Professors on Podcasts: A Rant.

It’s baseball season, thank goodness. So before I get into my windup and start hurling metaphors, let me say that I love interviewing professors on our podcasts .

These learned souls are almost always thoughtful, highly intelligent, and often funny. Their bases are loaded with interesting ideas. Professors understand nuance and are good at reminding the rest of the world (including Donald Trump) that most issues are far more complex, and indeed more interesting, than they first appear.

This is the nature of the human condition, and why it’s so difficult for data experts to design algorithms that take account of all the delightful complexity of human behavior.

The recent rush to judgement over self-driving cars, universal health care and privacy on Facebook are just three current examples of how so many current debates are poorly framed.

Professors have the luxury of escaping from the daily pressures of the business world, taking a long-term view of the subjects they study.

But they are usually different… especially tenured professors.

What is it about one-YEAR sabbaticals? Say what? For the rest of us workers, small business owners, gig economy freelancers, and salaried professionals, a one-MONTH break would be a total luxury.

And try interrupting professors. Good luck with that! The preferred platform for many university lecturers is neither a chat, seminar nor a brainstorming session. They speak from behind a lectern.

Before each episode with a professor on our weekly solutions news show, “How Do We Fix It?” my co-host, Jim Meigs and I do some podcast batting practice.

Jim starts the interview with a very polite warm-up, telling guests what’s about to happen.

“We’re a fast-paced show,” Jim explains in a somewhat professorial, yet almost apologetic tone. “We try to keep the answers to questions to under a minute. We may jump in.”

Sometimes, this approach actually works. We are able to ask lots of questions and enjoy bantering with our guests.

But in many cases, professors, who give “talks”, and “presentations” aren’t entirely comfortable with the back-and-forth of conversations. They’d rather give five examples than three.

But don’t get me wrong.

Before I get too deep in the count, let me say with as much force as I can muster: Academics are among our favorite podcast guests.

If you’re looking for someone to add intellectual heft, who could be better?

And in our age of distraction, we need to listen more carefully and at far greater length to deep thinkers.

Professors know their subjects inside and out. And many are happy to venture forth with contrarian opinions that challenge the dominant zeitgeist.

However, Jim and I agree: among our absolute favorite podcast guests professors who have also spent some time in careers outside academia— in business or journalism. Not only do they know their stuff, these women and men understand bullet points and deadlines. They tend to be both clear and disciplined in their thinking, and have learned the art of sound-bites and relatively short declarative sentences.

If you are a podcaster or broadcast host, before inviting a professor on your show, get ready to step up to the plate and take a few swings at interrupting your guest.

And also make sure you’ve taken some batting practice first. Read their book before you open the mike.

Richard Davies is a podcasting consultant, producer, interviewer and host. DaviesContent makes podcasts for companies and non-profit groups.

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Podcasts: When The Missing Ingredient Is Soul.

If you want to start a podcast, the barriers to entry are low. Good equipment is cheap and there are plenty of smart, simple “how to” guides to get you and your organization in the game.

But what most experts and consultants won’t tell you is that to be successful, your podcast needs soul. You must say something real.

The medium’s intimacy and authenticity are keys to its success. That’s why your podcast has to be three dimensional— not like one of those old Hollywood film sets with nothing behind the nicely painted fronts of stores and houses.

Your host needs should be honest, hilarious or, at the very least, a brilliant faker.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the hit show “Pod Save America”. But what the smart-ass uber-liberal hosts do have is soul. Their mission— delivered with passion and a dose of humor— is to save America from Trump and his fellow travelers by trashing anyone who doesn’t agree with their view of the world. You know where these guys are coming from.

Your podcast doesn’t have to come with a passionate or political point of view. But the hosts must believe what they say.

Millennials— the target audience for most podcasts— come with finely-tuned B.S. detectors. They know when they’re being duped or played.

Bragging or reminding your audience what makes you special simply won’t cut it. Deliver the goods, and do so with the minimum of fuss.

Unlike You Tube Channels, TV or even broadcast radio, podcasters don’t need bells and whistles to be successful. Most listeners start at the beginning and will stay with you for the entire show, especially if the episode is under 25 minutes.

From Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” to “Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard”, top-rated podcasters know that a simple interview format can work just as well as “The Daily”, “Invisibilia” and other intricately-produced programs.

Podcasts are wonderful ways to enhance your reputation as a thought leader or innovator. But when you open the mike, make sure you speak from the heart.

Richard Davies is a podcast host and consultant. His firm, DaviesContent, designs, produces, and edits podcasts for clients.

podcasts are so more than sound without the pictures.

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I’m an audio guy. Always have been.

One of my earliest memories was when I was five, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, loading a stack of orange, green and yellow 45 rpm vinyl records with a big hole in the middle, onto a kids’ victrola that my parents purchased to keep their easily distracted child busy.

The recordings were made by Disney. I still remember those wonderful, cheerful voices and the jingles of Jiminy Cricket, Uncle Remus, the Mickey Mouse Club, Brer Rabbit and many more. A little boy’s imagination ran wild.

Today, as in the days before television, there’s an audio renaissance once again. Millions of people are feeding their brains with a vast array of podcasts and audio books.

They know that listening to voices or music is about so more than closing your eyes and hearing sound without video.

But in our highly visual age of VR, digital billboards, 360-cameras, video games and super heroes — with so much emphasis on how things look — many brands, marketers, advertising agencies, and content producers forget this.

  • They don’t understand that sound can create a world that is just as rich, exciting and vibrant as TV or movies.
  • They devalue the potential of well-produced sound to inspire and motivate.
  • They fail to recognize that many of us often prefer audio to print, websites or video for stories and information.

Commercial radio is full of advertising produced by sponsors who fail to grasp the importance of well-produced sound. Those awful Cars4Kids ads are just one of countless, jarring examples of soundtracks that were produced for TV.

The problem has also spread to podcasting as well-intentioned non-profit groups, companies and trade associations, anxious to grow their reputation as thought leaders, slap together episodes with little respect for what made the medium so popular.

Just this morning after searching a podcast app for something to listen to on migration and refugees, I was subjected to a long and poorly produced recording of a webinar.

No, people!

Re-broadcasting webinars or conferences are terrible ways to use podcasts.

While they don’t have to be up to the excellent, groundbreaking standards set by “The Daily” or “This American Life”, podcast content, production and editing do deserve respect.

The opportunity to spread your message inexpensively with storytelling and interviews has never been greater than it is today. But the way we concentrate and listen to podcasts — usually away from our screens and on our own — is different than when we are watching something.

Thinking of podcasts as sound without pictures doesn’t cut it.

Richard Davies is a podcaster and podcast consultant. His firm, DaviesContent, makes digital audio for companies and non-profits.

Beyond outrage and anger… Solutions. A podcast for our times.

We’re gearing up for another great year with more independent-minded, contrarian guests — kicking off this week with Claire Cain Miller of TheUpshot, the New York Times and economics site.

After all the recent anger and outrage over sexual harassment our podcast team decided to do a show about how to reduce bullying and harassment in the workplace. What works? What doesn’t?

Employers are paying lip service to the need for change, but until now there has been little coverage in the media about solutions and training: how to make this a teaching moment.

At “How Do We Fix It?” here’s our un-resolution for 2018: What we do NOT want is the obvious: opinions you’ve heard a hundred times in other places and podcasts.

We’re fired up about solutions — ideas to make the world a better place, topic-by-topic.

Future episodes this month will include the well-known author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, who explains why pessimism is a threat to all of us. Michael also takes apart the human zest for utopia.

Stanford University Politics professor Mo Fiorina is also on our dance card. He will tell us why Americans are less partisan than many think — Fascinating subject for discussion and debate in this time of political flame-throwing.

Please weigh in with your ideas, responses and suggestions. And if you have the time, spread the word about our show with lots of likes, shares and retweets on iTunes, Stitcher and social media.

Here’s hoping that 2018 will be the best year every for humankind and that more of us will throw our pebbles into ocean of progress.

FixIt: Abolishing Unbelievable.

