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Being Passionate

A few things have prompted me to write something about work experience and the one thing you need to get into the media: Passion. One thing I’ve noticed over the years about successful people in the media is that they all love what they do. Maybe you’ve noticed how people who work in radio have been lamenting the fact that Kenny Everett died 21 years ago this week. The fantastic Stephanie Hirst posted this, commenting how Everett influenced her

The thing is, Everett was BRILLIANT. A radio genius, but many of us would never have heard him on the radio during our lifetimes since for the latter part of his career he was only on-air in London. So, why do I mention it? Because it’s about passion. Presenters like Steph dig around and find tapes and collect them. She’s also a well known collector of jingles and a prime example of being passionate. People who work in radio love radio. They probably listen to (and care about) more radio than most people. They’ll know geeky facts about stations and who is doing what show where. Kenny was one of those people; he lived and breathed and despite a foray into TV it was radio he kept coming back to because he had passion.

The same could be said about TV. People who work in TV, love TV. They watch it avidly and have opinions. If there’s a big show starting they’ll be watching and probably tweeting about it. The media is an industry that loves passion. Why else would someone start a radio station about radio?

So, this leads me onto work experience. In a session at last months SRA conference in Cardiff the very wise Tom Johns made some excellent points on how to make a mess of work experience. You can read that here

In the session he makes sensible points about getting off your phone, asking questions, making great tea and doing your research.  This should be a given. Know what it is you are doing and who it is you are working with. I’d also suggest having an idea of who’s job you want and getting to know them… not to steal their job, but to find out more how to get the job you want. This is where passion comes in. If you know about the brand and are genuinely interested in the medium you want to work in that can really help. Remember this is a competitive industry. It’s not like going to help out in a solicitors office or a builders yard. People who work in the media are passionate folk, so if you share their passion then you’ll make an impression. In this regard media is a bit like sport, in the most footballers love football. Which might explain why so many of them end up on TV being paid to talk about it; they have a passion for the game which has seen them through wet winter afternoons playing non-league for bus fare.

 

Getting on in the media is a fairly simple sum, that is partly down to luck but also about also down the things you do that create that luck. A former American president reputedly said “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have” and whilst he probably didn’t say that the logic remains. If you sit and wait for a job offer it’s probably not going to come, but if you do things like work experience and make that experience one that works for you, then your odds of being lucky have just gone up. Also by making an effort and getting yourself out there, making work and getting your hands dirty. In the video above one of my former students shows just that. He made the most of the opportunities offered, worked hard and showed that he had passion for what he did. That might mean listening to everything under the sun, but might also mean being prepared to work hard for no pay because you love it.

This leads me onto my last point and that is about grabbing these opportunities. At the University of Sunderland we’re consistently sharing opportunities with our students and experience shows that the students who grab these with both hands are the ones who succeed. Going to conferences like the SRA, MIPTV, Edinburgh TV festival are great ways of meeting people and learning about the industry, they also show that you are committed to your career path. Getting up at 4am to work for free or catching the megabus to attend a conference might be hard work or limit your social life but they are key to getting a job in the media. This is about showing your passion and commitment. I suggest to students that it’s about building up their armoury of tools: Having a related degree from a course the employer trusts is a good start but it’s by no means the only thing you need. If there’s student media at your university you need to have spent some time there, even if it’s rubbish. If it is rubbish, get involved and make it great. If there isn’t any student media, then start it (which is what I did). Then make the most of the opportunities that come your way. This might be work experience, masterclasses or the chance to go to conferences and get drunk with people from the industry. In the video above the brilliant Alistair Stewart sums it up, urging students to prove their passion by getting involved and showing not your aspiration to get into the media but also your burning desire.

