Why Podcasts Should Be Scripted…

I decided that I needed to become more familiar with podcasts and try to find a few that were worthwhile. I did a search in iTunes on education and technology and picked off the list. One I chose sounded familiar: Edupodder. The episode I listened to was a discussion of what a new media journalism class would look like. There were interesting ideas about how technology and online resources might be used as well as discussion about how the new media is influencing the old media.

On that last point–specificallly the relationship of traditional media outlets like The New York Times to new media such as the web–I think we as technologists should be careful making sweeping statements about which media will survive this transition. For instance, one speaker in the podcast seemed to feel as though aggregators were making newspaper such as the Times or The Washington Post obsolete. We would just go the Google News to get our news. But he has forgotten that Google News is not a new generator. They have no journalists on staff. No paid photographers. Instead, they simply organize the output of the news outlets in a new way. But they rely on those news outlets to provide content. Without the traditional media outlets supplying content, Google News would have nothing to display.

The major point of this post is to comment on one of the participants’ well-meaning but somewhat patronizing speech right at the end of the podcast about who would really benefit from more online learning.  I’ll begin by saying that I agree with his essential point: offering education online makes it accessible to lots more people.  If I take a more critical stance towards the vocabulary he uses to make that point, however, I am struck by his real lack of understanding of the lives of other people.  Here’s what he said that gave me pause:

“I do believe in educating the masses and there’s a lot of people who for whatever reason that can’t make it to class. Single mothers and stuff like that where they would have to take off work to go to class or like they’d miss picking up the kids and stuff. Now when they get home from their three jobs and picking up 20 kids [at which point there is laughter in the background] and making beds and all that stuff. But they can stay up late and at their leisure whenever they want look at it and take the information. I think that’s the greatest part about sites like Wikipedia. You can just get lost in your free time and then have this base of information that you learned.”

I was struck first by his sincere belief in “educating the masses.”  What does that mean in the 21st century?  Aren’t we all part of the masses?  Or are the masses those people who don’t have the luxury of sitting around a pizza parlor in San Jose ruminating on the future of education?  As I said, he’s certainly right that online educational opportunities would expand educational access to traditionally underserved populations.  (Is that just a fancy way of saying “educating the masses”?)

He did give us a glimpse of the masses he is taking about: “single mothers and stuff.”   I laughed out loud when, after painting a picture of this overworked, child-laden woman, he suggested that she can get online either “late at night” or “at her leisure.” Most likely, these two are synonymous, and our anonymous working mom would find it a challenge to set aside time to go online even if she could do it “whenever she wanted.” It takes a certain amount of either free time or the support of an employer to pursue educaiton whether face to face or online. The speaker here has a rather cavalier attitude towards this woman despite his best wishes for her future. It’s also interesting to me that he makes the assumption that this woman has a computer and Internet access.

So, one of my first impressions of podcasting–certainly a “new” media–is a rhetorical one: extemperaneous speech reveals cultural stereotypes and assumptions. The power of podcasting is the ability to capture that speech–the speech of individuals–and analyze it for these cultural revelations. Here we have a snapshot of the “single mom,” exaggerated but certainly arising from a particular shared definition. The speaker, however, only has a superficial notion of the reality behind the definition.  His speech reveals his cultural biases.

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