You may or may not know that my number one podcast and radio show love is RadioLab. It’s an incredibly smart and funny science programme, and I’ve finally worked through the whole backlog of episodes I had sitting on my iPhone. That’s a lot of hours of listening (and pedaling on my exercise bike in the morning, which is where I do most of my podcast listening).
If you are not listening to RadioLab yet, trust me — subscribe in iTunes right now, you won’t regret it.
The problem I have now is that I’ve run out of RadioLab episodes to listen to, and they “only” air a new episode every two weeks. For somebody who aims to spend 30 minutes a day pedaling on a bike going nowhere with interesting talk stuff in her ears, well, that leaves quite a few hours a week to fill in. Enter On The Media, a one-hour weekly show about… yeah, you guessed, the media (and related things).
I discovered On The Media because I was pointed to their episode Facing the (Free) Music, about the music industry and the internet, you know. I thought it was very good. Actually, you might want to download the MP3 directly or even stop reading and listen right here.
I’ve listened to a couple of other episodes so far and would like to highlight a few pieces I particularly liked. You can even read the transcripts by clicking on the links below if you don’t feel like listening.
Take For Granted [download] is about the reactions to the possibility that news services could be subsidized by state grants. I found it interesting, because I don’t think we have this prejudice against government-subsidized news here. Quite on the contrary, I would tend to consider a state-funded radio or TV station as more likely to be high quality than a private one. I think there is a cultural issue here — but maybe I’m just naive. If news has never been a commercially viable product, then it needs to be funded, and I’d rather have the state behind it rather than big corporations.
News Ex Machina [download] is about Demand Media (heard of them? I hadn’t) and the way they work to be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) content producers online. Here’s a brief summary of how they do it: monitor search keywords; figure out if there is already a lot of content for them (bad); figure out if there is a lot of demand to advertise targeted on them (good); search for other keywords frequently used in combination with those top keywords; bring in a human being to create a headline out of those words; bring in another human being to write an article based on that headline. I know why this chills my spine: because it’s not content creation anymore, it’s pure SEO. It’s keyword stuffing at such a level that the whole content is just stuffing. Sure, one can argue that it is providing searchers with what they’re looking for — but maybe, sometimes, there is something to be said with not finding what you want, and finding something else instead. (Cue A Perfect Mess riff.)
Shot of Fear [download] is a good example of what happens when we mistake correlation for causation, and once the cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to stuff it back in. (“Girl dies of unrelated heart condition” doesn’t stand a chance once “Girl dies after taking vaccine” is doing the rounds.)
Infant Mortality [download] is a walk through history to look at the occasions “baby killer” was used to discredit adversaries (and not only on abortion issues). And what it means when you brand somebody as a “baby killer”.
Star Search [download] is about star ratings, and how these are always way too positive (they average around 4.3 stars out of 5). Interesting to know, given how ubiquitous this type of rating is!