 

Here are my tips:

    1. Learn about the industry you want to work in; read all you can (including textbooks) and listen to watch as much as you can. Also check out industry news via places like Media Guardian, Broadcast, Radio Today and things like the excellent Media Podcast (above)
    2. Grab the opportunities that come your way and make the most of them. Some of the experiences may be horrible, they might even not be exactly what you want but if they are a step closer then take them as they extend your CV it makes it look like you’re dedicated. You can always be fussy later.
    3. Get to know the products of the places you want to be. Know what they make and who the boss is. If you desperately want to work on X Factor or at Radio X then do your research. In this regard Twitter is brilliant. You can find producers, managers and owners here. They probably won’t offer you a job as soon as you follow them, but you will find out what they are doing and by adding them to complimentary tweets about their shows you could start a conversation.
    4. Care about your career and the industry. Remember you’re not working in a bank and (generally) the money in media isn’t good, but people do it because they love it. If you’re doing this because you can’t think what else to do, or because you quite liked it at GCSE then maybe rethink your future. Your skills are massively transferable and could easily find a home in PR, Marketing, retail or recruitment.
    5. Lose the attitude. People will remember how you behave, so be happy making tea, or filing or handing out flyers in the rain. If you showing willing to do that then better stuff can follow. Remember, that cat video your mate just sent you can wait.. unless it’s show prep then show the producer.
    6. Finally, remember passion. Get to love your medium. Enjoy it and enjoy talking about it.

      If you have any tips to add, do add them below or tweet me @richardberryuk

 

TV and the radio

There was a time when this is how we saw radio studios. it was a webcam bolted to the wall that might update every few minutes, or if we were lucky it was a live stream. It was rarely in-sync with the audio but that wasn’t the point we could SEE RADIO HAPPENING… and that was exciting, or at least was for radio geeks. Maybe not so much for everyone else. A lot has happened since then and these visual practices are an ever large part of what radio does and we’ve got a lot better at it. It’s not a bolt-on for geeks. It’s not something done to show what toys we have. It’s part of the landscape.

In a great recent post on Medium the BBC’s Dave Lee shares some great examples of this new trend, especially on how it can fix the TV interview. Dave says:

TV is 80% logistics, 10% shouting, 9% journalism, 1% popping on a bit of make-up. The necessary evils of the least forgiving medium.

Radio, on the other hand, is different. Radio studios are different and whilst they are becoming more visually aware they still present a different experience for the guest.  They feel more friendly, maybe because radio people are friendly. Static systems in studios, like Virtual Director, sit in the background recording everything from cameras that cut automatically between microphone positions. The production staff don’t need to do anything until something happens that warrants posting on social media.

In this Boris is caught on the hop and camera catches it. This then gets quickly shared online and can easily be shared with partners like Sky News for TV. This is great for brand LBC. Other Global stations like Capital, Heart and Radio X are all working with visuals, in studios designed with cameras in mind. Like the new Radio 1/1 Xtra studios at NBH they are well lit and look good on camera. This is, of course, radio for social media. Audio is hard to share, but video is much easier and is now very much part of the fabric of both Facebook and Twitter. Video could be short and snappy and simply sit as Facebook fodder to drive listeners to the station. These teasers are becoming better and better and there’s a clear sense in work from both BBC 5 Live and LBC that this work is not only aiming to tell great transmedia stories but is also recognising the need to be more visual.

If you’ve not already seen it, the NPR interview with Barack Obama is a great example of what you can do within radio using pictures.

This is of course a RADIO interview. You probably wouldn’t shoot a TV interview like this and that’s the point. Visualised radio is about supplementing the radio experience – taking it into new spaces, engaging new audiences and offering visual materials which can be shared as social capital. Of course it means radio stations need new people, or radio people need new skills but that’s always been the case. Radio has always needed people to take it to new places and new audiences.  I doubt that anyone would sit and watch a radio show, but let’s face it there are many shows on TV that replicate what radio is doing but with sets. Move the same show to radio and it can equally dynamic, challenging and cost less. I’m not suggesting that letting radio people make TV is the future, but that video is going to be more and more a part of what we do in radio. Done well it can be great and even get other radio stations talking about you…. like this from Radio 1.

