Where now for podcasting?

Piaras Kelly raises an interesting question about the future of Podcasting in his latest blog, that which was so hyped in the year almost gone.
Like most new creations that receive massive hype, Podcasting, while constantly growing, has failed to prove itself as a challenger to the throne that Radio has held for so long but was it ever really a threat?
Going back to the point I raised in a previous post about social media and citizen journalism, podcasting is more likely to become a tool of traditional media rather than an enemy. In fact it already is, at this minute 7 out of the 25 top podcasts for today on the iTunes chart are regular radio shows, and that chart includes video podcasts in it too.
What Podcasting offers, like blogging, is a way for anyone to get their views heard or get their hobbies discussed online. This isn’t re-inventing the wheel it’s just making it easier for the public to use it. For one thing, podcasting didn’t make home recording equipment cheaper, the general music market and technological advancements did.
2006 will be an important year for Podcasting, though. This coming year is likely to decide the fate of this new tool, will it be a flash in the pan or will it fade away once the buzz has passed. There is an awful lot that Podcasting has to offer that hasn’t been exploited yet, as Piaras himself points out. The fact that big radio companies had adopted the idea was a great boost to the movement at first, but now it threatens to stagnate the whole podcasting industry by making it no more than a TiVo system for radio. What podcasting needs is innovation. Ricky Gervais’ podcast has helped bring attention to the new way of thinking and is a baby step towards positive growth. Gervais’ podcast is something that you cannot get anywhere else, but that the general public actually wants to hear. It has proven that non-techwise people are happy to try podcasting when there is something new to experience. Why don’t, for example, existing radio shows feature podcasts of extended interviews, or entirely new content that couldn’t be aired due to time restraints or watershed issues? Imagine listening to your favorite current affairs show and knowing that an interview was cut short because it had to fit into a designated time slot; wouldn’t you be delighted to be able to listen to the whole thing? Howard Stern has recently agreed to a multimillion dollar deal from Sirius satellite radio so he can air his shows without FCC interference, but what about those shock-jocks that can’t command such a contract? Couldn’t they air an unfiltered version of their show online?
There will never not be niché podcasting, the low cost means that shows can command tiny audiences and there will always be people who are happy to work on such shows for free because of their passion. It is vital, however, that the big players use Podcasting to its full advantage to ensure the evolution of the movement and to ensure that they are drawing in all aspects of the market. If the general public become more acquainted to the term Podcast it will be easier for the amateurs to get access to people and places that would have ignored them before. The longer radio stations feature podcasts as a throw-away side bar feature of their operation the harder it will be for the hobbyist ‘casters to gain credibility for their art.

Frank Connolly and his trial by media

For those of you who don’t know the situation regarding Frank Connolly and Minister Michael McDowell, Gavin’s Blog sums it up quite well here.
As it stands neither side of the argument is without fault. Frank Connolly has refused to say where he was during the period that the accusations are based, saying that once the DPP forwards a case against him he will state his defence. Michael McDowell on the other hand has admitted to passing on information to an Irish Independent journalist but has said that this was in the public domain anyway. He has also faced criticism for biasing any possible case and using his Dail Privilege to avoid any legal action under libel laws.
As the dust settles on this situation, for the time being at least, the real consequences of the whole incident become apparent. It is at this point irrelevent that Michael McDowell has taken advantage of his position to attack Connolly. While it is important to find out if this attack was personal or really in the interest of national security it is not something that can be addressed until both sides decide to come clean, something that is unlikely to happen. What the Minister has undeniably ensured, however, is that Frank Connolly will never have to face a judge to answer these accusations. While no case was imminent any future evidence will be useless unless it is so damning that Connolly is forced to admit guilt. While McDowell has done no worse than some Journalists in making this information public, he has still broken the rules of his job. Journalists are expected to unearth the truth and bring matters of public interest to the public. Ministers are supposed to act on the behalf of the public and in their best interests; making that information public may have been the right thing to do for the public but it wasn’t his job to do it. If he wished to act as a source to a journalist that would be his decision, many ministers have and will, but he has taken it upon himself to make the claims.
So, be it his intention or not, McDowell has now forced a trial by media upon this case. Newspapers and other media outlets are printing the comments (or lack thereof) from both sides and the public are now forming their opinions. Depending on their political persuasion or choice of newspaper their opinions may be altered somewhat but eventually a general viewpoint will be formed in favour of one side or the other.
With enough public pressure either McDowell or Connolly would be forced to resign their position, or at least face a future of mistrust and derision; as it stands the forums are alive with debate surrounding the controversy.
So in the greater scheme of things what does this mean? Well it ensures that no fair trial will ever be heard, the fate of both men could rest on a journalist with a bone to pick or on some other unaccountable outside influence. It makes the court system somewhat of a joke as McDowell has escaped any penalties for his comments and Connolly has escaped any possible legal action against him. As clichéd as it is to say this, nobody comes out the winner and everybody loses something.

