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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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.

Father’s Day Thoughts: Time to Celebrate and Say Thank-You to Our Kids 

  

When I was young I  had a hard time smiling for the camera.  Mug shots of me were awkward and uncomfortable.  

But that quickly changed when our daughter Kate was born 29 years ago.  It was as if a light bulb went on.  For some magical reason that I will never understand, now that I was a father it was much easier to smile at will. 

This was one of the countless gifts that my kids gave to me.

Fast forward to this year.  Now that Kate and her brother Harry have started their careers, I’ve had the chutzpah to re-launch mine.

After decades of a pretty rewarding job and a regular paycheck, I started an audio business, DaviesContent.  My kids are both working for themselves, and now I am to.

They’ve taught me about patience (something I don’t have much of), added to my rudimentary understanding of technology, and  helped me understand that if you’re going to have a chance of being successful at being your own boss, you have to be remarkably persistent.  That means seeing things through one project at a time, and one day at a time. 

Publicizing and launching our new weekly podcast show this month, How Do We Fix It? and finding an audience for it is a struggle.  The darned thing never goes away. I feel possessed!  But watching and learning from my kids has added to my confidence and determination that this will be a big success.

And I’m far from alone. Many other baby boomers are also launching grown-up startups.  They have the audacity to put themselves out there, re-discovering the passion that they had when they were young: doing something new, and perhaps making a difference.

Like me, many other fathers have watched their gutsy,determined adult children as they knock on doors and learn new tricks in a rapidly changing and uncertain job market.

We really can learn from them.

For me , Father’s Day is not just a celebration of Dads, it’s also a chance to reflect on what our children have brought to us.

A Brand New Journey: From Network News to Startup

April 10, 2015. My final daily newscast at ABC News Radio

29 years as a network radio news correspondent is enough. The clock has run out on my oath of impartiality.

During my time at ABC, and before that at RKO, CNN, the BBC, IRN and LBC, (why are most networks acronyms?) I took that oath seriously, and was lucky enough to be a eyewitness to history. I covered presidential campaigns, foreign wars, OPEC conferences, the near collapse of the financial system and two royal weddings.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall in the heady days of November 1989 to the streets of New York on that dreadful morning of 9/11, I tried to be as fair and as objective as possible.

Now I’m free to say what I think.  And I have a lot to say in this blog and on the radio.

You will disagree with some stuff, but hopefully I won’t be blowhard.  We have more than enough of that already. No one is right always, and if my time as a reporter has taught be anything it is that all of us are at least somewhat flawed and a little bit foolish. 

What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises,”  the great New York Times correspondent John F. Burns wrote last weekend in a retirement column summing up what he learned while reporting from “some of the nastiest places in the world.”

Unlike John Burns I made a lousy war reporter. The things I carried back included a view that a measure of ideology is vital for any democracy.

But I passionately agree that “it can be depressing beyond words to hear the loyalists of every political creed – whether of the left of of the right – adopt the unyielding certainties common in totalitarian states.”

Wisdom can be found in unlikely places. But our public square has too often become an echo chamber for narrow, angry rhetoric.

The internet was supposed to open us up to a vast array of new information sources.  But instead most of us have used it to retreat into our cozy cultural bubbles.

It’s time to listen with respect to those who make us uncomfortable. Successful business leaders and entrepreneurs know this already. The chattering classes are lagging behind.

This may be hopelessly wrong, but I believe the marketplace for snarky, rigid, and negative rhetoric has reached a low water mark.

I’m setting up shop as a solutions guy.  A podcast called “How Do We Fix It?” will be launched next month and a talk radio show may follow. As I said at the end of my last newscast at ABC, “thanks for listening.”