2020 Democrats Debates Will Disappoint. Here’s Why Podcasts Are So Much Better.

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Welcome to the presidential debate season. This evening, tomorrow, and then over 16 long months, several dozen proposed debates will occupy much of the news media’s fevered attention.

Millions of us will tune in, but we may well be disappointed.

Instead of informed, insightful coverage of complex issues and character of the candidates, the debates will reinforce saturation coverage of contests, celebrities and clashes.

Sparks may fly, but don’t expect true illumination. Reporting and analysis will be limited to what were the most catchiest soundbites, who screwed up, and which of 20 Democratic candidates actually stood out?

“After a couple of hours, viewers and journalists can usually only remember a couple of genuinely interesting, unexpected interactions,” wrote data analyst David Byler in The Washington Post. These moments “often get lost” and “fail to really change public opinion.”

Despite the political theater of the debates, don’t expect them to tell us much about the men and women who want to be President.

Voters deserve better than this.

For deeper insights, podcasts may be a much better way to learn about their proposals, intellectual rigor, and ability to articulate how they would navigate many huge challenges that will be faced in the White House.

Some campaigns get it. According to the political newspaper and website, CQ Roll Call, candidate Pete Buttigieg has already appeared on more that 30 podcasts. Additional appearances are expected.

Politico reports that at least a dozen 2020 contenders have appeared on “Pod Save America”, a popular podcast for Democratic voters and political junkies.

“One thing that’s great about podcasts is that it allows for more in-depth conversation,” says Buttigieg communications advisor Lis Smith. “You feel like you’re friends with these guys, you feel like you know them,” Smith told Roll Call about podcast hosts. “You trust their judgement, you adopt their lingo… I don’t remember feeling that way about a TV host or a radio host.”

Elizabeth Warren was interviewed for more than an hour on “The Axe Files”, the podcast hosted by former Obama senior political advisor, David Axelrod. With podcasts, “I explore people’s stories and try to convey to the listener who it is I’m talking to,” he says.

During the two-hour TV debates the candidates may say a few worthwhile things.

But because so many Presidential hopefuls will be on the stage, they will only get about nine minutes each to speak. And “a certain amount of that is going to involve answering the inane questions that the moderators inevitably pose,” writes columnist Paul Waldman.

By contrast, podcasts allow us to go much deeper, exploring who the candidates really are and what are the principles that they stand for. Despite the risks of flubbing the answer to a surprising or insightful question, serious campaigns should jump at the chance to be taken seriously by podcasters.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant at daviescontent.com. He co-hosts “How Do We Fix It?”.

Be Positive When You Send Texts, email, and Make Podcasts: That’s So Much Better Than Saying “No”.

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Podcasting, by its very nature, is an optimistic endeavor.

From venture capitalists and big media firms who’ve poured huge sums of money into risky podcast ventures, to small teams of independent producers, we are all making a big bet that our shows will reach their intended audience.

The enthusiasm and passion that we express for what we do provides fuel for the difficult times and dark days when it’s hard to pay the bills or hope for a better future.

As we search for growth, it really pays to be positive in all forms of our communications.

“Every time I’m writing an email to people that I work with, and I find myself using the word “not” or “don’t” or “shouldn’t”, I stop, look at it, and think: can you re-phrase that in a way that is not about “not”, and “don’t” and “shouldn’t”, and turn it into something positive?” says Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief at Random House and the author of “Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.”

During a long, entertaining, and highly informative interview with Preet Bharara on the latest episode of his podcast, “Stay Tuned With Preet”, Dreyer declared: “Honest writing is a kind of truth telling… Good writing is a kind of morality.”

And so it is with podcasting.

No other medium is so one-on-one. When we listen to a podcast it’s usually just that single voice in your ear. Nothing more. Hosts and producers should choose their words carefully to communicate exactly who they are, and what they want to say. It’s their most vital task.

We live in a time of anger and polarization, when hateful, fearful messaging is amplified by social media.

Don’t copy what may appear to work on Twitter or in the political arena.

As podcasters, our measurement of success goes much deeper than the number of followers, retweets or “likes” that we have. With each episode, we are trying to connect in a thoughtful, authentic way with people who may not have heard us before.

“When it’s in the context of love and grace, and somebody really cares for you, you can hear a lot from them,” former Congressman Bob Inglis told me recently on our podcast, “How Do We Fix It?

“If you don’t care from me, I’m not going to hear anything from you,” he said. “We need to reach people and say: We really like you. We think you’re good.”

Our industry is growing all the time, and changing fast. Facing others with a smile on our face and hope in our hearts is a necessary way to stay focused and balanced when things get crazy.

Richard Davies is a journalist and podcast consultant. He makes podcasts at daviescontent.com.

Listening Numbers Are Booming, But Even Spotify Doesn’t Know If It Will Make Money From Podcasts.

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I’m a bit old school. While podcasting occupies much of my time each day, a long-established habit of slowly leafing through the pages of newspapers continues to be a source pleasure. Print discoveries are made without digital nudges from algorithms.

