AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

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What Really Went Wrong at ‘Reply All’: Norms for a New Medium

What follows is a guest post by Joshua Habgood-Coote, honorary research fellow at the University of Bristol.

Why are non-fiction podcasts so addictive? Why are their stories so persuasive? Part of the answer lies in the directness, intimacy, and richness of solely aural media. But even amongst purely aural media, podcasting seems to have a special grip on listeners. The seductive power of non-fiction podcasting means that when shows get things wrong, their mistakes tend to mislead a large part of their audience. However, because podcasting has yet to be institutionalized, exactly what journalistic norms podcast producers ought to be bound by is up for debate.

Two well-known podcasts—the New York Time’s Caliphate series and the Reply All mini-series on Bon Appétit—recently got into trouble for failures of reporting. The producers of both podcasts framed their responses by appeals to the norms of print journalism, chalking them up to “editorial failings“. But recycling journalistic norms from old media will not give us adequate standards for podcasting. To understand how Caliphate and Reply All have gone wrong, we need to understand how the conventions and function of podcasting have created distinctive forms of media.

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