The trick, of course, is doing it well. Make it worth the time and make something people want to see and share. I am sure there will be those amongst you who are now saying ‘Ah, but this isn’t radio is it’ and of course you are right. Well, partly. It is part of the practices of contemporary radio stations. It’s a communication tool and a way they engage audiences in new places. It remediates what has already been aired and drives audience towards new things. it’s all content and that’s our business now.

Radio gets back to the future

BBC Radio is finally joining the move to be digital first. If, like me, you have Sky TV you’ll have seen the trails for a few years now pushing the fact the channels make some of their programmes available online first.  Audiences like control and this seems to be a good way to give it to them. Netflix lets audiences blitz their way through entire series of shows in one go, whilst broadcasters have traditionally made listeners and viewers wait a week for the next episode to roll around

 

The BBC’s Head of Speech Radio Multiplatform Andrew Caspari, writes about the rationale in his BBC Blog:

From now you can go online and hear a selection of our programmes before they have been on the radio. This means more listeners will be able to get the programmes they want as soon as they are aware of them and listen wherever and whenever they want irrespective of the radio schedule.

The BBC has long realised that investing in programmes that listeners can miss is not the way forward, especially when those listeners are paying a licence fee. The iPlayer and iPlayer app have made radio portable and totally on-demand, letting listeners catch-up wherever they are. This next step means listeners can move forward in time on selected shows. Online First is about putting listeners in charge and recognising that listeners might want to listen to that next episode now, or listen to a whole series in one go. For example, the daily WW1 drama ‘Home Front’ will make an entire week’s worth of programmes available on Monday morning from next week. So, a listener can break their link with the schedule and listen to 5 programmes in one sitting.

The way we listen to the radio is changing. Listeners are listening online and radio must compete for ears with on-demand audio like podcasts and this seems to be a reflection of this. Shows will roll out across speech formats on Radio 4, 5Live, 6Music and Radio 2 (full list).  In 2014 Ofcom reported that 5.9% of digital radio listening was online or via an app. I can only see this as growing and the lessons learnt from the past suggest that broadcasters need to be ready with content when the listeners get there. Producers can’t sit still these days, they need to put content in front of listeners in the format they want and in timeframe that works for them. This means getting it online fast and leaving it there for as long as you can. Obviously, the BBC has a job to do working with rights holders but this will take time. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

Beats 1. Worldwide, always selling

I’m using this blog again to throw out some early ideas for an academic article. The subject this time is Apple’s attempt at creating a radio station: Beats 1.

Launched in June this year Beats 1 seemed to be an odd step for Apple. Whilst the front page of iTunes promotes music, podcasts and movies Apple has so far stayed out of the content business, but then remember that it’s first instinct with iTunes was to let users make their own way. By running a music download store Apple realised they could sell the product and the music to fill it. In other words they were selling an experience. To some extent that’s what they are doing with Beats 1.

I’m not alone in noticing the difference between Beats 1 and other radio station. Being global it means that those traditional notions of breakfast, drivetime and evening are redundant. Listening to Beats 1 you could be excused in thinking you were listening to late night Radio where John Peel, Zane Lowe and now Annie Mac built the “Ratings by day, reputation by night” ethos of Radio 1. At Beats 1 it’s always night somewhere. Of course ratings only matter if you’re trying to sell airtime to advertisers or persuade government of your public value. Neither of things apply to Beats 1. They don’t sell airtime. Commercial radio sells products made by other people and the music (usually) is the means to make sure enough people hear those messages enough time. At Beats 1 the music is the product. Music that can be bought in the iTunes store but more significantly streamed for 10 quid a month on Apple Music. Hey, if you like the track enough the whole album is a few clicks away. Of course, it’s not unique. There’s much here that reminds me of Amazing Radio.

