Friday, 15 March 2013

What Gandalf did: looking forward before turning to look behind

The study of Podcasts and engagement within its community

Why Podcasts?

As Dame Judi Dench said in the James Bond flick Skyfall, we live in a world where boundaries are changing.

Nothing explains that better than the changing face of journalism. Broadcast Journalism is traditionally only television and radio, but videos and sound clips are found online as well. Online communication is possible via Skype and Google Hangouts, but many traditional broadcasters now use these methods to interview people live on air.

Text is primarily found in newspapers and magazines, videos and images hog newsreels on telly and audio rules the roost on the airwaves. Online journalism incorporates all of that and then some.

What the advancement of the digital frontier has done is change the very fundamentals from which journalism operates. And this is where the Podcast comes into play.

Podcasts give the average Joe the ability to put his voice and opinion out there. Free of the shackles of journalistic necessity, the common denominator between the journalist and the layman has been altered because podcasts have given ordinary people the ability to voice their opinion. It’s like the audio version of a blog.

What this essentially means is that not only is everybody given a voice, everybody is also given the opportunity to listen to voices separate to those of news organisations. While news organisations will have a particular slant on a topic and can only incorporate so many topics in one day, podcasts allow to listen to any topic you want to listen to, pick up different opinions on that topic and – here’s the kicker – allow you to put your own voice out there for others to listen to, starting a vicious cycle where people look beyond the conventional in search of news and opinions.

There are podcasts for nearly every topic, from Xbox gaming to conspiracy theories.

And some even look upon this opportunity as a chance to ‘stick it to the man’ through the difference in opinions between individuals and broadcasters.

For example, only 29% of German journalists had the same opinions as the populace. The British came next, with 41% in sync with the opinions of the people.

The ‘man’ of course, knows this, which could be why news organisations are now increasingly taking to the field of podcasting. What we are currently experiencing as the podcasting wave begins to rise is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Websites are increasingly turning to podcasts to draw in listeners and subscribers, there exist a multitude of forums for podcasters and several companies now have hosting space for people to upload their podcasts.

Also, podcasts circle around the idea that getting your voice out there does not have to be expensive. That is one of the main reasons people and organisations are increasingly taking to it.

That’s right. Everybody is piggybacking onto the podcast bandwagon and I am quite sure the suits love it. After all, we are living in a recession.

Right from teachers to news broadcasters to suits in corporation, everyone wants a piece of pod pie.


For the second segment of my multimedia production, I plan on doing a five-or-six episode podcasts on the problems facing Indian domestic football and how they can be addressed.

Each episode will tackle a separate problem, namely the financial aspect of it, the issue of the quality of the domestic game, how the foreign game is cramping the style of domestic football, what leaves Indian football can take from outside the country when it comes to Indian football, what the media can do to improve coverage etc.

For this purpose, I will be interviewing representatives of the All India Football Federation, spokespersons who belong to companies that invest in the Indian game such as Reliance Industries, United Breweries and IMG Media, sports journalists who have been covering the game as part of their careers, coaches who train people at various academies throughout the country and if possible, players themselves.

I will also interview football coaches outside India. One such individual I have earmarked for the same is Mr. Scott Marshall, a member of the Arsenal Football Club Youth Academy who currently runs the Arsenal Soccer School in the Sultanate of Oman, imparting training to children between the ages of five and 16.

Other people I plan to interview will be from Japan and Australia, where the domestic leagues show higher average attendances than football-centric nations such as Brazil. Those interviews will take place either via Skype or Google Hangouts.

At this point, I am not sure whether I will be doing it via vidcast or just a simple audio podcast, but I am sure that will sort itself out with the passage of time.

The format I will be following will be the same as that of the Daily Source Code by Adam Curry, the man who first instituted podcasts.

While doing so, I will be sticking to the right ethical and legal parameters to show journalistic integrity while taking the podcasts forward.

Podcasts – Community Development and Engagement

As part of my engagement with the world of podcasting, I joined the following podcasting communities:

The Podcasting News Forum

In addition, I have subscribed to the CNET mailing list which provides information on the latest news in the world of multimedia production, which may range from how to calibrate your phone to get the best out of your camera to the best microphones in the business at present.

I joined the subscription lists of the Daily Source Code, the world’s first – and financially successful – podcast, made by Adam ‘the Podfather’ Curry.