Sky News Ireland to simulcast on Sky One

Digital Spy has a short piece on the decision by BSkyB to drop the Malcom in the Middle from its daily 6:30 slot on Sky One and replace it with Sky News Ireland which will broadcast alongside itself on Sky News.
There has been nothing but negative rumours floating around about Sky News Ireland since it launched a year and a half ago. Naturally, Sky have been quick to dampen any suggestions that the venture was a financial disaster but this move seems to be more of a desperate scramble than a wise capitalisation of a market.
In Ireland anyone who has Sky One also has Sky News, and so would already have a choice between the two. This move effectively turns regular Sky One viewers away from the station for a half hour and runs the risk of not getting them back.
In October gone Sky News, and thus Sky News Ireland, underwent a revamp with a higher focus on non-news programming such as Eamon Holmes breakfast show Sunrise and Lunchtime Live which focuses on human interest pieces and in studio interviews. The Sky News Ireland bulliten was pushed back to the 6:30 slot, almost certainly as an attempt to poach viewers from TV3 and to a much lesser extent RTÉ One.
The 24 hour news battle has been rather intense in the last year, with ITV News being the major casualty of 2005. BBC News has taken advantage of the feature-driven move by Sky News and has given more focus to Breaking News, something it had in the past encouraged against for fear of misinforming the public.

The future of print

Recent talk over on Slugger got me thinking about the future of newspapers in Ireland. It is a long argued point that ever since the advent and growth of the internet traditional media, particularly print, was destined to die out.
This argument isn’t confined to the last decade, though. With the creation of every new medium it is assumed that space must be made and the older incarnation will inevitably make way for the new. With radio many felt that print was past its peak. With the widespread adoption of television radio, cinema and newspapers were all given rather premature late rites. Now, with the internet it seems as though the same fears have been dug up. So is print due to die out? Well it will die just as much as radio will from podcasting, or television will from video streams.
Firstly, people will never grow tired of newspapers. They’ve managed to prove their worth in the face of 24 hour rolling news television for over a decade now and Dublin alone has seen a new publication appear recently, and the mutation of another existing paper into a new entity. On top of that Ireland will be getting its own Irish Daily Mail soon, which would suggest that the market still exists for growth. Newspapers are now a place to get the whole story and not just snippets that Sky News throws at you as they find them. They’re also a place for comment, opinion and investigation, something that the fast pace of TV, radio and online news doesn’t have time or need for. Even as laptops and PDA’s grow in popularity, and 3G phones and wifi networks offer more and more opportunity for people to keep up to date on the go it still fails to offer a genuine alternative to the humble paper. I personally hate reading for any length of time on a computer screen, and would find it even harder if that screen was only a few inches wide and long.
One thing that will ensure the survival of the newspaper is this point; think of all the news websites you visit in a day. How many of those don’t charge you to read the content? A lot I’d assume. Now, how many of them are not tied directly to an existing newspaper, radio station or TV channel? Not many. If there are any left, look into the background of them. Breakingnews.ie would be an example of a free website that isn’t directly linked to another outlet, but even the smallest amount of searching will show that it is in fact the news source for the Irish Examiner website and is owned by Thomas Crosby Media; which holds the Sunday Business Post as well as many regional newspapers in its stable.
My point is that if The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner were all to close down tomorrow, would you expect to still get news from their respective websites, even Ireland.com which charges a fee?
There is no denying that newspapers in Ireland and across the world need to adapt for the future, and that doesn’t involve free DVD’s or CD’s. It may mean taking a new direction in editorial policy; more investigation or comment, more ads and fewer journalists. Perhaps regional and local newspapers will grow in popularity, just like local radio has begun to chip away at national listenership. Or perhaps the new freesheets are the first step in something that will eventually dominate print, free and snappy news for people on the go.
As for citizen journalism and blogging, this isn’t really a threat to newspapers; if anything it’s of benefit. Blogging is likely to be the new breeding ground for reporters and commentators; it could be because a newspaper hires a blogger they like or because a blogger gets a post of theirs published or even because they enjoy blogging so much they figure they could make a career from it.
No one can claim it’s going to be an easy ride for print media, but it’s certainly not going to be its last stand either. It is possible that newspapers as we know them will become a thing of the past, but the industry by its very nature is always and must always be evolving. Fletcher is right in taking a positive approach and seeing this an an chance to grow rather than choke and it’s something that should be realised across the industry.

