You've built a podcasting platform reaching a good-sized audience. Your listeners look forward to your show and are receptive to the stories and ideas you bring forth. So you might as well use that platform to further the causes you believe in, right?
How strongly you agree with that statement may be driven in part by the actions of the opposition to those causes you support. When you look at other shows hosted by idiots from the other side using their own podcasts to spread a message you disagree with, it’s important that you use your show to counter their downright dangerous agenda, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Podcasting and radio share a history. And while it’s true that most podcasters have no experience with radio other than listening, it’s equally true that most podcasters - whether they know it or not - are borrowing heavily from the century of radio that came before us.
Controversy Sells As Much As Sex
Unfortunately, we podcasters have borrowed one of the least desirable (though highly popular) bad habits from radio: highly-polarizing “shock jock” punditry. It comes as a surprise to no one that many of the popular podcasts also take a “give no quarter” approach to covering current events and trending topics.
Given the state of our current divisions, podcasters don’t have to look too hard to find controversial topics to cover on an episode. And given what podcasters know about presenting topics to their audiences from behind the mic, firing off a hot take on a new controversy seems like obvious content for your next episode.
Will your audience love it? Well, given the popularity of polarizing shows, maybe that’s less of a consideration for you. The more “mainstream” your show is, the more likely that a significant number - if not a majority then perhaps a plurality - of your listeners will agree at least somewhat with your hot take.
But still… maybe you have misgivings about this course of action. I know I do. In hindsight, I’m more than a little embarrassed at some of the hot takes I’ve presented or positions I’ve taken on some of the podcasts I was involved in in the past. Sometimes, as happens to all of us, the filtering mechanism of my brain breaks down, resulting in half-baked (usually wrong) ideas spewing out into an episode. That’s not good.
Three Questions To Ask Before You Podcast That Hot Take
It takes a certain amount of self-awareness and restraint to tamp down our anger or desire to set the record straight. But if we’re to be responsible podcasters, we owe it to our audiences to do just that. So write these ideas down on a sticky note and put it on your microphone, hopefully serving a quick sanity check before you hit record on that hot take, podcaster.
1. Is this the truth?
Think about the thing that has you all riled up. Maybe you saw it as a trending topic on social media. Maybe someone forwarded you something that set your blood boiling. Or maybe you found something that paints the other side in a bad (or hilarious) light.
Do you know it to be true?
It’s not enough that sounds truthful. You need to know that it is true. It doesn’t matter how much you want it to be true. It doesn’t matter how well it fits into your worldview. It doesn’t matter how badly you want to spread the message. None of that matters.
What matters is verifiable, objective truth. And the way you make that determination is by verifying the source. Don’t hide behind the “I’m not a journalist” position. You and I carry with us a device connected to nearly every bit of data that ever existed. In two minutes and a few finger taps, you can check the veracity of just about anything. Yes, even breaking news.
And if you think you don’t have time to verify because you have to be first to bring this news to your audience; you’re fooling yourself. By the time your raw audio becomes a podcast episode that shows up on your audience’s mobile device and is finally listened to by your listener, it’s already been surfaced by thousands of more immediate news sources. So calm down, hotfoot. You probably can’t be first to break the news. But you could, assuming it passes the other three tests, provide the most in-depth and interesting analysis. Doesn’t that sound better?
2. Is this necessary?
Just because the story or item that your brewing hot take is based up is objectively true, it doesn’t get an automatic pass. Because, true though it may be, it may not be necessary. Not every topic is right for every show, and that gets more true the more a podcaster has niched-down their content. Moving away from your niche has consequences.
I think there’s an easy test for this question. It’s another question, but it’s one that gives you a clear pass or fail result, though you’re the one who makes the decision. The question?
Does my silence on this topic make me complicit?
In the heads of most reasonable people are countless thoughts and ideas that are never spoken aloud. Please understand that I’m not advocating silence. Again, re-read the question this litmus test is based upon. I concur that there are terrible and egregious actions - atrocities, even - that we might have a chance of solving - or at least improving - if there were more awareness among all people. So If I feel that if I don't say something it makes me complicit, then I will absolutely say something.
But for the vast majority of trending topics, my choosing not to give voice to my hot take doesn’t directly make me complicit. And if it doesn’t, then my hot take isn’t necessary.
3. Am I the right messenger?
If I’ve verified the issue at hand and feel that staying silent would make me complicit, there’s still one final question I need to get a “yes” on before I move forward. It’s a complex question, as illustrated in this rather convoluted sentence:
Do all the life experiences, demographics, genetics, and everything else that makes me me make me the right person to express this hot take?
I’m free to have an opinion on anything. And I’m free to express my opinion about anything. But I don’t have to do that.
So yes, I do think our elected officials ought to pay their fair share of taxes. But nothing or no one compels me to bring my hot take on that topic to my show. And, truth be told, I’m barely qualified to proffer an opinion on the topic. Why? Well, I'm not a politician and have no political aspirations. I'm not a billionaire and am unlikely to ever become one. I'm neither a tax professional nor an economist. So no, I’m clearly not the right messenger to talk about those things on my podcast.
Though we shouldn’t lose sight of empathy. I can lend my support and my voice to causes that don’t directly impact me. Again making sure I answered in the affirmative to the prior two questions, I don’t have to occupy the same socio/economic/demographic/genetics to bring forth an opinion that is in support of the plight others face.
But the reverse is not true. I’m very reticent to take a critical view of plights that do not directly affect me or people I am directly connected to. Cliche though it may be, I can’t be critical of someone else’s problems until I’ve walked a mile in their shoes. And I really don’t want to come off like a clueless old cis-gendered white dude. So no, I’m oftentimes not the right messenger. Simply because I don’t want to come off like a jerk. Not anymore, at least.
Speaking of taxes, my bookkeeper (Hi, Paula!) ensures that I track and report every single dollar of income that I make. Yes, that includes the small contributions some of my most avid listeners make at BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra. So your support actually helps everyone if you think about it.
Over the weekend I finished up a huge project on PodcastPontifications.com that really improves the listener experience. Now you can browse by topics that you care about, with an easy (and much smaller) list of episodes to read, listen to, or watch. If you want to stay focused on, for example, the challenges of making an accessible podcast, all of those are now presented together. Or if you want to better understand the importance distribution strategies for your podcast’s episodes, they are there for you. Or maybe you want to dig into more esoteric topics like ethics in podcasting or self-care for podcasters, they’ve been collected. Or if you’re looking for some unconventional thoughts on growing your podcast, how to make money with your podcast, or the challenges of SEO for podcasts; have at it.
While I did it because I abhor the standard reverse-chronological order of podcast archives, I also did it because now it’s an easy way to share an entire topic with another working podcaster who expresses an interest in a single area. So now instead of sharing just an episode or (way worse) the home page, you can now send them directly to any of the topics listed above and more. You’ll find links to the topics in the navigation bar, at the bottom of the home page, and other pages on the site where they are contextually relevant. So get to sharing!
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.