Beats 1 exists as a gateway to Apple Music. You can listen live for free but if you want to listen again, stream more music and make use of the sharing features you need to pay. Apple could have used a Netflix model and tracked play data from Apple Music (they may do this but nobody’s reported it) but they decided to use humans instead. Famous humans. Famous humans who famous musical humans like talking to and respect. Humans who know music. People like Zane Lowe and Elton John. In effect Beats 1 becomes the coolest radio station in the world. It seems to go against the grain, as places people at the centre of the process at a time when radio leans on tight formatting. Of course, as you might expect it’s not that simple. The playlist is still pretty tight as reported in this article in Billboard but it’s still miles away from your local Capital or KIIS. Generally, though, the DJ’s curate their own music and with repeated shows the data might be a true reflection.

This curated approach is not new and is often advocated as the alternative listeners really want. There’s much written about this, not least in academic circles. For example the report here from Tim Wall and Andrew Dubber. There’s no one format here, with shows veering from one genre to another, in traditional commercial radio this would be format suicide.

There’s much here that sounds like community radio and to some extent that’s what they are doing – making a community. A global community of music fans, united by the Church of Jobs. Steve that is. You can see this in the advert above. A mix of people, putting in earbuds and hitting play. Notice they start alone but soon gather friends, all dancing (or running) to the same beat. To me this is part of what Apple is trying to do here, build a community around their products. The iPhone is branded as more than a phone. It’s a social tool. It’s a gateway to experiences and a means to share those experiences with the world. Of course this takes on a whole new dimension with stories this week that Apple are looking to follow Amazon and Netflix into making movies and TV shows.

Apple was always a technology company, in the same way that Amazon was always a retailer. But, when you start making devices it starts to make sense to make the content to fill them. You sell other peoples stuff, or you could make your own stuff and make people come to you to see it. If you want to watch Clarkson in 2016, you’ll have to go to Amazon. The BBC won’t have it. Neither will Sky or Netflix. What makes Apple Music interesting is that Apple have already confirmed that it will also be coming to Android before the end of the year. So, it’s not a lure to make me buy an iPhone. It’s going to stand alone and fight Spotify, which is where the battle is. It sounds like radio but it’s not about radio. I doubt Apple will be buying up transmitters or adding to DAB multiplexes or satellite radio services. It will keep it online, where it can build an avoidable link to the paid-for elements of Apple Music.

I’ve a few interests here. There’s much that is interesting about a format where presenters and producers are empowered. Of course they can do this because the mode of listening is different. People might listen in their car, but I doubt it will be the soundtrack to any factory floors. It’s a different format because it’s aim is different. It might the shape of things to come, but probably isn’t. It is however a positive for radio and radio talent. I’m not sure there’s going to be defining conclusions here, but I’m enjoying the thinking and the reading. No doubt I’ll post more at some point.

12 weeks is a long time in Podcasting

So, I’m just back from the NetStation 2015 conference, in the lovely city of Braga.  I’ll leave the story of my trip home to social media, but here’s the paper I presented with relevant links. The conference will publish the full academic at a later date, but here’s the version I actually presented.

 

In the past ten years a lot has changed. There are more podcasts. More listeners and more ways to listen, and certainly podcasting feels like a medium that is part of the media establishment. Podcast networks have emerged, and a few people made money. But still podcasting didn’t quite make the impact many thought it would. Podcasting did not kill radio. As we’ve heard already, Radio is still very much alive.

But in considering more recent histories we could perhaps retitle this paper as “Serial – 12 weeks is a long time in podcasting” since this is the period of time over which the first season of this landmark podcast ran for at the end of 2014, when everything seemed to change yet again.

When Ben Hammersley quickly pulled the word “podcasting” out of the air for his Guardian article in 2004, the revolution he was writing about was a new and emerging amateur-led movement that re-appropriated the tools around it. The environment into which Serial emerged ten years later has changed significantly. Changes which I will suggest were important factors in the success of Serial, but also tell us where we are now

In the mid 2000’s Podcasting seemed to threaten the very nature of what of what we do in radio. It swept aside the need for the radio schedule, and put listeners in charge. Podcasting was a converged medium in its purest form, as it pulled together the tools we already had and levelled the playing field.

