Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley, and Walter Cronkite – those are just three of the names you might think of if asked to name some of the most influential broadcast journalists of all time.
But what about names like Dave Miller or Juliette Wallack? They’re not exactly household names. They’re not exactly broadcast journalists, either. They are what has been termed podcasters.
A podcast is kind of like a hybrid of a news broadcast and a letter to the editor. They are audio files created on a computer and served up to anyone who cares to listen to them over various Web sites. And anybody, well almost anybody, can create one.
They are the new rage on the Internet these days, along with Web logs, or blogs. But they really took off when Apple Computer’s iTunes Web site started to make podcasts downloadable to iPod mp3 players.
In case some of you don’t yet know what an mp3 player is, it is a device that can download audio files, usually music files created in the mp3 format, from the Internet and play it back through headphones. The players are tiny, and so very portable.
But now, in addition to listening to your favorite music, you can listen to your favorite rant about the topic du jour by your favorite podcaster.
There are several Web sites that offer podcast services. One of the newest sites, with thousands of podcasts available for download, is called Odeo.com. It stores them and sorts them into categories. It even lets you subscribe to your favorite “channel” so that its podcasts are automatically downloaded to your computer or mp3 player.
Topics are as varied as they are in the real world. There are channels devoted to everything from religion to politics and current events, or from eating out to sewing.
Blogs have been around for a few years and they have started to gain some respect, even from network news anchors. Blogs are Web journals that, again, can vary widely in subject matter. But some of the more widely-read bloggers have been earning press credentials to national events, like the political conventions last year.
Some podcasters believe their method of news casting will also eventually earn the respect of the big guys in the business. It remains to be seen.
But the more widespread a cultural phenomenon becomes, the more likely it is to become a permanent fixture in society. Podcasts have all the earmarks of becoming that important.
To create a podcast, all you need is a computer connected to the Internet, a microphone to record your voice, and something to say. You can even sing, if you have the talent and want to share it.
Then, just upload your recorded creation to one of the podcast sites. That’s all there is to publishing a podcast.
You can then tell your friends and relatives about your “channel” that contains all your material so they can download it and listen to it. Or, you can have it indexed in a public directory, as on Odeo.com, and let anyone in the world hear it.
Naturally, the uncontrolled nature of podcasts makes them less reliable than network news. On the other hand, like blogs, they can be an almost instantaneous source for news and information, and they can give you a perspective on an event or topic that you wouldn’t hear from mainstream media outlets.
I look for some of today’s more talented podcasters to join the ranks of professional news broadcasters some day. And for those who don’t make it to the networks, at least they can still say that have an audience of their own.