Among my favorite finds last week was in the “C-Suite Strategies” section of The Wall Street Journal and a surprisingly revealing comment by Spotify CFO Barry McCarthy.

Asked by a reporter “why is podcasting an important medium for the company to expand into?”, McCarthy answered: “It remains to be seen whether or not it becomes an important medium.”

Huh?

His company spent approximately $400 million this year on three podcasting firms, in the expectation that these investments would increase Spotify’s growing subscriber base.

As more people discover the many rewards of podcast listening, many content producers and distributors are allocating a growing part of their media budget to podcasting. And for good reason.

“Frankly, if Spotify didn’t get into podcasts it would risk losing share of the audio listening market to other platforms,” said a recent post by the financial advice site, Motley Fool.

Despite soaring revenues from music subscriptions, the fast-growing streaming giant operated at a small loss during the first quarter of 2019 and for all of last year.

Podcasting is a big bet and McCarthy admits that “there’s a fair amount of uncertainty” about whether it will have a positive impact on profitability, “which is probably troubling to investors.”

Assuming that consumers will pay for podcasts that have, until now, been free may be a risky investment. While the most popular shows reach hundreds of thousands of listeners, most expensively-produced podcasts don’t make a profit. And compared to other media, podcasting’s share of the advertising pie is slim indeed.

One industry projection forecast that by 2020, U.S. podcast advertising would grow to $659 million, while in 2018, radio ad sales were $17.8 billion.

Overall digital advertising revenue last year surpassed $100 billion!

The numbers beg the question: How well-deserved are big podcast investments by venture capitalists and others? Will millions of listeners pay for monthly subscriptions to Spotify, Luminary, Pandora and other platforms?

While podcasters celebrate expanding opportunities, growing media coverage, dazzling new shows and a steady rise in consumer acceptance, the industry’s producers and investors must broaden their horizons.

“Some fear that podcasting has become a community talking to itself— a coastal thing like electric scooters and avocado toast,” wrote Gerry Smith in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Yes, the pod potential is huge. But competition is increasingly fierce. Obstacles remain. A little more caution and humility may be in order.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant, media coach and former network radio journalist. His weekly solutions journalism podcast is “How Do We Fix It?

Why we listen to podcasts and what makes them different from radio and other forms of communication.

Podcasting is now mainstream and has just moved into a new phase. Let’s call it the 2nd Wave.

While most media content producers no longer need convincing that they should be doing podcasts, they’re also starting to realize that this medium is unique and that they don’t know how to make them.

Unique how?

– We’re the blue jeans medium: the most informal and intimate delivery system for compelling emotions and thought. Storytelling can take its natural course.

– Unlike video, ideas are delivered pure and without the distraction of a host’s unfortunate dress sense, wrinkles or bad teeth. There’s just that voice in your ear.

– Unlike radio and TV, which is often on in the background, podcast audiences aren’t usually distracted and don’t “tune in”. They’ve sought out your show, and are listening carefully at a time of their choosing. Parts of each episode may be replayed. Intimacy squared.

– Podcasts offer listeners more control. Episodes may be replayed. Many people listen on earbuds, encouraging a deeper connection than listening to the radio a speaker. The best podcasts are not passive and they often require listeners to bring something of themselves to the experience— their imagination and curiosity.

– Podcast hosts don’t have to “re-set” and remind the audience what they’re talking about. Listeners don’t tune in half-way through. They start each episode at the beginning, allowing for a more linear narrative.

– Unlike radio shows that have to conform to the clock (typically 25 or 50 minutes plus pledge breaks and newscasts), podcasts have no scheduling or timing restraints, and can vary in length. Episodes can be produced daily, weekly, monthly or in seasons.

– Podcasts can be made and distributed without the approval of an executive editor, radio program director, or some other gatekeeper. Many shows are produced at-home, without the need for expensive studio equipment. Creators have more freedom.

– While some podcasts are made with big budgets and are highly structured, with multiple layers of ambient sound or music, there is no single formula for success. This lack of established rules allows for a greater range of voices and subjects.

– Unlike broad-casts that must appeal to a broad audience, podcasts can target a much smaller slice of the population. With social media, hosts and producers have a direct dialog with listeners and can truly find what their audience wants to hear.

– Unlike radio, podcasting is rarely live. That may be a disadvantage, but many episodes are evergreen and have a long shelf life.

The requirements of doing a distinctive podcast require a different set of skills than its closest cousin. After decades in radio, I had to un-learn a great deal when we began podcasting during the 1st Wave in 2015.

“Serial” had just taken the world by storm, and the for the first time, many people had become dimly aware of online audio and were asking “what is a podcast?”

Over the next four years, as audience numbers zoomed steadily upward, almost everyone jumped into production— from individuals and celebrities to media giants, consumer brands and non-profit foundations. The result is a great big, glorious mess.

The 2nd Wave has arrived and to be successful at podcasting, producers must know why it is indeed like no other medium.

– Richard Davies is a podcast host, consultant and producer. DaviesContent designs podcast formats, edits and helps clients make excellent audio content.