Podcasting Is Not Just a White Male Thing
Over the past six months I have seen multiple articles dissecting the barriers to podcasting becoming a mainstream mode of media consumption. One of the barriers sited has been a lack of diversity. I make the case that podcasting is actually much more diverse than people realize and the real barrier is the perceived lack of diversity, and problems with education and discovery.
I am a nerdy black female who started my first podcast in 2007. Currently, I host and produce 3 shows with a total of 4 co-hosts under Literary Roadhouse with more shows coming. When I started, I was comfortable researching technology and had built my first website in 1997. Coming from a largely upper class Caucasian area and raised in a poor Caucasian home, I didn’t feel uncomfortable searching for instructions on how to podcast in a sea of white male faces. They were nice to me, and I learned a lot. When I got my first show up, most of my first listeners where Caucasian male runners who were also podcasters. As a listener, I had a phone full of shows hosted by both men and women, but only one had a visible person of color as a host. In the iTunes store, the top shows were largely comedy, business and technology which tended to be male heavy, so like many… I searched my niche interests and ended up with many shows that were diverse in terms of gender.
Podcasting is ideally suited to niche topics. So while those shows may not be on the front page of iTunes, I found female hosts with shows on everything from science and history to knitting and meditation (BTW: if you’re a knitter… addicting).
Several years later when I started a new show, things had changed a lot. The new show was about a subset of natural black hair and only aired a few episodes… but I learned something. There are many People of Color who podcast through other platforms who either aren’t in iTunes or don’t use their photos in their album art. Some said, getting into iTunes was too complicated to do right, didn’t have time to learn audio editing or didn’t fully understand how to find the technical information to create what is considered a well produced podcast. Others where too busy raising children, running businesses or working multiple jobs to accommodate income disparities to spend hours on their shows. They wanted to distribute content, have fun and move on. Lastly, there was a strong listener base on blog talk radio for their shows, so there wasn’t a pressing need to reach outside that silo.
Watching this from the outside, I saw a problem of perception. If iTunes looks white, I have listeners, I’m on a site where I see lots of podcasters of color, and getting on iTunes looks like a pain… why bother. But things are changing.
In the past few years I have seen female podcasters grow in number, knowledge and strength. Many articles have been written about what a breakthrough it is that Serial is hosted by a woman such as, Serial shows that women are leading the podcast revolution. In addition, She Podcasts created classes that make the tech side easier and less intimidating compared to when I had to take a deep breath and accept many condescending lectures. I see female podcasters gathering on Facebook to share ideas, build businesses and learn techniques to get better in a space where they feel safe. This level of support helps lower the barrier to entry.
Where is that support for podcasters of color? I have seen a likewise growth in Black, Asian, Latino and international podcasts, but not to the same extent that I see in female podcasters. Is that because we aren’t here?
I actually don’t think this is the case. The study sited in the article, Data confirm that podcasting in the US is a white male thing, has more than one inherent flaw. In addition to only looking at iTunes, it also only looked at photos which is an unreliable determination of race. Because the technological barrier to entry is still perceived as high, and the gate keepers to that information are largely white, many POC may also still use alternate modes of podcasting. I have found more hosts of all nationalities on Spreaker, blab.im and blog Talk Radio that I have ever seen in iTunes based on sight. To have a good idea of podcast demographics, we would need a large-scale survey based on self identity, instead of analysis of whether someone looks Hispanic, white or Italian. But more importantly, the hosts that do jump through those hoops tend to be a higher educated group, much like the aforementioned white male podcasters, and as such we’ve learned to code switch. We may be less likely to put a photo in our album art because we’ve been taught (much like female writers with gender neutral pen names) that a photo may subconsciously reduce an initial click, and many of us do not sound the way Stereotypes would have us sound. So in the end there are many podcasters who may appear white on first glance who are in fact People of Color.
So yes, Podcasting has a problem. It is an education problem, discovery problem, marketing problem and a perception of diversity problem. With the improvement of technology, the actual diversity problem seems to be taking care of itself.