It appears to be both a threat and opportunity for radio as Markman and Sawyer note that “While the Internet has not yet killed the radio station, both Internet radio and podcasting have continued to grow in popularity… Podcasting can therefore be seen as both a boon and a challenge to traditional broadcasting”. No longer are radio stations restricted by what they can put out on their linear channels, for public radio especially this has been a significant opportunity over the past ten years

Audiences have also seen growth, to the point where 33% of Americans report listening to podcasts and 17% do so monthly. Indeed it has been postulated that we are now enjoying a Golden Age of Podcasting”

 

There was much to commend Serial, but in what was already a good year for podcasting something it about captured popular attention in ways that other podcasts hadn’t quite managed

The podcast launched in October 2014 and was a multi episode journalistic series that told the story of the murder of 19 year old Hae Min Lee in 1999, and the subsequent arrest and conviction of her former boyfriend Adnan Syed. Whilst crime stories and journalism were not new for podcasting, Serial achieved something new. Popular success.

listeners were drip-fed the story over 12 weeks, with the reporting team working on the next episode in the intervening days; Producer Julie Snyder suggests their choice of format and platform offered more flexibility – as podcasting allows for listeners to catch episodes as they appear, or to binge on the entire series at the end. This fits in well with a renewed interest in story

Telling a serialized story with cliffhangers and plot developments and stuff is not conducive to broadcast radio because it’s difficult for listeners and it’s difficult for stations to program. That’s the awesome thing with a podcast: We can do a story that unfolds over time. You can either go along—we’ll release them every Thursday—or people can binge once they’ve all been released. 

Their true crime story and choice of narrative drew natural comparisons to the rise in serialised fictional stories on contemporary television such as True Detectives – comparisons the producers accept, and often cite as inspiration.

Listeners became so engaged in the story that many woke early each Thursday in order to listen as soon as new episodes went online. With some going as far as running listening groups in bars and cafes. To some extent it was this treatment of true crime that drew many to the story.  Equally, the high production values of the podcast also drew in many listeners, as it seemed to reject the amateur status they has once associated with the medium.

Serial set a new level for success in podcasting, and attracted a mass of popular interest, online and in the media, and has been described as the Podcast we’ve all been waiting for” “the future of radio and Podcasting’s first breakout hit”  

The Guardian reported that it achieved 5 million iTunes downloads faster than any podcast before it, and by April 2015 it had achieved over 80 million downloads from every country in the world barring North Korea and Eritrea.

To understand some of the reasons for success we should consider the background to the podcast and the people and institutions involved. Serial was developed by This American Life, and whilst that team has produced stories that last longer than a single episode, for Serial to tell one story over 12 episodes was a departure. To do so exclusively online was significant, and seems positive recognition of podcasting as an opportunity for growth on a platform with which the brand had already enjoyed success.

 

In theory, the openness of the podcast platform should mean that any podcast can be successful but the reality is that new unknown podcasts rarely achieve the instant success seen by Serial. More often than not podcasts require a head start, which often comes from being associated with a familiar producer, brand or personality.

Screenshot 2015-04-16 at 21.50.04

Being part of one of the biggest brands in public radio, also brings with it a further advantage, that of experience. Serial was produced by an experienced team of radio producers, lead by Sarah Koenig with editorial advice from Ira Glass – who as the showrunner of This American Life has built a detailed formula through which all their stories are told. These are techniques which are used to full effect here and helped Serial win a Peabody award for journalism in 2015.

Serial was also able to draw on the financial resources of a well-resourced organisation, something else which few podcasts could aspire to

 

You’ll notice here that Serial has a style. Like This American Life it is marked by natural narration. Good research and Vivid interviews are important; as is music – which for Serial was scored specifically. The journalism was forensic and the production standards are high. Both were factors in the success


downloadThe podcast thrust Sarah Koenig and her production team into the spotlight, triggering TV interviews, news stories, and spoofs. Listeners created memes, tweeted about the show, told their friends, made T-Shirts, produced podcasts and discussed theories with fellow listeners on reddit.

