Content Wars: Rise of the Podcast

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People prefer to receive their daily news in different ways. From radio to television, print to Facebook, news stories fill almost every platform. More and more traditional sources are turning to podcasts, the most recent trend in digital news publishing.

Podcasts: New or Old?

Though David Winer developed the medium, and Adam Curry popularized it, Ben Hammersley coined the actual term “podcast” in 2004. In an article for The GuardianHammersley “rattled off possible names for this booming new medium, the ‘pod‘ of podcast is borrowed from Apple’s ‘iPod‘ digital media player; and the ‘cast‘ portion of podcast is taken from Radio’s ‘broadcast‘ term.” The name and the concept took off.

According to International Podcast Day, a site dedicated to the celebration of podcasts,

“A ‘podcast’ is sort of difficult to explain because there really isn’t anything else like it — but rather, many things that are kind of like it. A good starting point, is to think of a podcast as ‘Internet Radio On-Demand.’ It’s similar in that you can usually listen to it on your computer — but it’s more than that. [However, and not to confuse the issue, podcasting isn’t confined to just audio but can be video as well].”

While podcasting shares many similarities with traditional radio broadcasting, two media’s differences allow podcasts to pave their own way in the digital media world. Contrary to conventional radio, podcasts offer on-demand content that users can access any place, any time. They also have the advantage of being “narrowcast” based on individual, specified content for an identifiable audience.

The New York Times and Podcasting

The New York Times, a newspaper founded in 1851, is known worldwide for its readership and prestige. With over 150 years in the field of journalism, the Times attributes its continued success to its ability to meet readers in their everyday lives. I cover more of the changes it has undergone in “Changing with the Times.”

With the emergence of podcasts, writers at the Times saw a chance to reach readers in a new and more individualized way. According to Ken Doctor, when the Times released its first podcast in 2006, “only 11 percent of U.S. adults listened to any podcast and only 22 percent had even heard the term.”

The New York Times uses the advantage of the medium’s niche nature to its advantage, and its shows branch into topics that may not have made it to print before. With series varying from book reviews to pop culture, even love and sex, the Times has truly embraced the culture of podcasts.

The Daily,” one of the most popular series in the Times’ repertoire, touts the motto “this is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week.” Hosted by political journalist Michael Barbaro, “The Daily” began in early 2017 and became a hit within a few short months.

“The Daily” had reached over 100 million downloads by October of the same year. Sam Dolnick, Barbaro’s assistant, says, “we’ve built a flexible enough frame that I think lots and lots of different things can fit inside of it.”

The New Yorker, a fellow New York-based news company, sent its praises to “The Daily” in an article dedicated to the success of the podcast series. New Yorker journalist Rebecca Mead writes that, through “The Daily,” The New York Times “becomes conversational and intimate, instead of inky and cumbersome. It’s a twenty-minute update murmured in your ear by a well-informed, sensitive, funny, modest friend.”

As of 2018, “The Daily” continued to receive over 1.1 million downloads each weekday. Advertisements pay for the episodes, so listeners get access to the show for free, with new podcasts released every weekday.

The New York Times has another major podcast success under its belt: “Caliphate” the company’s series “following Rukmini Callimachi as she reports on the Islamic State and the fall of Mosul.” Its first narrative nonfiction podcast, “Caliphate” takes a look at the War on Terror and asks, “who are we really fighting?” Listeners can find the podcast, along with its transcripts, on the Times’ site.

The Podcast Craze

The Times isn’t the only one impressed with podcasts: Hannah King describes the attraction of podcasting in the Trojan Digital Review. Versatility defines the beauty of podcasts; anyone can make one anywhere. In her article “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?” New York Times journalist Jennifer Miller addresses the idea easy entrance to the medium might be what leads to its ultimate downfall.

“Like the blogs of yore, podcasts — with their combination of sleek high tech and cozy, retro low — are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation,” Miller writes. She quotes host Jordan Harbinger of “The Jordan Harbinger Show” saying, “I love podcasting, and the more shows in the mix the better, as long as they’re done by someone who actually cares and isn’t just trying to get a piece of pie.”

Harbinger goes on to say that the world of podcasting needs “a real conversation that will benefit the audience, not the host.” Through this logic, the Times’ position in podcasting culture will not fizzle out anytime soon. The New York Times has a great tradition of journalistic excellence, and through branching out into the realm of podcasting, it once again secured its spot among the most read, and now listened to, news companies in the world.