Where to start in the Irish Media

Below is a 10 step guide to help you find your way into the Irish media.
I would like to point out that I speak as an outsider as I have not yet made any serious attempts to get my career started; these are just general tips that I’ve picked up on my way and most are generally common sense. They are certainly things that I will be working by when I finish college in just a few months time.

Know what you want.
The word ‘media’ is a pretty vague one, especially in this age. It could mean print, radio, television, online, film, music or a bit of everything. Once you pick a category there are then numerous sub-categories to look into; comment, fact, news, current affairs, fiction, light entertainment etc.
In other words, don’t just plan on getting into the media, plan on getting into something precise, the more exact the better. If you want to be a reporter then you’ve made a start, but if you figure you want to be a court reporter you’ll have a much better starting point. You’ll know what skills you’ll need to perfect and what ones you won’t use quite as much.

Be multi-skilled or die.
A slight contradiction on the above suggestion of specialising, but do your best to have as much ability as possible in as many fields. If your specialty is Irish politics that’s fine but be prepared, especially in the early years of your career, to be doing a bit of everything else. Basically in journalism you have to be (or be able to pretend to be) an expert in everything. Keep track of as much as you can in the world. If you get a chance to write a story, don’t be an idiot and reject it because you don’t know enough, accept it and then become the expert you need to be to write it.
Also, nowadays journalists are expected to do more than write and/or present stories. Reporters in TV3 News have to research, write and report a story and then edit it for broadcast themselves. Why would a cost-conscious company hire two people to do a job that one committed person could manage alone?

Don’t swallow your pride, just send it on a short vacation.
That’s not to suggest you become someone’s slave or that you sell your soul for a crappy story, just don’t turn your nose up at jobs you feel are beneath you. Basically, the harsh reality is that in the beginning there is nothing you’re better than. In other words, you might be the next Robert Fisk but until you can prove that to the station/paper you want to work for you’ll have to lower your standards.
See this kind of a move as a stepping stone. No (or very, very few) media workers started out in their dream job, they all started in some low paying rag or sensationalist boob-laden excuse for a publication. Once you do get that crappy job though, don’t forget to keep looking up. Your pride and plans are still there, and now you can work your way to them with greater ease.

Bombard them.
Most Irish (and I assume international) media outlets don’t really care what your CV says or what degree you have (although it does help), they want to see what you can actually do. So you wrote a commissioning letter and never got a reply, or sent in a request for work experience and got rejected? What now? Leave it a year and try again? No, send them another one, and another. Send letters and e-mails to as many stations or publications as you can. Request work experience, write articles for them, try and get them to buy a story from you. At worst they’ll remember your name, at best they’ll eventually see some promise in one of your pieces or you’ll hit a story that they haven’t covered yet. This is not like a regular job where you apply, get a rejection letter and move onto the next shop/office. Get used to rejection and learn to learn from it.

Prepare to work for dust.
Work experience is a vital aspect of media work. From an outlets point of view it makes sense; get someone eager in for free, they work their asses off (hopefully) and if all goes well you’ve found yourself a useful future employee without having to go through the pointless interviews etc. At worst they realise you’re a waster but have spent nothing finding out. For you, it’s not ideal but it is the most sure-fire way into a good job, assuming you’re a good worker.
If you do get work experience do everything you can to get your neck in there without being a pain. You might be on tea duty for a week but do your best to get involved everywhere. Offer your help or services, if there are team meetings, give opinions or suggestions and show that you have the ability to follow through on them. Even if they aren’t interested in hiring you, at least you’ve made an impression and perhaps gotten some useful contacts for the future.
Oh, and ask for work experience well in advance; the bigger outlets don’t just pick people up, they usually interview for placements months ahead of time. If you get rejected and are told they already have this years workers, re-apply for the next available placement.

