The internet has a bit of a reputation problem, which I assume you’ve noticed. If anyone can publish anything, anyone will, and anyone else at some point may assume that it is true.
Podcasting is a part of the internet and is therefore not immune. My friend Andrew asked a question on Twitter, tagging me and a few other podcasters for our input. Here’s what he asked:
As a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, I love getting into questions about facts and accuracy. Andrew’s question really boils down to this: Do podcast listening apps bear responsibility for the podcasts that they promote to listeners?
And my comment back to Andrew on Twitter was a qualified MAYBE.
If the decision was algorithmic, based on in-app listener behavior, then probably not. If a whole bunch of users on that app are using that app to listen to a show that spews out a bunch of nonsense… well, OK. Assuming the algorithm isn’t being gamed, then that’s an accurate representation of the popularity of that show or episode on that app. There’s not a lot the app can do about that other than removing the show from its directory, and de-platforming comes with its own consequences.
However, if including the show or episode was an editorial decision, perhaps appearing on a list of the best podcasts about baking, then the human that made that editorial decision bears responsibility. And since that human being represents the app, then the app also bears responsibility for the podcasts and episodes promoted to users of the app.
Not surprisingly, I've been thinking a little more broadly about that notion.
With Great Podcasting Comes Great Responsibility
We mere podcasters don’t have a lot of sway in what the podcast app makers do. Some have their own vision. A few seem actively hostile to the advancement of podcasting. And many seem to be stumbling forward with little more than momentum behind them. In my experience, none of them seem to give two poops what we podcasters think.
Regardless of that all-too-unfortunate reality, we bear the same or a similar level of responsibility that we must not shirk.
As podcasters, we have to take responsibility for the guests we have on our show and/or the topics we discuss on our podcast. I fully expect to take some heat for this topic, for instance.
We also bear responsibility for our own guest appearances or contributions on other podcasts. My default answer is to say yes to anyone who asks me to guest on their show. I’m somewhat protected, as my sphere of influence is fairly constrained. No one is going to ask me to share my thoughts on global politics.
And like the apps mentioned before, I think we bear responsibility for the podcasts we suggest to others. I have my list of IHNIs (”I Had No Idea Podcasts could sound this great!” shows). But I don’t always play it safe. Depending on who’s asking for the recommendation and what I know about them, I’m likely to suggest other podcasts that aren’t right for everyone.
Qualify, Promote, Defend
I listen to a lot of weird shit, to be honest. I’m not about to clone my list of subscriptions and share it with the world. Not that I’m embarrassed by my choices. Have you met me?
But me kicking out a list of everything I listen to doesn’t do you or me any favors. Without qualifying, I’ve no idea if you’ll be into the same weird shit as me. And that same thing works in reverse. And it works beyond podcasting.
Suggesting a show to another person without qualifying your recommendation is irresponsible. And no, I don’t think hiding behind “retweets don’t imply endorsement” or “I’m just asking questions!” statements help. That’s weak tea and doesn’t absolve you of responsibility.
It’s a similar situation when you choose to bring a controversial guest on your program, or when you accept the offer to be a guest on a controversial podcast. Those decisions are reflective of your agency. But you must defend your decisions, hopefully in real-time.
When that controversial guest starts spewing nonsense, don’t just nod your head and move on to the next question. You qualified them. You promoted the episode they’ll appear on. Now you need to defend your actions.
When the host of the podcast you agreed to appear upon tries to take the conversation down a ridiculous path, push back! Hold your ground and don’t let them run roughshod over the facts. Defend your position, even if it increases the chance the interview won’t be published.
And yes, if you make a public recommendation of a podcast, prepare to defend your decision from those who didn’t care for it or claim offense. If you qualified the recommendation and they chose to ignore that qualification, that’s on them. But if not, it’s on you.
We need to own our own responsibility and let it spread through all the things we do in podcasting. If enough of us take the same approach, we’ll start to make a difference and encourage others to do the same.
Season 4 Is Coming!
As a reminder, Podcast Pontifications Season 3 will come to an end on Thursday of this week. If you haven't already, please sign up for a PPIYI, Podcast Pontifications In Your Inbox, as I plan on sending out some experimental missives—all text-based—this week and while I’m taking a break from being behind the mic. So yeah, you probably want to get on the list. It’s free!
And if you have been meaning to buy me a coffee but have been putting it off… now is the time. Please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and show me your support.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.