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We live in an age of hyperbole. “Amazing”, “incredible” and “wow!” are among the most glaring examples of over-used words.

“Great” and “fantastic” are proclaimed when “good” would do nicely. “LOL” has replaced a smiley face, and “thank you” usually comes with “very much” attached, even if the sender doesn’t (really) mean it.

But nothing is worse than “unbelievable”, because in most cases the thing described as impossible to believe actually isn’t. At all.

From play-by-play announcers describing a great catch or a homer deep into the bleachers, to friends and relations talking about the silly things their pets do, we are surrounded by “unbelievable” from all quarters.

Unbelievable is used as click-bait. As in “The unbelievable reasons why your posts aren’t popular” or “The unbelievable reasons dog owners give up their pets revealed.”

The unbelievable number of times that “unbelievable” is mentioned in conversation is part of a larger problem. Simple, plain speech has been replaced by words that often come in CAPITALS or with an exclamation point attached.

We are shouting at each other rather than speaking softly with modesty and simplicity.

The first senior editor I worked for in a radio newsroom decades ago told me to avoid using overly-inflated words. Write in short sentences, using clear and concise language. Watch out for unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, he told me.

It was good advice then and now. (Here’s a good source for writing and speaking tips).

Let’s hope that 2018 turns out to be a year that we can believe in.

Image: Credit Typorama.

Brilliance is Over-rated. Practice isn’t.

Right around the time our first child was born, The Mozart-for-babies craze was at its peak.

The idea was that listening to Mozart’s music – even in utero – would make babies smarter. It was a gimmick by marketers that – brilliantly, of course – played into the belief of many parents that their children were “very bright” or “brilliant.”

As someone who fits nicely into the cultural zeitgeist (more of a follower than an innovator), I was delighted whenever our kids did really well at something, and attributed much of this to their natural intelligence. I thought we lived in a town like Lake Wobegon, where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”.

But as time goes on, I’ve gradually realized that our society’s fascination with genius – and good looks for that matter – is way overdone.

Sure, intelligence helps. But the vast majority of really accomplished people I’ve met owe their success to “practice, practice, practice” far more than anything else.

“There is no doubt in my mind that intelligence is only a fraction of the ingredients needed to be successful,” said Jim Cantrell of the SpaceX founding team, when asked about the widely admired innovator and entrepreneur, Elon Musk.

SpaceX only became successful after many years of years of struggle, and even failure. “Elon did succeed in the end because he never counted himself out. He never gave up. He kept going,” said Cantrell. Musk’s most important element of success was “dogged determination.”

There are countless stories like this. I’m reading about one of them right now.

The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis (the guy who wrote “Moneyball”) is a delightful account of the collaboration and friendship of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their insights about judgement and decision making laid much of the groundwork for behavioral economics. (Richard Thaler, who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics, says both men “changed how we think about how we think.”).

Were both men geniuses? Probably. But on almost every page, the reader is struck by Kahneman and Tversky’s determination and dedication. They stuck at it.

The spark for all those years of hard work was passion. If you’re really fired-up by something, the chances are you will do it everyday. And get really good at it.

I used to wish that our kids would ace the test. But I should have prayed for work ethic instead.

(Years later, I’m enormously thankful that both of our adult children have indeed found what they love to do and spend most of their waking hours doing it. As the years unfold, their odds doing something special are in their favor.)

Richard Davies makes podcasts at DaviesContent.com. He’s the co-host of the weekly news and current affairs solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”

Too Much Opinion. Not Enough Reporting. How Do We Fix It?

This is written in response to a Medium post by Lewis Wallace, a talented, brave and passionate young journalist who worked for the public radio show, Marketplace.  He was fired this week for refusing to take down his post.  The headline was: “Objectivity is Dead, and I’m okay with it.”

I disagree. A reporter’s job is to report, not to tell listeners what to think. It is a humble calling. Reporting is a craft, not an art.

One reason why Trump became President is the narcissism of our time. We all think we’re entitled to yell at each other. That everyone’s opinion is equally valid. It has become acceptable to take a verbal fire hose to those we disagree with.