Two of my posts were about Adam Curry, the man who created the podcast and introduced it to the world and how it has significantly improved our world.

Podcasts are about getting your voice out there, and to do so with conviction requires passion. Although I could not get podcasters themselves to write guest posts on my blog, I was able to convince two multimedia filmmakers to contribute. The theme behind their posts is that they are doing what they do with passion because it makes them happy.

And that is the root behind everything people want to do.

I also wrote a post about how to use your smartphone as a journalistic device. That was in keeping with the theme of the podcast. The smartphone is an increasingly common communication device and is very convenient for podcasters who want to record audio, video and snap pictures for their pods and the posts that accompany it.

But a lot of podcasters out there are new to the world of broadcasting your opinions and I wanted to help them when it came to interviewing people. Now although these are journalistic guidelines that you might want to say ‘meh’ to, while most people will be cool with a conversational style when it comes to interviewing, there are those you might tick off if you approach them swinging. For this purpose, I also put out a post to show people the right way to conduct an interview.

Another of my posts looked at what podcast forums are discussing and the issues that were pertinent to modern-day podcasters, while a separate post provided people an insight into five podcasting sites that would provide them with invaluable knowledge when it came to podcasting.

Community Centric Posts:

The rationale behind this post was to show podcasters the topics that were key to any podcaster out there, to show them that they are not along in the problems they face and that there is a huge world out there full of friendly people who are willing to provide you with ideas and information.

For this purpose, I visited the following podcast discussion forums:

The Podcast Pickle
Podcasting News
Digital Podcast
Feed for All
The Apple Podcast Discussion Community
iLounge Podcast Disucssion Forums

While I had planned to include the Podcast Alley as well, it was down during the time I was writing the post and therefore had to be given a miss.

I have intentionally not mentioned the names of people in this post as I wished to keep it anonymous. Moreover, multiple people had similar problems. For better understanding, I made sure to link the issues and their solutions to the respective sites.

There are a myriad number of podcasting forums out there and I thought it best to provide a list of some of the best sites on the web which pertained to different aspects of podcasting.

The five sites I did choose in the end were:

The Apple Podcast Discussion Forum: Podcasts were first made for the iPod and is one of the oldest forums around, having some of the most experienced podders on it.

One Media: The site provides free hosting to podcasters and vidcasters, has a dedicated learning centre and also allows you to store your work online in case you want to show it to potential employers.

The Podcast Alley: TPA contains the ten best podcasts as voted for by its subscribers, has an extensive directory of podcasts you can subscribe to and a dedicated forum where you can post your own questions and find answers to those unanswered. In addition, you can also submit your podcast for consideration into the directory, which is one of the world’s best.

Podcasting Tools: This is surely one of the best podcast sites around. It contains a dedicated blog which tells you about the what’s what in podcasting, where meet-ups are happening between podcasters, an extensive directory of podcasters, several forums on other sites that you can join and a list of tools and software to help you with your own podcasts which are available for free.

Podcast Awards: This site was started by Adam Curry, the creator of the pod and the reason I included it is because it contains the best podcasts of the year, sorted under several categories. That means the best podcasts in the world – as voted for by their listeners – are on that site and there is surely at least on genre for every person.

I went through several sites after narrowing my list and my search was fuelled primarily by books (such as Podcasting Hacks) and magazines (such as Wired).

These were my two guest posts I had envisioned for my blog. The first was written by Akash Iyer, a former colleague of mine who started an online vlog where he would analyse and satirise European football.

He was always interested in multimedia production, despite first pursuing it only as a hobby and is now looking to go into it full-time. He is employed by Sportskeeda as a multimedia producer and is soon to start a professional media production course at University.

Bilal Rizvi is an engineering student who stumbled upon multimedia video production quite by accident when he began experimenting with his first mobile phone which contained a camera. After exploring this passion further, he has taught himself the art of editing and is now quite proficient with a mobile phone camera and Sony Vegas Pro.

Both of the above posts were to do with the life and times of Adam Curry, his contributions to the world of podcasting and how he made the world a better place.

The reason I decided to do a piece on Curry is because he is so influential in the world of podcasting: he is after all its founder. It’s like studying evolution and not knowing who Charles Darwin is.

