Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.


Michael Anderson didn’t like Ben Brooks’ problems with many tech podcasts:

Ben Brooks has some advice for you tech podcasters out there: up your game to match his expectations or give it up. […]

Haven’t you people ever heard of This American Life? It’s better than what you do so why are you even bothering to fire up Skype? If you don’t have $750,000 and two years to produce an hour-long show, do us all a favour and stick to making fancy coffee and overpriced t-shirts.

Speaking of projecting, was that what he said? Let’s go back and check:

Every time I think “OK, time to do that podcast”, I start listening to some podcasts, and then I quickly fall 20, 30, 40 episodes behind, because really podcasts are largely a pile of shit and they bore the crap out of me.

Well, that’s quite strong, but Brooks clearly said that they bore him.

[This American Life] is the best podcast out there — the scripting, pacing, research, and editing is top notch. The show feels casual, but has enough format, flow, and scripting that it becomes comfortable to listen to, instead of wanting to join in on. I think this is what most people desire to create, but don’t understand why having a casual chat doesn’t create this.

Let’s be clear here: TAL is a show produced by professionals in the radio business who have been doing this for a long-ass time. Its budget is probably several times larger than most tech podcasts, such as those on 5 By 5 or Mule Radio. But, if Anderson were being honest, he’d recognize that most TAL shows do not cost $750,000. That amount of money was notable because it was rare; it is not par for the course. Also, it’s worth noting that the budget for that show was split with ProPublica, and paid for long-term research, surveys, and investigative reporting.

Besides, it is not its budget alone that creates the excellent atmosphere of TAL, or Fresh Air, or most other podcasts produced by bigger companies. It is the combination of great hosts, tight editing, scripted portions, and casual banter. Good editing does not come cheap: someone must either spend the time to learn for themselves, or they must hire someone. But, though this is expensive, it does not cost $750,000.

Far from addressing projection, Anderson seems to be doing so himself:

Ben Brooks has some advice for you tech podcasters out there: up your game to match his expectations or give it up. […]

Now he’s broken cover and laid bare the audacity and arrogance of so-called ‘podcasters’ with the temerity to spend their free time producing entertaining and informative discussions that they then distribute for free.

Ben, don’t go back to posting loads about knives and the NSA; the world needs your courageous conflation of two entirely separate mediums and your attention-seeking flouncing now more than ever.

Yeah, he actually linked to Nelson Mandela’s obituary.

I don’t think Brooks is arguing that everyone else should change their existing podcasts to better suit his tastes. That would be arrogant. That’s the vibe I’m getting from this conversation between Brooks and Glenn Fleishman:

glennf: @benbrooks I realize you are expressing your own taste, but there’s a bit of prescription in there. I don’t listen to, say, TWiT or the rambling 5by5 stuff (I listen to the focused shows), because I don’t have that kind of time. 100,000s do!

benbrooks: @glennf you are absolutely right, there’s tons who listen to it. I just wonder if the “profession” might be more lucrative for all if all shows reached a wider audience because they were less rambling. I don’t know.

I think what Brooks is saying — and perhaps this is projecting, because it is what I am saying — is that the existing crop of tech podcasts don’t interest me. I would be more interested in a tech podcast which had more editorial consideration, a little bit of structure, and some of the rambling tightened up.

There are clearly plenty of people who love the more conversational kinds of podcasts, and that’s fine. Nobody is asking those podcasts to change. I do not take what they do for granted, either: it’s hard work. But podcasting is an interesting medium that feels like it’s stagnating. It needs a kick in the ass. There’s plenty of space for another podcast with more structure, and I’d love to do one.

Maybe there was a little too much in the way of prescription in Brooks’ original post:

So here’s my proposal for making podcasts better: if you want me to spend 1-2 hours a week listening to your show, then you better spend at least that much time preparing for each show.

The tone certainly was as abrasive as anything Brooks has written. But perhaps — beneath the snark, the profanity, and the unpleasant imagery — he has a point. Perhaps the reason this post caused a bit of a stir on Twitter is because it hit on a delicate but pertinent topic.

I don’t have the audacity to tell you what you should or should not listen to. If you are one of the many, many people who enjoy the existing crop of podcasts — as Anderson does — you should keep listening to them. All I’m saying is that the podcasts out there don’t interest me any more, and that I think I know the reasons why they don’t interest me. It seems that Brooks is of a similar opinion.

That’s all.