A quick guide to academic podcasting during a pandemic (part 1)

These are notes for Knowledge, Power, Politics students which I’m sharing in case they’re useful for other people

The easiest starting point when planning a podcast is to identify podcasts which you’ve enjoyed. My favourite non-academic podcasts are QAnon Anonymous (a weird mix of citizen journalism, comedy and real time social theory), Novara media (a range of content from in depth interviews through to current affairs discussion) and the Guardian’s Today in Focus (my interest level varies but I love the range of topics). One of the things I like about podcasts is how they unsettle the distinction between academic/non-academic because they often feature academic experts, theoretical ideas and sophisticated analysis while being produced outside the academy.

A practical difference is that popular non-academic podcasts tend to have production values which won’t be accessible to academics unless they have funding to hire a professional editor. It’s worth stating this at the outset because I don’t think you should be disappointed if your podcast doesn’t sound as good or isn’t edited as engagingly as non-academic podcasts you listen to. It’s important to be realistic about what you have the time, energy and technical skills to achieve. It’s great if you can achieve a high quality of sound but as long as your podcast is a satisfactory experience for listeners then this isn’t essential.

Over the last 10 years I’ve produced 200+ podcast episodes on a range of academic topics which have tended to be listened to between 100 and 1500 times. The audience isn’t huge but neither is the investment of time or energy I’ve put into them. I’ve never presented this as anything other than a hobby and the amount of appreciative feedback I’ve had over the years leaves me confident the audience has received them in that spirit. Here are some recent example of podcast series I’ve produced:

  • The Isolation Pod: a series of 6 episodes with Jana Bacevic about the COVID-19 pandemic and how social theorists were responding to it. Each episode was around 30 mins, with 10-15 minutes of prior discussion to produce a list of topics we were going to cover.
  • Unlocking Lockdown: an ongoing series of first-person audio diaries which reflect on the difficulties involved in adapting fieldwork to the constraints of the pandemic. Each episode is around 15 mins, slowly growing with time in response to a call for contributions on the post-pandemic university blog.
  • Outflanking Platitudes: a theoretical audio diary in which I think out loud on the topics I’m currently working on. Each episode is 10-20 mins and I’ve approached it as an experiment in my research process which I’m going to write about more at some point in the future.

An example you might find inspiring is Cambridge Quaranchats by Simone Eringfeld. There’s a great description here about how this project emerged from Simone’s MPhil work and the constraints which lockdown placed upon it. This is how she describes the many virtues of podcasting:

Podcasts offer much flexibility to the learner, as its resources can be accessed from anywhere and at any time, making this an ideal format for the ‘self-scheduling consumer’. In addition, podcasting differs from radio in its distinguished capacity for corporeal intimacy: they are mostly listened to through in-ear headphones, bringing other voices quite literally into the body. This arguably makes podcasting a re-embodying medium, which is uniquely positioned to promote embodied listening and learning. Furthermore, podcasts have been observed to grow tight-knit audience communities, that encourage active participation through social media, voice message responses, and (in-person) live listening events or discussion groups.

There are a number of question which you need to think about for your podcast. At this stage, we’re only talking about planning the podcast and we’ll have another session on February 22nd (12pm to 1pm) where we’ll explore how to record and produce the podcast:

  • What’s your topic? Will it be your dissertation topic? A theme you agree on with the group?
  • What’s your format? For example an audio diary, a monologue, an interview, a dialogue or a group chat?
  • Who is involved? This is partly a matter of who’s in your group. But you might also want to consider inviting guests, either within the Faculty or outside of it. It’s important you explain exactly what the podcast is for and how their recording will be used. We’ll talk about this more in the second session.
  • How will you record? I’d recommend using the record functionality of a video conferencing platform for the purposes of this exercise. Here are recording instructions for Zoom and Skype. However there’s a further question of what equipment you use to record. We’ll talk about this more in the second session.

We’d like to publish these podcasts as part of a Knowledge, Power, Politics podcast series on Anchor. This is completely voluntary but it would be exciting to share the great work done within the MPhil with wider communities online.

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