It was success that the producers did not expect, with Koenig telling an audience “I never meant to create a fever… I didn’t know if it was even going to work.

These independent listener authored paratexts became a defining feature of Serial, and is activity which is not surprising given the content. As the American Academic Jason Mittell suggests the format encouraged and even demanded forensic fandom to fill in the gaps between episodes”. This would be activity that would catch the attention of listeners friends on social media and draw in new pairs of ears to the podcast and create a positive spiral of promotion and engagement

The success of Serial also shows the role in which changing technology is playing. Movement from iPods to iPhones and iPads means that podcasting is becoming more accessible,

 

In 2013 Edison researchers noted that 34% of podcast listening was on a mobile device, by 2015 this had risen to 55%

It could be that Serial arrived at the point at which audiences had finally left their iPods in the drawer in favour of the shiny new iPhone. In my own 2014 survey amongst Serial listeners, I discovered only 4% of them used an iPod to listen – against 68% who used a smartphone.

 

When it comes to consuming any media content audiences must first navigate the technologies used to deliver it. In the early days of podcasting this was a task that required both skill and some patience. In his 2007 article Enrico Menduni suggested, that whilst the philosophy of the medium was valuable the process was a barrier, a barrier which has now been largely  removed by the smartphone.

 

So, in preparing the launch of Serial Ira Glass took to TV, and proved that if his elderly neighbour could manage it, then so could you.

It could be podcasting was a medium the audience knew about but had forgotten, or that they needed telling how easy it’s now become in the age of mobile apps

 

So, is 2015 going to be the year of Podcast as some suggest?

In the past ten years the process listeners need to go through to listen to a podcast has changed. Iphones have replaced iPods and the process has gained spontaneity.

This is a shift that has not gone unnoticed by Ira Glass who highlights here the shift from downloading and syncing, to making choices on the device you will ultimately listen on.

 

This reduction in friction means that content is more accessible, more searchable  and more shareable. Social media gave listeners a platform to talk about Serial, and the apps they listened with provided the means to share episodes (or moments) with their friends and followers. These same apps will also play a role in the ‘Serial effect’ by suggesting new podcasts for these newly engaged listeners.

 

In the next ten years,, we may in fact be talking about ‘appcasts’ where listeners are finding, consuming and sharing audio content on mobile devices, content that may increasingly be delivered by music streaming services like Spotify.

So, 2015 could be the year of the podcasting app. As the rise of the smartphone, the presence of podcast apps on smart-dashboards means that podcasts are now as accessible as FM in places where once radio had dominance. This is without doubt where the growth has happened, and where it will continue.

Podcasting is a medium that like any pre-teen is starting to find its own identity. As it does new techniques and new opportunities will emerge. Ones which will challenge what radio stations as institutions do, as they permit expansion of ideas and content across a myriad of platforms and devices.

whilst the ‘Serial effect’ has added audience to other podcasts and there is renewed interest in the medium we should remain cautious. As whilst Serial has enjoyed widespread attention it has not made podcasting fully mainstream (yet!). Edison research from 2015 reveals that whilst 10% of the general population were aware of Serial, this rose to 29% amongst those who had listened to a podcast in the past week –  suggesting that whilst Serial had an impact, it achieved greater impact amongst those already predisposed to listen in the first place. However by offering a well told and compelling story at a time of technical and social change, Serial may serve as the gateway through which new listeners discover the medium. In this regard Serial is important, partly because we talked about it and the established media took it seriously,  but also because it became a useful symbol of what was happening to the medium. Steady audience growth, better technologies, and increased skill in production and marketing means that podcasting now feels more grown up. More serious and more viable. Serial did not achieve this alone, however it has a place in podcast history by highlighting how far we have come.

 

THANK YOU

obrigada

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is now a ‘second age’ of podcasting happening. I’ll thrash out some thoughts on this and post them soon.