Podcasts grow as source of news, talk

My grandmother liked the evening news. She liked Walter Cronkite, anchor of “CBS Evening News,” for nearly two decades.

It was appointment television. Forget trying to call her during the news. You could be in the same room, but you didn’t dare make a peep.

Grandma knew what she liked in terms of getting news, and she stuck with it. But she didn’t always agree with Cronkite and lamented the limited choices for getting news.

I suspect today’s choices would have excited her. There are a lot options for getting news and, well, the evening news is just one of many. We can get news in an instant in many different formats, and we’re getting much better at finding what we like.

We’re living in a world of insatiable information-seekers. We want more news and information. It doesn’t mean we always make optimal choices in terms of “where” or from “whom” we get our news, but it doesn’t stop us from searching.

Evidence for this can be found among the growing audience for podcasts.

According to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of podcast listeners in the U.S. has substantially increased since 2006.

In 2017, 40 percent of Americans listened to a podcast at least once.

This is up from just 9 percent in 2008, according to Pew. You can read the full report at pewresearch.org.

This could be due in part to the successes of popular podcasts such as narrative nonfiction hits “Serial” and “S-Town,” daily news from Marketplace and Bloomberg Day Break, or information with a twist from episodes of “No Such Thing As A Fish” and “Radiolab” (check out their CRISPR episode for some truly disturbing information).

Unlike radio, it’s hard to know exactly which podcast genres people are downloading.

Elisa Shearer, a research analyst with Pew, noted that data on podcasts “applies to all types of listening and does not break out news.” This is due to challenges with compiling information on podcasts, making analysis by genre difficult.

If, as the data suggest, podcast listening is on the rise, then it’s not hard to fathom a day when it surpasses terrestrial radio listening.

I suggest this is because we like news and talk radio.

According to Pew, the news and talk radio format is king in terrestrial radio. The percentage of radio listeners who turned to news and talk formats is at about 10 percent. Pop radio (i.e., Top 40) was second at about 8 percent.

Sure, terrestrial radio stations are making podcasts. But it’s important to note that podcasts can be created by anyone and we can download them for playback on commutes to work or when we’re working out.

Thanks to podcasting, we have choices – thousands of genre-busting, eclectic sources of news from around the world.

Grandma would have been happy.

Adam Earnheardt chairs the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at adamearn.com and follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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