The British (Podcast) Invasion

Why the U.K.’s newspapers are worth listening to.

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It seems nearly every mainstream media (or, for the kids, MSM) organization has jumped into the podcasting pool. At first, I assumed broadcasters would have an overwhelming advantage in this new medium. But a couple years into the podcasting era, I’ve noticed an interesting trend: Print companies seem more willing to take chances and produce original programming for the Internet than broadcasters do.

This actually makes sense when you think about it. Why, for example, would a radio station make a radio show that it wouldn’t put on the radio? For broadcasters like the major TV networks, cable networks like HBO, and the BBC and NPR, podcasting is really an alternative distribution channel. And because they all have business models that rely first on reaching their audience over the air or the cable box, they’re being extremely cautious about what they make available for podcasting.

Print organizations, by contrast, have been more willing and able to experiment. The Washington Post jumped in early with a video podcast, and it also produces audio versions of selected stories (disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.). The New York Times has suddenly started churning out more than a dozen regular podcasts, including summaries of its front page, the Book Review, and its arts coverage. I’m personally partial to its TimesTalks podcasts, a speaker series featuring actors, journalists, sports figures, and other notables in conversation with Times staffers. Some regional papers have also launched podcasts of various features, although some I’ve heard suffer from a marked lack of professionalism.

(Of course, June Thomas and I have been producing daily Slate podcasts for nine months now. I’ll leave it to others to assess their quality.)

But so far, I haven’t found a newspaper or magazine on this side of the Atlantic that’s really exploited the promise of launching a podcast (which is, in effect, launching your own micro network): to create a daily hosted program featuring the best of these large news-gathering organizations and their talented staffs.

Across the pond, however, they’re all over it. The right-of-center Daily Telegraph launched just such a regular podcast earlier this year, after hiring radio journalist Guy Ruddle from the BBC. It features about a half-hour a day of interviews with Telegraph staffers and podcast regulars and tends to favor business news (Web site here; iTunes feed here).

But my pick this week goes to the new daily podcast from the Guardian, which first burst onto the podcasting scene with its Ricky Gervais Show last year. The new daily news program (Web site here; iTunes feed here) is snappier, cheekier, and, I suspect, more of interest to Americans than the Telegraph’s effort, although both require more than the average Yank interest in U.K. issues. (One criticism: What is with that horrible screeching sound at the beginning of the Guardian’s show? Please, please do away with it.)

Now, if only a paper in this country will follow the British lead …

As for this week’s Slate podcasts, while we can’t boast the scope of a newspaper, at least June’s British accent gives us a certain trans-Atlantic je ne sais quoi:

March 31  The Gabfest And The Fake Colloquy ( Slate piece)
March 24  The Gabfest Needs Some Manners
March 24 Explainer: Why Do Giant Tortoises Live So Long? ( Slate piece)
March 23  Dodging the Draft ( Slate piece)
March 22  Fake Breasts In The Real O.C. ( Slate piece)
March 22 Explainer: What Is a Sentinel Duck? ( Slate piece)
March 21 The Best Magazine You’ve Never Read ( Slate piece)
March 21 Explainer: Can a Cyclone Cause as Much Damage as an Atomic Bomb? ( Slate piece)
March 20 An Insider’s Guide to Trader Joe’s ( Slate piece)

Send your comments, to: Podcasts@slate.com.

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