For example, the podcast Canadian True Crime provides extensive detail for listeners about crimes and cold cases in Canada. This niche-specific podcast involves investigation, interviews, and retells each story comprehensively. As journalists, that’s what we do.

The Globe and Mail Monday to Friday news podcast, The Decibel, released an episode on Sept. 22, 2021 about a sexual assault case at Western University, where young women were drugged and sexually assaulted during orientation week. The host of the episode interviewed an education reporter and the coordinating news editor from Western’s student paper, the Western Gazette, who discussed more details about the event. The episode shared background information, commonalities between the number of reported cases and how social media posts started the police investigation. This information thickened the storyline, with open conversations that allowed listeners to get a better idea of the situation that they wouldn’t have been able to get in the two-minute television broadcasts.

The most effective way to understand podcasting as a form of journalism is understanding that journalism itself evolves and adapts cohesively with new mediums. As the formats change, so should our perspectives on progressive journalism, finding ways to share stories, facts, answers, and opinions that appeal to a wide variety of audiences.

 

Feature graphic by James Fay

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