There’s a place for resistance and protest. But bombast, ridicule and contempt are drowning out respectful disagreement, even good natured argument.

From TV, online media, newspapers, commercial radio and podcasting, there is much more opinion today. Not enough reporting.

One reason why so many people distrust us journalists is our lack of diversity. Not enough diversity of opinion. Diversity of class. Geographic diversity. We must do a better job of listening to those who make us uncomfortable. That includes listening to those who felt that Trump was preferable to Clinton.

The most important pursuit is the quest for truth. But truth can be elusive. This makes our jobs difficult, but profoundly important.

Journalism should strive to be more like science, where good researchers employ skepticism as they try to disprove their theories.

Objectivity may be in the emergency room. But it is not dead. Your view and my view of objectivity will be different. But we should still be searching for it just around the corner.

With respect,

Richard.

How Do We Fix It? No. Never Make a Podcast Unless…

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I’ve been into audio ever since I was a little kid who slapped 45 rpm green, red, yellow and orange Disney discs onto the record player my parents gave me when I was six years old.

The stories, voices and jingles really were music to my ears.

Not long after college, to no-one’s great surprise, I landed my first job in radio. I spent well over thirty years at stations and networks doing the thing I loved.

Last year, with my pal Jim Meigs and producer Miranda Shafer, I started “How Do We Fix It?”– a weekly podcast.  We’re having a fun ride and I feel privileged to meet a lot of great people along the way.  Our 86th weekly show is currently in production.

At its best, podcasting is remarkably intimate and honest – without noisy distractions.  Just you and another human voice in your ear.

Unlike broadcast radio or TV, listeners are the programmers, deciding exactly when and what they want to spend their time with. They give us podcasters their pure, undivided attention. In every way they are our equal – never to be manipulated, pandered to nor shouted at.

Sounds like the perfect environment for a content producer.

But let’s face it: many podcasts are crap – weeds in the ever growing audio jungle.

And not just the two-guys-in-a-garage kind of spontaneous podcasts. Even well-made, sophisticated shows are often way too long, self-indulgent and without a clear purpose.

Your audience is busy and has vast array of audio offerings to pick from.  Many of us listen on the go – in the car or at the gym.  The average American commute time is about 25 minutes.  Most podcasts last at least half an hour. Mistake.

The first don’t of podcasting is never waste their time. Make a show with purpose that doesn’t last quite as long as you – the podcaster – want it to.  Don’t be afraid to slice out a few minutes.

Leave your listeners wanting more after each episode. Also answer this question: “Who is your audience?”

The second don’t:  Forget about making podcasts unless your brand, company or cause already has followers or subscribers.  This medium is a great way to forge deep, authentic connections with your people, but on its own – without a website, blogs and other forms of content –  you won’t make a splash. The only exception is if you’re already famous.  Anderson Cooper, Alec Baldwin, Snoop Dogg or Shaq can operate by their own rules.

Podcasting is special – different from radio and certainly not merely the audio track of a You Tube video.  Respect your audience.

Third don’t: making a podcast “live” or on the fly is rarely a good idea. Edit it and listen with a critical ear.

The fourth don’t is about lack of commitment. While podcast equipment is cheap and the launch costs are small, the process can be surprisingly time consuming. Unless you are prepared to go long and deep with your podcast project, don’t start.

A weekly show may not be necessary. You could release a new series every few months. But whatever the plan of action, successful podcasts require follow through.

Google “how to make a successful podcast” and you’ll get lots of enthusiastic ideas about equipment, theme music, social media and the need for passion. Much of the advice is helpful. But be wary of those who only explain the do’s and not the don’ts of podcasting.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant and program maker. Find out more at daviescontent.com.

 

 

 

How Do We Fix It? After We Smashed the China

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Viewing art helps me take a fresh look at the world.

Painters do it all the time.  They deconstruct the objects, landscapes and people they see – putting them back together again on canvas. Reimagining the world. What a brave and profound thing to do.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would do the same thing with the way we think about politics and culture? Question our identity or tribe. Take a fresh look at the views of those we hang out with.

