Sparked by the Imus flap this week, NPR remarked this morning that shock jocks and shows with degrading, insulting humor exist because there is a market for it. I found this comment intriguing, from a podcaster’s perspective.
Up until recently, people have only had the choice of what Broadcasters think we want. And given the limited choice of what is available on any given dial or channel, people will migrate to those programs that are engaging, whether or not the “good content” is mixed with bad; people haven’t been able to slice and splice thier perfect program together. I listened to Imus because I loved to hear what people like Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, Howard Fieneman, and others thought about the news they were reporting. I didn’t listen to it for the sophmoric jokes or the locker room humor. I took the good with the bad, and often found myself flipping between channels when things got stupid.
Likewise, I love NPR. I like Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Radio Times with Marty Moss Cohane , Talk of the Nation and Justice Talking. But after Imake my anuual pledge, I also find I need to turn of the pledge drives before my head explodes. Pledge drives are necessary evil to be endured, like Imus’s childish stuff.
The point here is that Broadcast journalism is “one size fits all”. The reason why podcasting is getting more popular, is partially because people have decided they can either create their own idea of the perfect show, or find something that’s a heck of a lot closer to their idea of what they want to hear. Podcasting and videocasting are threatening to traditional broadcasts because they are meeting more niche and individual needs that broadcasts ever could. They are also systematically stripping away audience from Broadcasters, as people who are unsatisfied with broadcast choices can, with a little effort, find something that suits them.
I was struck when the NPR folks, discussing Imus said “He had a big audience, and people wanted to hear that stuff” – but I ask in return, what were the alternatives for similar content? Terry Gross serves some of this “behind the scenes” purpose, but few other shows have this relationship with guests; and of course, there’s always a hestiancy for Broadcast people to appear on other Broadcast shows on different networks- after all, it is a competitive medium. And let’s not forget that many people went on Imus’s show in order to promote their own book projects, shows and other causes- they didn’t go on the show to have a tea party.
I love podcasting because I can hear all about what’s going on in Canada by listening to the Canadian Podcast Buffet; I can get a line on great independent artists by listening to CC Chapman’s Accident Hash; I can have a visit with girlfriends by listening to Mommycast or Manic Mommies; I can even get the inside scoop on Iraq from Alive in Bagdad. My kids love the puppet video blogs like Jigsaw Fanclub. If I need sophmoric stupidness, there’s more than enough of this available as well. I can learn more about podcasting and other cool podcasts from Podcast 411, I can hear writing tips from I Should Be Writing– the point here ebing that there is plenty of independent content that meets all of my interests and needs without ever turning on a TV or a radio.
So, before broadcasters accuse the audience of wanting to watch the tripe they are dishing out, they should remember that for a long time, we had little choice and were choosing between evils. Now, as podcasting and videocasting continue to grow, audiences will have the power to be more discerning and make better fitting choices as never before. This fragments audience and advertisers; yet messages become increasingly targeted to very narrow and engaged audiences.
When boradcasters and “old” media types make decisions about what to put on the air, they have always given us the lowest common denominator. I am always struck by the quality of all the shows on the BBC, for example, even those that do apeal to our sense of silly are significantly better crafted than much of what we see in the US. Yet, the US networks don’t appeal to our more intelligent side- they appeal to our lowest common denominator and the voyeur inside us all. How else can you explain media creatures like Anna Nicole Smith?
As the viewers gradually slip away into the narrowcasting spectrum, Broadcasters will have no one to blame but themselves.