A Writer’s Guide to Podcasting

Photo courtesy of SXC.

With this post, I’m starting a new series introducing readers to new media tools and venues they may not be familiar with. For the most part, I’ll stick with things that I’m familiar with, but a few of them may require me to learn along with you!

Podcasting is something that I’ve become a lot more familiar with in the past year. I suggested and organized a podcasting series at my day job, and I was offered the chance to co-produce a podcast series with a fellow blogger, Dee Wilcox of Creative Perch.

Why do a podcast?
It already takes quite a bit of work to be a good nonfiction writer, why bother diving into podcasting, too? Here are several compelling reasons, some practical, some philosophical:

  • If you want to work in the future, you will need to understand how a story can be presented across a variety of media–from print to audio to video to social media. Newspaper journalists are learning this one the hard way. Traditional journalism skills now form the core of a writer or reporter’s education–not the whole thing. Podcasting can be done on the cheap and is an easy way to demonstrate you know multimedia.
  • Podcasting improves your presentation skills. The days when you could depend on your portfolio to speak for itself are over. Journalists, particularly print journalists, are not renowned for their self-promotion skills or for their ability to connect with a live audience. Monica O’Brien, writing on her Social Pollination blog, makes the case that producing a podcast that you star in on-air can help you become a more spell-binding presenter:

“Don’t get me wrong, I can get through a presentation with a little practice and a powerpoint.  Most people can, but most also have plenty of room for improvement in their presentations … After some thought, I have concluded that the best way for someone to improve their presentation skills is through new media outlets, specifically a podcast or vodcast.

“The learning curve is steep, but worth the investment; in my observation you can make huge improvements on your presentation skills within 3 to 4 ‘casts.  How?  Well, obviously the practice helps, but there’s something that sets a podcast/vodcast apart from just doing lots of speeches – instant feedback … That’s what a podcast or vodcast allows for, which is why your presentation skills will improve more after a few ’casts than after an entire semester of Required Speech Class 101.”

  • Podcasting allows you to test market your ideas and stories. Britt Bravo, presenting at the February 2009 San Francisco Writers Conference, asserts that podcasting and blogging are ideal vehicles for gathering valuable marketing information about which topics and angles are popular among core members of their audience. In a book publishing environment where authors are expected to build their own “platform” before their book comes out, knowing who likes your work and will return again and again to it is crucial. Who knows? If they like it that much, they might even pay for it.
  • Podcasting forces you to write for the ear! Books that focus on the writer’s craft constantly discuss the need to read your work aloud. Poets, I’ve found, often make crackerjack reporters because they understand rhythm and meter in writing and use it to good effect in their writing. When you produce a podcast, all you have is the spoken word–yours and those of your interviewees–to carry your story along. (You can also use “wild” sound to tell a story, but that’s another post.) My first attempts at interviewing in a podcast required MASSIVE editing of my remarks afterwards–my sources did OK, but I realized that I tend to ask 3 questions at once, instead of one tightly focused one. In an e-interview, this might work, but when replayed out loud, it’s chaos! Later, when I was recording an intro for a podcast interview, I realized that the 1 paragraph “frame” I had created for my program, while it looked good on paper, was impossible for me to record without falling all over myself. Many rewrites and “takes” later, I had a simpler, less tongue-twisting version. Podcasting will make you a more ruthless editor of your own work–for the simple reason that you will have to listen to it over and over and over!
  • It’s possible to make money podcasting. You won’t necessarily be able to retire to your dream mansion, but plenty of people have made money directly or indirectly from their podcasts. Mashable had a great post late last year about 9 business models for podcasting and provided real-life examples for each. In an era when entrepreneurial journalism is on the rise, being able to figure out how to monetize the content you’re producing is a very good skill to have.

Getting started

OK, so you’d like to try to produce a podcast. One of the advantages writers have over many other podcasters is that we’re comfortable with interviews and many of us have a feel for how to organize content, either on the fly or via post-interview editing. You’ll want to lean on those skills heavily as you plan your first podcast.

Laying out the process step-by-step is beyond the scope of this post, but here are a few resources that can help you get there.

How to Create Your Own Podcast – A Step-by-Step Tutorial
About.com Guide Corey Deitz walks would-be podcasters through the basics of podcasting in detail.

How to Create Your Own Podcast With No Technical Knowledge
Deitz calls this guide, updated late last year, “Podcasting for Dumb Dumbs.” But it really just strips out the technical know-how and shows you some easy ways to focus on content and let web-based vendors help you record and produce your show.

Editing for Story
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer of the Speaking of Faith radio show, discusses the art of editing audio to tell true stories on the SOF Observed blog.

CBC Dispatches (Part 2): composing with sound
Second installment of a 2-part series on the Nieman Storyboard blog about the art of radio documentary storytelling. Wonderful tips and examples to help the reader understand how to make the most of the audio medium.

CDC – Podcast Best Practices
Ideas for effective podcasting from the Centers for Disease Control. Who would have thought a government agency would have such good advice on new media?

Podcasting Toolbox: 70+ Podcasting Tools and Resources
This Mashable.com’s guide is fairly old (2007) but so comprehensive it’s worth checking out.

10 Podcasts for Writers Worth Listening To
Dustin Wax of the Writer’s Technology Companion outlines 10 podcasts that either feature writers or are of use to writers who plan to podcast.

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3 thoughts on “A Writer’s Guide to Podcasting

  1. Alan Guettel says:

    Hi.
    Very useful piece.

    There is a Part Three to the Dispatches series on the Nieman storyboard that might offer additional material. There isn’t a link to it from the first two parts. It’s about writing with words, with sound in mind.

    the link:
    http://niemanstoryboard.us/2009/12/04/cbcs-dispatches-part-3-writing-for-radio/

  2. creativeliberty says:

    Thanks so much for the link, Alan! I really appreciate it. 🙂

    –Liz 🙂

  3. […] Writer’s Guide” series. (You can visit the posts I did recently on blogging and podcasting for […]

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