podcasting: basic rhetorical questions

As you may have seen, I posted a podcast yesterday. I think I am finding starting up a podcast to be similar in its rhetorical challenges to starting this blog many a year ago. Back then I was asking myself some basic rhetorical questions about audience, genre, and purpose. These are all one question in a sense, or at least different parameters of the same assemblage. Podcasts, like blogs, aren’t really genres or maybe they are genres that contain many genres like books or essays. I’m not sure what the right term is for them, maybe platforms or media types. Whatever. The point is that podcasts do set up certain kinds of capacities some of which are related to the particular composing technologies in use (e.g. what kinds of audio recording, production, and editing technologies does one have available) and proficiency with those technologies, as well as the technologies of delivery/circulation. Then there are some general cultural-discursive practices and values that podcasts largely share. Listeners tend to use of limited range of technologies for consuming podcasts. Often the mobile capacities of those technologies (e.g. smartphones) are in play as people listen while driving, jogging, walking the dog, etc. These practices put some general limits on the length of a podcast. There’s probably also some argument to be made about the general attentional habits/capacities of people as well. There’s a reason most tv shows, podcasts, and so on tend to be no longer than an hour.

Still, even within that loosely described field, there’s a near infinite number of possibilities. That might sound great, but it’s really vertiginous. Those possibilities are quickly and starkly reduced and organized through remediation–where podcasts connect back to the formats of tv and radio talkshows, documentaries, journalism, and in some cases to fiction and radio drama. Is a podcast a solo voice? Is it a dialogue or roundtable? Is it an interview? Are there field recordings? Diegetic ambient sounds? Non-diegetic sounds (e.g., music)?

With all that in mind as ways to speak in general terms about podcasting, one still has to decide on topic, audience, and the particular format from all the choices above. The typical (and I think quite sound) advice is to do something that interests you and that you are able to replicate. I think this starts with topic. There are things I’m interested in as a hobbyist–soccer, science fiction, fitness, etc.–and then there are my professional interests, which you know. With the latter, I could speak in a very academic way about my research or in a more pedagogical way, as I would to students. That would be similar to my blog.

However, I’m thinking about addressing the topics of digital rhetoric in a more journalistic/public discursive way. That too is a familiar podcasting genre and one can already see other academics doing that kind of thing. I’m starting with the solo podcast approach this summer because that reduces one layer of logistical complexity at the start, but I don’t think that’s desirable in the long term… if it turns out there is a long term.

Much like with the blogging though, a big part of my interest in podcasting is to gain insight into a subject of scholarly interest to me–digital composing–from the inside of actually doing it. As I’ve been saying for a very long time (and I’m hardly alone on this one either), rhetoricians–and the humanities in general–need to evolve in their scholarly genres. We are so deeply fixed in the gravity well of text/print that we near unquestionably believe that rigorous academic thought must take the form of text or at least that media that cannot replicate the “rigor” we associate with writing and reading texts are inherently lesser. In fact, for the most part, I don’t even think we recognize that as a belief we hold but rather something more like a matter of fact. It’s like we’ve forgotten that publishing monographs is a relatively recent phenomenon in academic work (c. mid-20th century) and one tied to a particular set of economic and technological conditions that are now long passed.

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