The popularity of longform podcasts reflects the changing trends in the media landscape, and how the circular economy is disrupting this industry as well.
Long form podcasts are on the rise, with top podcasts being frequently over one hour long. The latest figures from Rajar suggest six million (11%) of UK citizens listen to a podcast each week, an increase from 3.8 million in 2016. It represents a 58% increase over a two-year period. The reason for this sudden growth in listeners is not obvious. However, academic work on the principles of the circular economy suggest that mainstream news is no longer fully sufficient for a thorough understanding of current events. Podcasts are seen as being needed to bridge the gap between receiving information and being able to form a concise opinion. This is because the linear model of the 24-hour news cycle produces little intellectual output, giving the impression that there is a shortage of experts – as the mainstream media’s fear of in-depth discussion leaves the potential of topics of substance.
The day to day reporting of national and global events has been classed as the news cycle, however, it is not circular in the least. People are quick to forget the ceaseless stream of world events which are often of no relevance to the individual, not least because opportunity for reflection on the greater significance is seldom explored. That is why podcasts are restorative and regenerative by circular design, giving life back to a once dead and benign display of information; eliminating the culture of make and dispose.Therefore, in order to explain why applying the circular model and philosophy has the potential to save political social and academic discourse; it is necessary to detail what has happened and where we are now.
A Lack of Trust
Firstly, over several years there has been a radical disconnect from the mainstream media as a source for reliable, accurate and unbiased news. Perhaps there was no greater indication of this than the extent to which mainstream media sources failed to predict or reflect the two most significant political movements in the West in recent years – i.e, Brexit and Trump. Social media sites have been newly identified as a similar source of misinformation- or so-called fake news. A new 2018 Reuters Digital News report has recorded the fall of social media for news after years of continued growth. The report, which covers 37 countries in five continents, reveals that usage is down six percentage points in the United States and is also down in the UK and France, while the EU finds the UK the least trustworthy out of 33 European countries by public opinion. The majority of this decline is due to the decrease in user sharing of news posts, re-sharing, retweets, discovery of posts, and slowed user growth: a cause which could explain the 15% share drop of twitter. The level of trust in the news from any source has never been so low.
Trust in the news is not meant to be dependent on its content being agreeable or popular. Media outlets are supposed to be objective and impartial and the information/knowledge they provide should not align with individual political beliefs. This is not the case, the public at large do not trust information provided by state-owned media outlets or social media sites as shown in the graph linked above.
A Rise in Messaging Apps
Alongside the emergence of these groups, there has been a rise in the use of messaging apps for news. Consumers look for new and more private spaces to communicate, in order to escape from the aggressive conflicts of the culture war. WhatsApp is now used for news by around half of the sample of online users in Malaysia (54%) and Brazil (48%) and by around a third in Spain (36%) and Turkey (30%). Private sites are not just being used for privacy as podcasts are also non-aggressive, agile and private for the listener. These sources of information are becoming popular across the world due to better content and easier distribution.
This is the most important indicator in solving, or rather curing the culture wars, as the circularity of podcasts can stop ideas being misrepresented. The linear model of quick/short media pieces are used as a silencing and defaming technique against individuals who have different opinions, the most notable among the plethora of examples are: The Guardian referring to Jordan Peterson as the alt-light or rather alt-right, and Charles Murray who was described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “white nationalist,” claims which were made with the intent of smearing and thereby invalidating their contributions to the political and intellectual spheres. Many academics have lost jobs and endured violent protests, mostly because there is little defence against the linear model. Hit newspaper articles provide the final say for their readers on the subject with no room for discussion by nature of design; it is the readers responsibility to judiciously interpret the facts from the authors perspective. TV interviews are no better, often short with linear straw man tactics being used to shut the guest down. The bandwidth on TV is small, meaning the representations of ideas and political leaders are compressed within seconds and are often scripted by the presenter who summaries their position.
It is no surprise that the thirty minute Cathy Newman interview provided more circularity and more chance for Jordan Peterson to express his own authentic views, though all the while she tried misrepresenting him. The irony is that exposure of Newman’s manipulative “so you are saying” tactic backfired, pulling more than 11 million views and support for Peterson. The circular model attracts audiences from the linear model and can showcase the best ideas. It is therefore evident that the circular and open model can change public opinion and be viewed as dangerous for the status quo.
The rise of podcasts seems exponential, and podcasts are almost twice as popular in the United States (33%) as they are in the UK (18%). Surprisingly, podcasts are a big hit with millennials. Recent research by Acast suggests that podcast listeners in the UK tend to be of a younger generation, with two-thirds falling into the 16-34 age bracket. This is a big step in the right direction in educating millennials in heavy, substance-based material with long discussions which can help to defuse overly outraged students and calm the toxic culture war.
In America, the comedian Joe Rogan reached an impressive milestone last month when his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, topped 11 million monthly downloads, making his one of the highest downloaded podcasts on the internet and top five in comedy. Even more political commentators are becoming popular, for example, Ben Shapiro, a well-known conservative whose star has risen quickly in recent years thanks mostly to his daily hour-long online podcast. The Daily Wire web site that Shapiro runs as editor and contributor receives 15 million downloads a month.
Even though conservatives have taken up this form quicker than liberals; probably because they felt they had been defamed and misrepresented and are therefore more reluctant to on go on TV, liberals that have moved too far left are disenfranchising moderates who feel cannot express their own view without harassment. Moderates also want to showcase valid ideas; everyone can benefit.
Podcasts are Multifunctional
Podcasts are also multifunctional and work in tangent with other tasks; whether driving the car, at the office, in the shower or going for a jog, you can do many at the same time. In the U.K, almost three-quarters of podcasting hours are listened to via a Smartphone (72%). Over half (53%) of all podcasting hours are either consumed Driving/Travelling (28%) or Working/Studying (25%). This is due partly because circularity can be used as a framework which is adaptable to different needs. This cradle to cradle concept and philosophy considers all material involved in industrial and commercial processes to be nutrients, hence you can work within the model but still contain the core essence of the objective. Meaning that previously, we had allocated areas and times which was used for specific learning, such as schools and universities. But It was then difficult to find time and resources for the working groups that did not have higher education credentials.
The next step is for employers to consider using this model, to allow employees to work and learn through podcasts to develop personal competitive advantage on competency-based topics, which will reformat professional learning. Again it is not about being a linear consumer, where few people and producing all the content. Podcasting is very much a horizontal media form, consumers can be producers and producers are consumers, they can both engage and interact in conservation with each other.
Overall podcasts have made a positive breakthrough in the dispersion of diverse news where reflection and discussion can be made; we know people are hungry for substance based dialogue or rather polylogue. Students are the first to benefit, now older generations, employees and employers can adapt it, not just for long discussion but for cognitive training at the workplace. The circular model really can, and, is- saving political, academic and civil discourse. Bring it on.
Alexander Finer is an undergraduate in Business at the University of Exeter and an editor of the student newspaper. He specialises in the circular economy and it’s impact.