Do you trust the media? And by "the media," I mean traditional broadcast media. And by "trust," I mean... well, trust. Do you trust them to deliver accurate and relevant information about the world to you?
Now, it kind of doesn't matter what your answer is, honestly. Because it's quite clear that, at least in The States, trust in traditional broadcast media is at or near an all-time low, a trend that has been happening since the 1970s.
What about social media? Do you trust the algorithm-driven platforms to deliver accurate and relevant information to you? Once again, your personal mileage may vary greatly here. Like me, I'm sure that you have a few trusted social media accounts you follow. But collectively, we're all keenly aware that, left to their own devices, the social media platforms we use every single day would serve their own interests far more often than they'd serve ours.
Weirdly, podcasting doesn't follow those trends. When people—again, people in The States—are surveyed, they report rather hard-to-believe trust scores in podcasts. Even going so far as to say they trust the ads and commercials they hear on podcasts because of the transference of trust in the podcasters or the companies behind the podcasts themselves.
To be clear, I'm talking about trust, not truth. Truth is a whole different topic that I've gotten into in the past, and I'm sure I'll dive into again. But for today, we're just talking trust. And people trust podcasts. Like...a lot.
Or perhaps better stated, podcast listeners trust the podcasts they listen to. Much like we rely on a few trusted social media accounts to make our newsfeeds and doomscrolling somewhat more palatable, listeners trust a handful of podcasts to give them what they need.
That trust is more inherent in podcasting largely in part because there's no algorithm behind the scenes deciding what podcast episodes someone should and shouldn't be exposed to. It's also because there aren't multinational media conglomerates vying for their share of a limited set of channels, frequencies, or shelf space on a newsstand.
For those reasons and others like them, podcasting, on the whole, has largely escaped the trust issues that have plagued other forms of media.
But that's changing. And as that changes, the high trust we podcasters have come to enjoy might be eroding.
The Growth of Podcasting's Trust Problems
We're starting to see some of the same scenarios that predicated trust issues consumers have with other forms of media worming their way into podcasting at both the micro and the macro level.
You probably haven't missed the rise of celebrity podcasters or the minting of strong influencer-esque personalities with fast-growing podcasts. Many shows of this ilk grow by pulling in fans from outside of podcasting and attracting plenty of people who already have the podcasting habit. Their growth gets noticed by media outside of podcasting. These shows win awards or get other sorts of accolades and are then deemed worthy of coverage by mainstream media, further elevating their status to the roughly 70% of the population who don't yet consume podcasts regularly.
And heck yes, that's great for the growth podcasting, for sure! But is it good for the perception of trust in podcasting?
If the shows in the spotlight are benign, and if the podcast hosts getting the attention are also benign, then you bet!
Also, we're seeing continued interest from mainstream media as they enter our space not just with a podcast but entire networks of podcasts. Podcasts and networks that leverage the same biases and points of view that are staples of their broadcast content. Which is fine and good. That's a business giving its audience what they want. They've got a right to do so. And we know that oftentimes having a very strong point of view and even some biases make for an excellent podcast.
And then there's the investments—the billions of dollars of investments—pouring into podcasting from other industries and players who want to capitalize on what we've built. Investments that consolidate voices enable more rapid production and further silo the content podcast listeners consume. But those investments also mean a lot more opportunities to get podcasters and people in the business of podcasting paid, which is also a Very Good Thing.
But I do wonder about the cost to the trust podcasting has enjoyed thus far. Maybe that was just a temporary condition?
I hope not.
I shall be back directly with yet another Podcast Pontifications.