Know people.
Knowing people in Ireland is very useful. If you know the right person you’re certain of a good job no matter how moronic you are. Sadly this is more true in the Irish media than anywhere else, but all is not lost. Ireland is such a small place you’re bound to know someone who knows someone who can help you. You don’t have to know an editor or reporter, just someone with a story. Everyone comes across great stories every week, if you’re looking out for them you’ll see for yourself. Sometimes these stories just lead back to idle gossip or maybe you’ll find yourself stonewalled by the people you need comments from, but eventually you’ll find something. Keep your eyes and ears open for ideas, we’ve all heard human interest pieces in our time that wouldn’t bother you but would probably sell well. It might only take one good friend of a friend to do it.
This also goes back to the idea of writing stories constantly. It’s great practice but also you’ll soon hit something the traditional media hasn’t caught yet. I’ve seen so many examples where a story turns up in The Irish Times a week after I spotted it online or elsewhere, but it never occurred to me that I might have read it before another reporter or writer had. The worst you’ll get is a no, or nothing at all.

Get some balls.
One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome has been my hesitance to go out and get something. It’s a nervous reflex that must be destroyed if you want to get anywhere. For example, be willing to hassle politicians. If you need a comment from them, keep at them. They’re not going to get back to you too quickly (they might genuinely have something to do but besides, you’re a journalist and that them suspicious instantly). If a secretary that they’re busy but will be in touch, accept it, but don’t sit back all day waiting. Get back in touch and prepare to look like an impatient asshole, once you get what you need. The trick is to know the balance. Some places will be nothing but helpful, others won’t, naturally the ones that stand to lose the most from a story will be the hardest to pin down.
Besides that, be willing to bug editors, even if you think your idea isn’t a great one. It doesn’t have to be world changing stuff, just something worthy of publication. It might be a small 200 word article, but so what? It’s a start.
Don’t let nerves put you off. If you’re trying to get a comment from someone and you know they’re going to be hostile, suck it up. Unless you’re dealing with some very dodgy people the worst you’ll get is some verbal abuse or some rude and short reply.
Don’t be nervous to approach people when you need to, just don’t be stupid about it (or insensitive, depending on the story).

Get educated.
It’s true, you don’t need a degree to get into journalism but like most careers you can’t go in there with nothing behind you. You are expected to write to a high standard, so get yourself there by whatever means. I still have a lot of grammatical work to do with my writing but at least it’s something I know needs improvement.
Don’t buy into the idea that a degree is a waste of time, it’s just that most degrees in media don’t give you a full understanding of what you’re getting into. I still don’t know what a real newsroom is like and I’m due to get my degree in a few months time (all going to plan). A degree is only pointless when you refuse to, or are somehow unable to transfer what you have learned into a real world situation. In my opinion people who don’t get anywhere in the media after a degree didn’t really want it enough (not to sound harsh, I know it’s not easy at the best of times, but I’m referring to people who just give up after a month looking for a job or working in something less than their Utopia).
That isn’t where the learning ends, though. When writing for a newspaper you must know who is going to read it. Learn to adjust your style for each story you write, depending on who you plan to send it to. The Sun won’t want something wordy and The Times won’t want to see slang.

Don’t quit.
If you really want to get into the media, you will. You may need to improve, but that will come with practice. You may just need to find your niche, but you’ll get there. There are so many specialised publications and so many new opportunities opening up in Dublin alone (with new newspapers, TV channels and radio stations appearing every year) you will eventually find your footing, even if it is just the first rung on the ladder.
You might find yourself in a boring office job or back in retail after you leave college, but as long as you want to break into the media, you will. You might start by getting an article published in a local paper, earning a couple of quid on the side. Maybe then you’re earning enough to drop the day job once you cut back your costs a little. After that, will more spare time you can write more and find more stories. Before you know it you’ve gotten something printed nationally, maybe just a local story that gets picked up.
That’s just one example, there really are so many ways into the Irish media, even though at times it seems like the most inbred industry going.

Don’t believe everything you read…
Finally, one thing is to remember that for all the slagging Journalists and media workers get, the public really don’t have issue with them. Of course people will complain about journalists when they’ve been outed for doing something suspicious in the past. Most journalists do a good job and only a few cross the line. The good journalists are the ones that are working to find out something that would have gone amiss otherwise. If people really hated journalists they’d stop reading what they’ve got to tell them.

Good luck, it’s not going to be easy but hopefully it will be enjoyable.

Something to listen to

Short notice, I know, but if you get the chance tune into Kic FM at 2 until 4 where myself, and my good friend Aidan will be hosting a music show.
Expect it to be extremely scattered and random, but hopefully entertaining.
If you’re as fortunate as I am and live in Wolverhampton tune into 87.7 FM, and everyone else can just log onto www.kicfm.com (Radio stream may not work in Firefox) and have a listen

E-mail the show and tell us what you think too!