Curry was a VJ on MTV and could have chosen to live his life as one, but instead decided to branch out and try something new. Today we are reaping his efforts. Not only has he shown us how to do things, he has also shown us how to do things the right way.

He did everything associated with the world of podcast today all by himself. There were no instruction manuals or how-to books for him.

His legacy is also pretty impressive, and that is why I used a separate post for his contributions.  Whatever I have written on him has come from books which chronicle his life and magazines which contain his interviews.

When you are making a podcast, it is quite likely that you will interview someone of stature. While interviewing these people, there is a certain methodology that you have to follow. It helps if you use the method I have mentioned in the post with anybody and it makes sure you don’t annoy people, who will walk away from your microphone.

This may cause many ripples if you are interviewing an individual of high standing such as a priest or a local politician. The method I have shown provides them respect and everybody likes to be respected. Moreover, no one want to end an interview with a sour taste in their mouth which could be the issue if you don’t plan properly for one.

While the standard academic format of an essay is to cite references next to where you have quoted them, I wanted the Adam Curry article to read like an article. For this reason, I did not include my references in the parentheses as is normally done.

I have also expressed the ethical and legal considerations one has to adhere to where necessary as well as the reflections on what could have been done better in areas that the above pertains to.

All the information in the posts has been thoroughly researched and there is a complete bibliography at the end of those posts that require them.


During my assignment, I focused primarily on three experiments. The first was a workaround to a Skype interview, since Skype has been banned in certain nations throughout the world. I looked at an alternative to that through the method of Google Hangouts.

The reason I chose to do this Google Hangout interview was because I was originally looking to do a Skype interview, but living in Oman made that nigh impossible, as the Arab nation has banned Skype in an attempt to promote its own VOIP service.

I therefore began to look for alternatives, and since my communication with my peers and colleagues at Birmingham City University was through Google Hangouts, I decided to look at the advantages of using it in the field of journalism.

It has several advantages over Skype, namely that all the services that are included in Skype as premium are already available here. In addition, all of these services are free. It is also possible to chat with multiple people at the same time (up to ten, including yourself).

But the reason I chose Japan and its relationship with America is because of the dependence of the Japanese nation on United States troops in Okinawa and all over Japan. Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has only been allowed to maintain an internal force for the purpose of self-defence. Known as the Jeitei or Japanese Self Defense Forces, they are not allowed to take part in external theatres of war as enshrined in the post-1945 Constitution of Japan.

What this essentially means is that in a world where armed conflict is escalating steadily. The recent Arab Spring, the United States-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the perennial problems of Somali piracy and other conflicts in Africa (such as Mali), the still on-going attempt by the Syrian people to overthrow Head of State Bashar al Assad and the potential for even more violence to erupt given the tensions that exist between the two Koreas, the emergence of China being viewed by some as the emergence of a new global superpower and many other conflicts are proof of that.

Japan was also interesting to me because of the recent three-way diplomatic stand-off between them, China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) over the state of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Although Japan does lay claim to them officially, the Chinese and Taiwanese have been contesting the islands ever since vast reserves 
of natural gas were discovered there.

They were initially part of Japan, but there was no provision made to include them as part of Japanese territory when the constitution was re-drafted after the Second World War: something which was done to all other outlying islands beyond the Japanese mainland.

In terms of geographic proximity, the island chain is actually closer to Taiwan and China than it is to Japan, which is what makes it interesting.

All the technical problems, what I could have done to solve them, the pros and cons of this method, the legal and ethical considerations, what tools I used and my bibliography is included in the post.

The reason I had contemplated using Google Hangouts was because it is free and can therefore be used by podcasters who wish to interview people. The average podcaster is not flush with money and this is a very viable way to interview people. In addition, they could either use this directly if they were vidcasting or rip the audio to include in a podcast.

For this piece, I had arranged for footage from two documentary filmmakers, one of whom was David Rothauser, who had done a piece on what atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) are doing to spread awareness of the evils of nuclear weapons.

In addition, I secured footage from both the Film Forum Fukushima and Reuters. I also took snapshots of various Japanese and Japan-centric news articles from the Associated Press, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Forbes Magazine and the Japan state-run news agency NHK to name a few.

