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Caroline’s Picks on the 2018 Stories to Follow Up

How podcasting deals with misinformation. There were a few points this year where I felt like that the broader media narratives around the spread of fake news made itself felt within the podcasting world, particularly the moment over the summer when Alex Jones’s Infowars podcasts were removed from several major platforms. But industry discussions quickly (and understandably) moved on as news of layoffs and restructurings took up the audio industry’s mental space instead. I’d be interested to dig into this thread further in the future: how is fact checking done and resourced for podcasts, do people see value in providing transcripts with sources, and how should hosts deal with guests that don’t stick to the truth? All questions I want to explore.

Who gets hired. I was in the room at the Third Coast Awards this year when Phoebe Wang deliver her striking speech on the audio industry’s failures when it comes to hiring and representing people of colour. It was a fascinating moment, not least because many of the decision makers she was calling out were in the room. At the end of the speech, Wang announced that she and others would be maintaining a list of producers of colour, and that recruiters were welcome to email them for resumes of qualified people (never again could they say they were ‘unable’ to find any suitable candidates of colour). I’d like to know how this initiative has fared in the few months since, and whether the good work of Wang and her collaborators has prompted any organisational culture shifts.

Going live. I’m still a bit of a podcast live show sceptic, but given that there have been new festivals popping up everywhere, I’m clearly in the minority. I’m also very aware that live events have become a business model in their own right for some podcasters — shows like Lovett or Leave It and The Guilty Feminist record in front of a live paying audience, meaning that production costs are probably more than covered before an episode even hits the feed. I’d like to explore the economics of this more, and take a stab at why more podcasts aren’t getting up on stage.

Audio drama beyond the podcast to TV pipeline. There’s been a lot of discussion of podcasts getting made into TV shows this year, some of it in these very pages. That’s all very interesting, but what’s going on in audio drama beyond churning out IP for Hollywood studios?

Windowing: who is it working for and how. As more platforms bet on “premium” offerings, it’s almost become the norm for a show to drop in multiple places at different times. As we accept a practice, though, we stop scrutinising it, and I’d like to know whether this windowing idea is (still?) working for producers, whether they’re releasing first onto Spotify Premium or uploading early through a Patreon RSS feed. Is early access something that listeners are willing to pay for, and does audio actually drive sign ups to a wider service?

Google. They’ve really gone big on the podcast talk this year, with a new Android native app and headline support for a collaboration with PRX to train new podcasters. The stated ambition was to convert non podcast listeners into podcast listeners, but how is that going? There’s been some grumbles recently about the non-appearance of a “tsunami of Android listening”, and I think it’s something worth digging into further.

Billboards. In the UK this year, for the first time, I started seeing major real-world display adverts for podcasts, on billboards and on public transport. I also had conversations with podcasters who could afford to do such campaigns, but were choosing not to because they felt that “listen to our podcast” was too diffuse a message for a poster (“What are we actually asking them to click on?” one said. “It’s about five steps too many from poster to listen.”). Apart from being a nice way to splash cash, does physical marketing have any measurable benefit for a podcast? I’d like to know.

Quit-your-job money. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the persistent myth that successful podcasting is accessible to anyone. That piece got a lot of approving responses, and it made me think more about what resources and monetisation options are available to podcasters who are in what I think of as the “in between zone.” By that I mean people who aren’t just making audio as a hobby, but who also aren’t full time employed to create their dream show either. Each episode probably gets somewhere between 15,000 and 35,000 downloads — a lot, but not quite at the magic 50,000 mark that would bring in the big advertisers and therefore the cash that would allow them to junk the day job. I felt like I met quite a few of these people at Third Coast this year, and there was some frustration expressed about the lack of options that exist for audio at this level. It’s related to Nick’s piece about the limited series problem, and I’d like to look into it further.

Decentralising podcasting. This is an easy one: who is making stuff not in the places where everyone makes stuff, and how are they finding it? In the UK, this means not-London; I imagine in the US this means not New York or LA. If this is you, tell me all about it.

BBC Sounds. I wrote a lot about this last week so I’m not going to rehash that again, but let’s just say I continue to be very interested in who is actually using the new BBC audio app and for what purpose.

Communities. I’ve been very grateful for the existence of the UK Audio Network listserv this year, and I know plenty of people reading this owe a lot to other, similar groups. Having spaces to talk openly and honestly about subjects like pay, discrimination and working conditions really matters in an industry that thrives on the use of casual staff. How we organise determines the change we can effect, and it’s good to keep acknowledging and exploring the role that listservs, Facebook groups and group chats play in making this whole thing run.