Is podcasting the new Gutenberg Revolution?

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Podcasting - easy to create, easy to access and growing in popularity (Image via Flickr)

Shifts in the way consumers access media means podcasting is becoming an increasingly popular information source, writes Louis O'Neill.

RECENTLY, THERE HAS been a rise in the popularity of controversial Intellectual Dark Web — a name given to a motley crew of online political commentators who find themselves at odds with the mainstream media. 

The term Intellectual Dark Web was invented by Eric Weinstein – economist, writer and director of Thiel Capital – who designed the name for those who had been shunned from university campuses or maligned by the mainstream media. The term encapsulates a wide net of public online intellectuals, with Dave Rubin on one hand – a self-defined gay, classical liberal – while Ben Shapiro, on the other hand, is a vocal Jewish conservative. Then there’s Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson, who initially seem similar, but, when the two joined for a podcast, they found themselves in an argument over the definition of truth for almost two hours. And lastly, Joe Rogan: martial artist, hunter, and UFC commentator. 

As you can see, the Intellectual Dark Web is a colourful bunch, which begs the question: What do they actually have in common?

Well, there is one thing which Peterson mentions in his latest podcast with Rogan. And no, I’m not talking about their shared mistreatment by the mainstream media. I’m talking about the fact that every member of the IDW has their own podcast, often having guests on for hours at a time. This is known as “long-form podcasting”.

In fact, when mentioning this shared medium, Peterson referred to podcasting as the next Gutenberg Revolution

For those who don’t know what I am referring to, The Gutenberg Revolution was the democratisation of information that followed the invention of the printing press. So, is the podcast the next big thing? 

Well, podcasting as we know it is a format that’s actually rather new. Portable media has only been around since 2000 and podcasting, as we know it, since 2004. Podcasting refers to the recurrent and instant spread of informational media, even if by amateurs. 

Now just why exactly might the controversial Canadian Jordan Peterson speak so highly of podcasting? Let’s look at the benefits. 

1. Podcasts are less subject to political and corporate biases

Following the 2016 U.S. election, public distrust in mainstream journalism reached an all-time high

Perhaps this is due to the fact that, during the election, the term “fake news” was thrown around, though it has to be said there’s some legitimacy to the claim. During the election, there were several blatant cases of the media attempting to sway the votes a certain way and this did not sit well with voters.

This is something that podcasts avoid. Through YouTube partnerships, many podcasters can earn revenue through the number of views they achieve. The better the content, the more revenue for the creator. Well, at least this is often the case. YouTube has recently come under fire for the demonetisation of videos which are considered to be frequently right-leaning politically. This has led to some content creators moving toward sites like Patreon.

Patreon is a donation-based site upon which content creators will set up accounts and, if viewers enjoy the content, they are asked to donate upon their own volition. Patreon has been a source of income for both Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson as they pursue their public careers, and has served Peterson especially well. Peterson is estimated to earn upwards of $80,000 per month through donations alone. That amount surpasses the median income in the U.S. every month. This amount of financial freedom means Peterson doesn’t need to rely on advertising or sponsorship and, therefore, his speech isn’t influenced by anyone other than his viewers.

Online media liberates the content producer and thus the content, allowing podcasters the freedom to express their unencumbered opinions. 

Joe Rogan, for example, will sometimes smoke a joint and talk about aliens, pyramids, mushrooms or all of the above with no visible agenda. Low and behold, Rogan consistently achieves viewings upwards of 2 million per episode. 

2. Podcasts aren’t under the same time constraints as television

Each member of the IDW will have guests on their show for hours at a time, delving deep into complex issues. This allows guests to explore multifaceted ideas without any concern about being shoved off screen. Television, on the other hand, has 30-minute time slots for most shows. This boils down to about 21 minutes after commercials. If you’re watching a late-night talk show, there might be a monologue, three guests and a musical act. Each person gets roughly four minutes to speak and, as you can imagine, not a lot of deep conversation occurs here. Instead, you get condensed, edited, sound bites of information or a rehearsed anecdote. 

This canned entertainment media style seems to have lost its touch on a growing number of audiences, as viewers continue to shift towards online media. 

In fact, the name Intellectual Dark Web emerged as a result of this. IDW members often found their opinions distorted or skewed when it came down to the editing of interviews they would do. This is because television shows simply do not have the time to get bogged down in defining truth for two hours. 

When Joe Rogan had fellow Intellectual Dark Web member Ben Shapiro on his podcast, he reached over 6 million views. These are views that shows like Ellen or Fox News can only aspire to. Whether it be from someone left-wing, right-wing, atheist or religious, a growing number of audiences simply seem to crave a nuanced intellectual conversation. 

3. Podcasts bridge the gap between the artist and audiences

Popular podcasters are not the same as television stations. There aren't any higher-ups that your favourite vlogger has to report to and, so, content creators can have much more of a dialogue with their viewers than other forms of media.

Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson both frequently hold Q and A sessions for their Patreon supporters, answering any questions their patrons may have for them. And, for those who miss the live stream, they can simply download the podcast a few hours later. This blurs the line between content and creator, and allows for an instantaneous stream of information to the viewer, giving viewers a rawness that again mainstream television struggles to produce. Any hiccups or burps are all caught on a podcast. 

4. Podcasts are accessible and portable  

Perhaps the truest point of comparison to the Gutenberg Revolution is the accessibility of the podcast. Podcasts are often provided by producers for free, only asking audiences to donate if they can. This means that as long as you have access to the internet, you can get a quality, free education from the Intellectual Dark Web. On top of this, audiences with smartphones can listen to podcasts on the go. This means while stocking shelves, driving to work, or going to bed, audiences can multi-task while listening to their favourite podcast. 

So, is the podcast truly the new Gutenberg Revolution? Well, it certainly seems possible.

The rigid, artificial format of television seems to be losing its reign over society and this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Though, what this shift towards online independent media holds for the future, perhaps is too soon to tell. 

It does, however, appear that podcasting, along with the Dark Web, is moving into the light. 

Louis O'Neill is a Macquarie University Bachelor of Writing graduate with articles published in The Quarry JournalOnline OpinionAlorNature Writing and others.

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Is podcasting the new Gutenberg Revolution?

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