After the dramatic results of the Trump election, Brexit in the U.K. and now this week the vote in Italy, it’s time for the chattering class to go back to the drawing board – especially those of us who were surprised or deeply troubled by the electoral eruptions of 2016.

Voters smashed the china. We have to find new ways to put it back together again.

That’s the starting point for “How Do We Fix It?” – our podcast about ideas and solutions. Jim Meigs and I are political independents, who listen to many different opinions – especially guests who are able to come up with creative, undogmatic fixes for the problems they’ve considered.

We have a lot of fun doing our show. Playing in the sandbox of ideas.

This playful abstract painting (above) illustrates the point. It was completed in the 1920’s after artist Stuart Davis spent a whole year focusing on three objects on a table – an electric fan, an egg beater and a rubber glove.

He observed them solely on the basis of color, plain and their spacial relationships (at least that’s what I’m told by curators who studied his work!)

These objects became flat plains of color. He mixed things up, creating a fantasy space. This painting – now part of an extraordinary retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in Washington – is the result.

“I see the artist as a cool spectator,” said Davis in 1957. A “reporter in an area of hot events.”

Isn’t it time for us adults to create our own fantasy space? See the world from different points of view? Right now, at the end of this crazy year is a great time to try.

 

How Do We Fix It? What I’ve Learned Since Donald Trump Won.

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I’m one of those damn fool East Coast journalists who was stunned by the results of last week’s election.  I didn’t see it coming.  I thought that we’d elect our first woman President.

So why should you bother to read this? Because I’m listening and learning from others who may be a bit smarter than me.

That includes our podcast co-host, Jim Meigs.

“We have an entire institution of media and opinion who misunderstood the country,” he told me the morning after the election on “How Do We Fix It?” “The sense of anxiety that was out there was not taken seriously.”

“This was the Caddyshack election,” said Jim. “In our popular culture, the idea of rich, sophisticated Ivy League-educated people often is met with a certain amount of resistance and cynicism by people who consider themselves salt of the earth.”

In “Caddyshack” (released in 1980) a brash, vulgar, nouveau riche land developer (played by Rodney Dangerfield) offends all the well-healed, preppy guys at a ritzy country club.  “That’s who Trump is,” says Jim. “People got a kick out of him tipping over the apple cart and causing trouble. They’re responding to a trait in our culture where we tend to distrust the polished elite.”

No, that doesn’t mean most Trump voters are racist or anything else -ist. In fact, Trump got more votes from people of color than Mitt Romney did.  There was no great surge of white voters for Trump.

In the words of George Packer of the New Yorker (his book “The Unwinding” is a must-read if you want to understand what the hell happened), this was a middle-finger election.  A lot of voters – especially late deciders – saw Hillary as elitist and more of the same. Pissed off, they decided to give the other guy a try.

One week before the election in “Bring the Right Wing Into the Mainstream Media,” Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View made the case of more diversity in newspapers, magazines and on the networks.

“The media is overwhelmingly liberal,” she wrote.  “It tends to mirror the left-to-center-left spectrum of the social class from which most journalists are drawn. That affects coverage, which right-wing readers pick up on.”

Most of the bias is subconscious, not deliberate, McArdle argues.  Those inside the castle gates of the Mainstream Media look down on those in flyover country with mixture of disdain and horror.

“Whoever is to blame for the problem, yelling at the residents of the swamp to behave themselves is probably not going to fix it,” wrote McArdle.  “What would fix the problem is if the folks in the castle made a concerted effort to open the doors and persuade some of the swamp-dwellers to move inside. Not just to move inside, but to help run the place, pushing back on liberal pieties and dubious claims with the same fervor that liberals push back on conservative ones.”

None of this is meant to excuse Donald Trump for what he said during the campaign nor suggest that we should “sit and down and shut up” for the next four years.  But right now – at least for the next few weeks – a little humility is in order. First understand. Then act.

And never assume we know what’s coming next.  As Janan Ganesh wrote this week in The Financial Times:  “The only intelligible lesson of 2016 is that William Goldman’s verdict on Hollywood – “Nobody knows anything”, said the screenwriter – applies to matters of state.”