Podcasting: Genre-Defining Or Mired In Medium?
Podcasting often gets compared to other forms of media, like TV, radio, or even blogging. But podcasting is messy and tends to spill out of any box that tries to contain it. Is that its superpower or its Achilles heel?
I was watching a comedy special at the end of last week where I heard one of the comedians say a rather poignant thing that I can’t shake out of my head. His statement led me to ask a foundational question about podcasting that seems to change shape depending on how you look at it.
The comedian talked about comedy as a genre. Not an industry. Not a business. But as a genre. A genre that provided him quite a good life, in his case. But in my head, I kept pondering the question: Is comedy a genre?
I get that comedy is the underlying thread that ties standup comedians to comedic actors in movies. It’s the common thread that ties together the writing room of a sitcom as well as those who’ve made a career writing not just funny songs, but only funny songs.
So yes, I think comedy is a genre. But is podcasting?
Podcasting As A Medium
I mostly view podcasting through a medium-shaped lens. All arguments about “what makes a podcast a podcast” eventually come down to the mechanics of media files distributed via RSS feeds. That definition clearly says that podcasting is a medium, since none of the words used speak to the content.
Using that paradigm, we can think of radio as strictly a medium by which radio waves are transmitted through the air to the device that receives it. But as with the podcasting definition, that says nothing about the content transmitted via that medium.
In both cases, it’s up to creators to figure out what to send out over the medium. A group excluded from the definitions.
When I got into podcasting back in 2004, it was as a creator. But I very quickly transitioned to becoming more of a facilitator. Even today, I’m still clearly a creator of content, but most of my contributions to podcasting remain on the facilitation side, which skews my perspective.
Podcasting As A Genre
Can podcasting carve out its own genre? Has it already carved out its own genre and it’s just that “olds” like me missed it?
The similarities between comedy and podcasting break down when you look at it in reverse. While it’s easy to see comedy as a genre, it’s a lot harder to define it as a medium. Yes, you could make an argument that comedy can be used as a way to get your points across, and that might define it as a medium. But I’m not sure I could defend that line of thinking for too long.
To really hold onto the notion that podcasting is its own genera, two things need to be true. First, there needs to be enough differentiation between content provided via podcast and other similar mediums. Second, there needs to be enough similarity between content provided within podcasting itself.
That second part is tricky. I have argued on this program that there's not a lot of overlap between the content put out by full-cast audio drama producers and a series of business-focused interviews. Yes, there’s some technology overlap, but I’m not convinced there’s a lot of commonality in the content.
But I go back to comedy. Is there a big difference between what's happening at a standup comedian and what's happening in the writing room of a television show? Does the creation process of being a clown overlap with what it takes to write humor books? It likely depends on your perspective.
Podcasting As A Perspective-Shifter
I realize most podcasters probably don’t struggle with this question. Which means you likely have an opinion of where podcasting fits, either as a genre or a medium. Sometimes I wish I had that level of clarity and conviction.
My struggles to pack podcasting neatly into a box have always lead me to be the voice of opposition anytime people are trying to organize a group to represent the needs of podcasters. Part of that is a reflex that comes with the job of being a professional contrarian. Anytime the crowd is surging in one direction, I’m compelled to look at the opposite or alternate routes.
Does the medium of podcasting need organization? Maybe. If seen as a genre, would the people crafting that genre benefit from organizing? I’m not sure, and I don’t want this article to dig into that right now. I want to keep it at a higher level.
If there's a message in my madness and messiness of this article, it’s this: some questions don't have single answers everyone agrees to.
And that's okay.
Rather than try to put all of podcasting into a single box, maybe it’s better to just choose your perspective. And then maybe change that from time to time? I’m clearly medium-minded when it comes to podcasting. Perhaps I should work harder at being genre-minded, at least from time to time?
What Podcasters Can Do During The Lockdown
While we’re on lockdown, can I encourage you to increase your R-naught value? No, not by being irresponsible when it comes to public health, but in spreading Podcast Pontifications! I can’t stress enough how much it matters when you tell one person -- just one person -- who is also a podcaster about this show. It makes a huge difference.
You’ve also seen some mixed messages on when we might get out of this mess. Until that happens, I still want to share stories from podcasters just like you. So please, record some audio and send me a link to email@example.com.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.