My second experiment was to do with my brush with podcasting. Before I began my studies, I was a full-time journalist in an online journalism company in India called Since they were a start-up, the idea of instituting a football podcast in order to attract more subscribers to the site and improve on its USP by making it one of the few Indian sports journalism websites to have a podcast run for Indian sports fans by Indian sports fans.

My colleagues and I would primarily discuss the English Premier League but cast our eye over the Spanish Primera Liga and the European Champions League and Europa League competitions.

While the idea was a good one, it did not take off because it was not shared appropriately and took too long to produce (about forty minutes to an hour per episode) which made it cumbersome to create twice a week.
It was therefore put on hiatus in November 2012, soon before I left the organisation.

While at the organisation, there was never enough time to analyse my own work. Now that I had time at my disposal, I decided to take a step back and analyse my work, all of which has been included in the post.

I also did this to let people know that I was not someone looking at podcasting from the fence or from the outside. I too had dabbled with podcasting and was seriously interested in taking this further.

In addition, the legal and ethical considerations and the merits and demerits of the podcast have also been addressed in detail.

It is because I was so passionate about taking Sportskeeda forward in this direction that I felt bad about the manner in which my idea was put on hiatus. The plan was to keep the podcast simple, just discussing European football so that people could download it and listen to it later.

In addition, our modus operandi here was to win the hearts and minds of India’s football fans by being one of the few Indian companies to have a podcast. Making the podcast was fun, it was passionate because we knew what we wanted to achieve with it and take Sportskeeda to the next level by making it grow horizontally and well as vertically.

But despite the first six or seven episodes of the bi-weekly podcast getting a few hundred reads apiece, it was pulled citing a lack of time and manpower, something I still don’t see eye-to-eye with the brass tacks at the organisation.

I was in the morning shift which ran from 830 am to 530 in the evening, while those working at night would come in at 4 pm and leave at one in the morning. That means that there was 90-minute window wherein there were four people to do a two man job, both in terms of editorial work (of which I was a part) and social media (from where we also got participants. Why then could we not use that window to create and edit the podcast because there were people going spare at the time?

It was only given a couple of months to run, but the higher-ups were not convinced with it. In that time, we had created a music sequence to include into the pod, but it was quite obvious that my superiors did not buy into my ‘Rome was not built in a day’ approach.

I still feel that that was a big mistake on their part, since it would have established Sportskeeda as one of the few Indian sites that had a podcast and could have been one of the forerunners into its introduction in India, only adding to its already rapid growth.

I had big plans for the podcast, including preparing plans for a full-fledged sound and recording booth and a subscription to Burli – the online radio news feed that many newsrooms have – because that would have certainly helped us take it further. Being a start-up, whatever money was coming in had already been previously allocated and I was waiting for the podcast to take off before requesting a budget. I had already been assigned with the making of a quote but that was never looked at by my peers.

In addition, I feel that the podcast was not shared properly. The standard mode of operation at Keeda was to share articles and updates on various Facebook walls that catered to different sports but given the frequency with which pieces were shared, there was only a gap of five minutes between one update and the next. Few people would therefore take a look at the podcast.

I had suggested a pinned post, but nobody took heed. I also recommended creating an advert on the site for the podcast, but that was never approached. Although I cannot blame those who were involved in its sharing because they were doing their job, they never thought out of the box or expanded into the above methods which would have really helped.

What made me excited about the growth of the podcast – titled the Footy Mumble – was that a cricket podcast was also conceptualised and created soon after. Titled Inside Out, it was sure to contribute to the development of the organisation, and that is why I was so disappointed when management decided to pull the plug on the entire project.

I have mentioned the ideation, conceptualisation and method of operation in the post, in addition to the ethical and legal concerns and the advantages and disadvantages the podcast posed.

The smartphone idea – like J.K. Rowling’s conceptualisation of Harry Potter – just walked into my head one day, fully formed.

My father is an avid bridge player. His family and friends have always shown him recognition due to his technical skill with the game. There is a shelf spanning the length of a room in my house just for the trophies he has won.

The TV in my room (the second in the house) where I watch my late night football and the DVD player attached to it (also the second) have both been won in bridge tournaments.

But there are many other players just like my father who enjoy playing the game with passion for the joy it brings them. My father has been playing the game since 1977, and there bridge mates of his who have been playing for a decade more than he has.

