That podcast bombshell

Ben Brooks, cheerfully making friends as usual:

Whether explicitly stated, or implied, most tech podcasters seek to create “a podcast that allows you to listen in on two good friends chatting about topics you’re interested in”. That sounds great on the surface but in reality I don’t want to listen in on two people I barely know talking about things.

I love posts like this, not just because they’re like dropping a big jaggy rock in a little pond, but also because there’s a definite thread of truth to what he has to say.

Let’s pluck that thread out, shall we? Ben is so right about this:

The who has become more important than the content.

The internet is strewn with podcasts that are nothing more than people babbling aimlessly with very little preparation beforehand.1 The mistake that most of these people make — and by the way, this is not a mistake confined to podcasters — is copying the obvious parts of the podcasts they like. So when they hear Merlin and Dan meander around the subject of bathrooms for half an hour, they appropriate that and think they’re going to record Back to Work. They see the who and think that’s the part to emulate. In fact, what they don’t see — but should be copying — is the preparation, thought and effort that goes into each episode. Because let’s face it, you’re not Merlin Mann.

So yes, more preparation, and maybe keeping things a bit tighter so they don’t go on forever — some self-editing. Those are good goals, and following them will make most podcasts a lot better.

But, and it’s a big but

So there are some crappy podcasts out there. Guess what, there are crappy versions of everything good. Just because you don’t like the cardboard taste of Target-brand honey nut cornflakes doesn’t mean you throw up your hands in the aisle and swear off cereal for the rest of your life.

Don’t hate the medium, hate the message. Because the medium — despite whatever half-remembered snappy phrase is on the tip of your tongue — is not the message.

There are a couple of points in Ben’s post that I think are just plain wrong:

The goal of a podcast should not be that the podcasters enjoy the show, but that the listeners enjoy the show.

Says who? How old is podcasting, seriously? Because I don’t remember the High Priest of All The Internet handing down the rules inscribed on gleaming brushed aluminum tablets. The goal of a podcast is whatever the hell you want it to be. Furthermore, I’d rather the host enjoyed the show to begin with. If the person talking doesn’t like it then who cares about the listeners. Who, by the way, can absolutely vote with their index finger and tap the Unsubscribe button. If you have a podcast with your buddy and ten people listen to it and everyone else hates it: Good For You.

The other disagreement I have is related. I think Ben, and others like him, like to listen to podcasts in a certain way. That’s fine, for them.

Other people, myself included, like to occasionally listen to podcasts in the background. So when a podcast rambles a bit and has some to-and-fro about a topic, that’s good, because it means I can zone out for a minute whilst the garbage disposal is turned on and pop back in without missing too much.

It seems some people see podcasts as a medium solely for Conveying Information in an Efficient Manner. Cool. I think that if you’re looking for that, maybe written materials (or jacking into the Matrix training program) would be better and faster.

The bottom line is this: some podcasts are crappy and lazy, and if you’re a podcaster maybe this is a good time to take an honest look at your show.

If your podcast isn’t good, there’s a pretty good way to tell if you should give it up.

  1. Do you hate doing it?

  2. Does no one listen?

If you answered yes to either of those: you might just give your buddy an unrecorded phone call, or ditch the whole thing completely and go watch a movie instead.

If you’re a podcast listener who hates the podcasts you listen to because they’re terrible, time wasting gabbling? You’re on your own, because there is clearly something very wrong with you.

  1. Me and my buddy Jason even made a single-serving one a while back, called Choice Work. OK, we did prepare for longer than we recorded. But it’s probably still not up to the standards of This American Life.