Just as the debate simmers over the effect of bloggers and “citizen journalists” on journalism, other forms of technology are now making it possible for amateurs to file their own reports at little cost.
Podcasting is the latest craze to sweep the cyber world, enabling people to produce their own radio shows. Instead of paying for expensive air time and sweating over finding advertisers, you simply record your show digitally then transmit it in the form of an MP3 file that can be transferred to iPods or other digital audio players via the Internet. You do need to learn a few technical tricks which you can do either online or by chatting with a fellow podcaster. Soon you’ll be mixing in your own music intros and scheduling next week’s interviews.
Just like the democratic landscape of the Internet, with its blogs and online independent news sites, podcasting is open to anyone and there’s no waiting line. You don’t need a license to rock this radio world. This gives community and other small groups a chance to focus on news that’s important to them and disseminate it easily and widely with very low production costs. Imagine how exciting it would be to tune into podcasts from Lebanon, for example. USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle and others have done articles on the podcasting phenomenon, and Warren Bluhm of the Green Bay News Chronicle welcomes the developments: “The more voices, the merrier, say I. The Internet has put the tools of a free press in the hands of everyone, and that is a good thing.”
As podmania sweeps the Internet, many are also clamoring for low-power people power. Five years ago the federal government began offering licenses for “low-power” radio stations that cover a range of up to 5 miles. The San Francisco Chronicle reports some on the left hoped low-power would offer an end-run around big media, but something happened on the way to “dial diversity.” They report that low-power frequencies have been “gobbled up” by Christian organizations, which are said to be knowledgeable and organized. Turns out church groups make up about half the 344 applicants licensed by the FCC. But the article doesn’t identify the church groups.
There are more low-power slots available in the suburbs than in urban areas. A bill opposed by National Public Radio and The National Association of Broadcasters aims to make low-power more available in urban areas. Religious broadcasters, media diversification advocates and liberal community groups have teamed up to support the bill.
Major news media consider all local sources of news as potential competitors, no matter how small the operation. Anything that could draw listeners or readers away and/or attract advertising is considered a competitor. Low-power fits into that mold of alternative local news and the podcasting craze is just another example of how new media technology has the capacity to offer an end-run around established media.