Nobody in Oman, where I live, and much less throughout the rest of the world, is probably aware of this scene in the nation, because a small newspaper article aside, bridge is never publicised in the Sultanate. Even when you look at newspapers that contain articles on card tournaments, it’s only poker, blackjack and baccarat that are given any acknowledgement. The great casinos in Las Vegas, Monaco and Macao contain several rooms dedicated to these games, but there is no provision for bridge anywhere, probably due to the clientele - usually the upper middle or the upper class – that this game caters to.

I therefore decided to choose bridge as my topic and I needed to look no further than use my iPhone as my choice of recording device. Since the foundations of the plan had already been laid and because I had witnessed first-hand what being a bridge player means, I had already formulated my questions. They were very simple: all just pertaining to the six Ws of journalism: who, what, where, when, why and how.

To get a broad spectrum of people, I decided to interview six people, all from different backgrounds to show that they are bonded by bridge:

1.) Dr. Nasser Mohammed Al Lamki, in his eighties, an Omani who has been playing bridge since the 1960s when he was doing his medical studies in Stoke-on-Trent in the UK in the 1960s

2.) Mr. Mohammed Ashraf, a naturalised Omani of Pakistani origin who immigrated to Oman in the 1970s and went on to found his own construction business in the region. He has since started an annual Bridge tournament called the Khurshid Cup, named in honour of his eldest son.

3.) Mr. Gautam Mukherjee, a financial consultant who was once chairman of the Muscat Bridge league who has been playing Bridge for the last 30-odd years.

4.) Mr. Lindsay Herbert, a Scotsman who came to Oman only last September and has found bridge as way of occupying his free time. He had been playing the game since the age of seven since his parents introduced it to him.

5.) Mr. Abdi Naffer and his wife, Mrs. Yasmin Naffer, both of whom are bridge players. Mr. Naffer carved out his own living by rising to a senior management position in Omar Zawawi Establishment, one of the Sultanate’s oldest and most prestigious business conglomerates after attending his first interview just thirty minutes into getting off a steamer that had pulled in from Bombay in the early 1970s. His wife, Mrs. Yasmin, was taught bridge by her husband so that the two of them could spend time together. The two are regular bridge players and have won several trophies as a pair.

I decided to look beyond the obviousness of bridge as well, talking to these people about how important family support was when it came to bridge, how what they have learned in bridge helps them in real life and was also keen on introducing a bit of nostalgia by asking them what their greatest memories in bridge were, because all of them have travelled throughout the world to partake in competitive bridge tournaments. But given the general lack of interest towards the game, it is very likely that they would not have been able to share these very valuable memories with anybody outside of their families.

I had already previously arranged for newspaper clippings of their achievements, some of which date back to February 1989, before I was even born, Polaroid photos that captured their victories and snaps of the trophies they had won and the players themselves with my iPhone camera.

I also picked pictures off Flickr after seeking consent from concerned sources. Others were taken off Google.

Although I had my material, the clippings that I had scanned from newspapers were not of the same dimensions as the snaps I had clicked with my phone. It was therefore important that I resized them using MS Paint.

I did make a two and a half minute video containing images and speech about how the above people were introduced to bridge. The rest of the material has been uploaded onto SoundCloud.

My point with the smartphone is that you don’t need a sophisticated camera to take pictures if you have a good enough phone or an expensive mic to record an interview, because the mic that your phone contains is very good.

This makes the phone viable as a versatile recording device. All the legal and ethical considerations have also been mentioned in the post. A bibliography is included as well.

Links to all videos and audio elements featured on the blog:
1.) Google Hangout interview of Masayuki Nakao on the state of relations between the United States and Japan:

2.) SoundCloud uploads of two podcast episodes and the raw interviews with the six bridge players: 

3.) Video of the six bridge players explaining how they were introduced to the game:  

4.) Bilal’s first video  titled Jimi’s Day Out, a stop motion video presentation:  

5.) Bilal’s second video on his peers who were completing university:  

6.) Akash’s first video on the song with the funny lyrics, one of his first uploads: 

7.) Akash’s second video on the language used by people in Chennai, India as slang:

8.) Akash’s third video for Sportskeeda which took a look at a fight club in Bangalore, India: 

9.) Akash’s fourth video, part of the Keedology series which looks at hidden talent:
      Until Next Time,


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