I claimed that I wasn’t a podcast person, but I was wrong. As it turns out, I enjoy listening! This is a well-timed discovery because I just acquired a commute.
Most recently, I played an episode of Neighbors while walking the dog. Neighbors is about connecting “ordinary” people — of course, the hidden point is that each of us is quite special. (Trite but true.) The episode “Purpose” is part of Neighbors’ series of interviews with homeless people, called “Sans Houses”, which producer Tasha Lemley has been conducting since 2006. I was particularly struck by Cowboy, who recited this poem:
“The old man used to speak
of the portraits he’d seek,
now he lives in a room
where they pay by the week.
His saddle’s all tattered;
his pony’s gone lame;
his bones always ache
when the sky feels like rain.
I know his last mountain’s two flights of stairs
and his saddle’s turned into an old rocking chair.”
After reciting the last couplet, Cowboy said, “I don’t wanna be like that, you know? I don’t wanna lay up in that room and die layin’ up in the bed. You know, I wanna go out in a gunfight or something.” A little later he explains, “I’ve always been active, in whatever I did. If it was wrong or right, I was active doin’ it, let me tell you what!”
I love that line. “If it was wrong or right, I was active doin’ it, let me tell you what!”
Let me tell you what: I’ve only listened to one episode of Neighbors so far, but I deem it worth my aural attention.
Australian journalist Andrew McMillen has a weekly newsletter called Dispatches, which I subscribe to. I can’t remember why I signed up, but I assume it was because McMillen wrote a good story and the link was at the bottom.
Dispatches suggests long-form articles about a wide variety of topics. For example, one of my favorite installments features fascinating stories about how terrifying “pet” chimps are. McMillen also regularly enthuses about music and podcasts. Arguably the newsletter has something for everyone.
I don’t usually listen to podcasts, but I like McMillen so I tried the inaugural episode of his new venture. Penmanship is a podcast about Australian writers and other publishing-industry professionals. In the first episode, McMillen interviews Trent Dalton, an acclaimed journalist who is suuuper hesitant about defining himself as a writer, even though the word “writer” is part of his email signature (lol). If you’re a meta-media enthusiast like me, the story of Dalton’s career and his thoughts on magazine-creation are quite interesting.
However… the episode is too long. One hour and forty minutes is a lot of time to expect from a random stranger. If I didn’t feel a personal connection to Andrew McMillen — thank you for responding to my emails! — I never would have tried this podcast. But I’m not a podcast aficionado, so my opinion doesn’t carry much weight. Pete D’Alessandro, producer of the podcast 2 Degrees of Alie, writes on Mic, “If I’m selecting which podcast to listen to next and yours is two hours, I’m gonna have to get back to it.” Limiting yourself to forty-five minutes “roughly triples” the chance that he’ll tune in.
I think the kind of interview that works for a text story is very different from the kind of interview that works for audio. When you’re writing an article, you want to let the interviewee ramble freely, because that increases the likelihood of fascinating tangents and pithy quotes. When you’re recording an article (so to speak), you want the answers to be succinct and punchy, unless you plan to edit heavily later.
In my view, the interview with Trent Dalton would make a better listening experience if A) it was shorter and B) it had a narrower focus. Instead of overviewing Dalton’s entire work history, the episode could have focused on his time at the magazine QWeekend or his experiences interviewing celebrities. The scope was perhaps broader than it needed to be.
All that said, I enjoyed Penmanship, and I plan to listen to future episodes. In fact, I’m hesitant about posting this review, because I don’t want to discourage a project that I think will be really cool. Any new endeavor involves a learning curve, so I expect each new episode of Penmanship to be better than the last. (No pressure, right?)
Over email I asked McMillen what he plans to tweak going forward, now that he’s finished the first episode. McMillen answered, “I’m brand-new at podcasting and keen to get better. I’ve got three other interviews recorded, and I’m very happy with the contents of each, but I know that I need to improve my ‘radio voice’ by loosening up in front of the mic when recording my intros and outros. That’s my goal for now: becoming more comfortable as a host, rather than just a guy reading a script into a mic, which is basically my role in that first episode.”
Basically reposting an ad I came across in the “writing gigs” section of Craigslist. I thought it was funny and intriguing, so here ya go:
“I’m creating a podcast a la This American Life or Invisibilia (I know, these are the best, but aim high, right?) where I get to do what I do best: tell compelling stories. And every story needs a hero. Not the dragon slaying princess saving kind. Real life heroes. The kind who made huge reality altering mistakes and have lived to tell about them.”
The best part is that this fellow, named Jason, is paying $25/hour for an interview. Have at it.