Five Freedoms: Beginning a Podcasting Journey Into First Amendment Issues

So our latest bit of technological experimentation produced an introduction to podcasting. I like podcasting; it’s a most democratic medium.

Think about it: More or less anyone with a set of headphones and a laptop can produce his or her own podcast, then slick it up and build an audience, aided by the power of Apple’s almighty iTunes. If you are one of the disaffected, crying out for more diversity in media, how can you not embrace the equalizing power of podcasting?    

That’s what I took away from this week’s assignments. While much of what we read and watched tilted toward use of the technology — with good reason — equally essential is recognizing podcasting’s fit in the modern media landscape.

A few words on the technology first. I confess I freelanced (supplemented?) a bit of my learning this week, stumbling on a number of online tutorials and calling in some professional markers … insight from colleagues who work in Audacity-type programs regularly.

Those helped to demystify things. While I am not intimidated by technology, investing more intellectual bandwidth on podcasting was not part of my agenda into my 50s. Then again, Adobe Creative Suite was not part of my game plan as I moved into my 40s. Both skills now seem essential for a media professional eager to achieve.

This was not a simple undertaking for an Audacity novice still attempting to grasp the subtleties of the Nikon D3400 that arrived via FedEx only Friday. Navigating the interaction between four forums – print, camera, Audacity and SoundCloud – aged me a bit. Is there a better way of doing this? I don’t know, but the answer will reveal itself as I grow more experienced in the technology.

That established, let’s return to what I appreciate about this novel medium. It’s true: Podcasting brings the power of audio out of the sound studio and into the hands of a content-hungry public. A quick scan of iTunes and you’ll find podcasts on subjects as diverse as British history, American theater (where Hamilton dialogue seems to rule) and Australian rules football. There are even a few podcasts, about, well, podcasting.

However, I’d like to dedicate the rest of this essay to podcasts on politics and journalism, of which there are hundreds, and which we as journalism educators ought to be most concerned. I scanned some this week and came away alternately impressed and irritated.

As with many emerging media technologies, novelty can trump responsibility. And knowing how to use the technology does not mean we are using it in a manner consistent with best practices. Some of the podcasts I scanned contained outrageous claims unsupported by anything resembling verifiable facts. It brought to mind the proverb: Opinions are like eyebrows; everyone has two.

Certainly podcasters are entitled to their opinions. In many cases, that is what drives their popularity. However, podcasters are not entitled to their own facts.

That’s where we as journalists (and journalism educators) must enforce standards of media literacy that allow our podcasters to use the medium to its best effect.

That is an enhanced priority in our “Fake News” post-factual world, where what is accepted today is debunked tomorrow. Committing to journalistic standards including accuracy, fairness, ownership of errors, and diversity of thought and experience will mitigate the embarrassment of ill-informed opinion — which, if you ask me, is lethal to the integrity of any podcast.

So here we go with mine. If you are a First Amendment advocate, perhaps you will enjoy the insights. Feel free to pass along topics for discussion provided they’re fit for the college students I work with. Thanks in advance.

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