Sunday, November 07, 2010
Airspeed Goes to the Peabody Board on Behalf of the Podsphere
The George Foster Peabody Awards recognize “distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and Webcasters, producing organizations, and individuals.” But it’s plain to anyone who understands podcasting and who reads the Peabody rules that the Peabody board has no idea what a podcast is.
The Peabodies have been vital in recognizing groundbreaking work. From All in the Family to Roots to Sesame Street, the Peabodies have been there fanning the flames of excellence. The call for entries for the 2010 Peabody Awards has just gone out (see the important dates in the screenshot above and visit the Peabodies' website at http://www.peabody.uga.edu/).
It has lately bothered me that a technical misunderstanding on the part of the Peabody board might chill the willingness of podcasters to submit entries for consideration. And that the Peabody board might not understand what it was evaluating.
I first noticed the inconsistency in January of 2009 when I entered Sometimes Alternates Fly for a 2008 Peabody Award. Sure, that was a Quixotic move on my part. But that won’t surprise anyone who knows me. In any case, please be assured that this isn’t sour grapes over not getting a Peabody. Airspeed (and, let’s be honest, most of the podsphere) is a long way from producing Peabody-worthy stuff. I know. I actually go watch and/or listen to such of the Peabody-winning entries as I can get my eyes/ears on.
But it’s important that this hallmark of achievement in media be fully open to our favorite medium.
Accordingly, the following is set to go out in Monday’s mail.
8 November 2010
George Foster Peabody Awards
University of Georgia
Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
120 Hooper Street
Athens, Georgia 30602-3018
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I write as a producer of a widely-subscribed podcast and as one who appreciates the tradition of the Peabody Awards in recognizing and embracing the evolution of media.
I fear that the Peabody Board misapprehends what a podcast is, that the entry rules for the Peabody Awards convey this misunderstanding to would-be entrants, and that the Peabody Board is thereby both depriving itself of the opportunity to consider worthy entrants and depriving those worthy entrants of a chance at recognition. I write to point this out and to tender a few suggestions.
Millions of podcast episodes crisscross the Internet daily on their ways to hand-held media players in every corner of the world. Podcasts are produced by broadcast professionals, lawyers, letter carriers, landscapers, lumberjacks, and others from almost every other imaginable walk of life. As with much other media, Sturgeon’s Law is in full effect: “90% of everything is crud.” And perhaps, on the Internet, 99% or more of everything is crud. Or worse. But, if podcasting produces the ridiculous, it also occasionally produces the sublime.
Some of that which is sublime deserves consideration by the Peabody Board. It is exactly the kind of electronic media that the Peabody Awards were originally established to recognize.
Although the Peabodies putatively accept podcast entries, the rules, entry guidelines, and the Peabody Awards’ own website all suggest that the board has no idea what a podcast is. I fear that this suggests to podcasters with potential entries worthy of consideration that the Peabody Board will categorize a podcast entry in with dissimilar content and/or fail to judge a podcast entry on its merits.
If you were a sculptor interested in entering your statue in a juried art show, but were told to send a photocopy of the statue (to be clear – not a photocopy of a picture of the statue, but a photocopy of the three-dimensional statue itself) would you enter? Probably not. That art show clearly doesn’t understand sculpture. So you, as the artist, lose a potential venue for recognition and the competition loses the opportunity to consider the statue.
The Peabody Awards’ web/podcast guidelines present just such a non-sequitur to the podcaster. The rules for web/podcast entries is presently as follows.
Web entries should correspond to one of the above entry categories and be “original to the Web”, meaning the entry was produced exclusively for the Web and not re-purposed in any way. If the entry was done “in collaboration with another medium” (e.g., the Web site is an added value in content, interactivity, or multimedia to a broadcast or cable production), the site should be included as part of a broadcast or cable submission. The date the entry went online must be specified when the entry is submitted for competition. Entrants must keep their nominated entries online, intact and accessible from submission until the Peabody Awards are presented on May 23, 2011. The site must be accessible in a current version of the leading browsers and to both Windows and Macintosh platforms. For judging and archiving purposes entrants must also submit the entry on CD-ROM or DVD, formatted for Macintosh OS or Microsoft Windows platforms.
The rules mention podcasts only in the title of the putative “Web/Podcast” section of the entry form. And the word “podcast” does not appear in the “Entry Formats” web page at http://www.peabody.uga.edu/entries/formats.php. A literal reading of the rules essentially excludes podcasts.
Initially, and most fundamentally, podcasts are not properly a part of “the Web.” The “Web” is a distributed collection of content, usually in HTML, linked media, script, or similar form that is accessed through one or more visual browsers. It is, for the sake of convenience, a collection of “web pages.”
A podcast is a distributed collection of audio and/or audiovisual content, usually in MP3, M4V, or similar format, that is indexed by an RSS feed and automatically downloaded to, and consumed on, a media player, usually a handheld portable one, such as an iPod, Zune, or smart phone. Although one can consume audio and audiovisual content that is part of a podcast through a browser on the Web, that is by no means the primary method of doing so. Any more than listening to a Web stream of a radio station is the primary means of listening to a radio station. The overwhelming majority of podcast consumption occurs using small portable media devices in cars, on busses, at the workplace, on hiking trails, at the gym, or wherever peoples’ lives take them.
It is true that most podcasts have accompanying websites and that most podcasters include some form of show notes or ancillary material on such websites, possibly even including a link to the show’s audio or audiovisual files for consumption through a web-based viewer. But the Web element is merely ancillary. To call a podcast a part of the Web is much like saying that a radio or television station is the station’s website. And no more.
The rules further require that “[t]he site must be accessible in a current version of the leading browsers and to both Windows and Macintosh platforms.” It’s hard to know where to begin with this particular clause. (a) A podcast is not a “site.” It’s not even properly a creature of the “Web.” (b) The requirements of this clause are akin to requiring that a radio entry be accessible from a Ford or a Toyota. (c) What of a podcast with no accompanying website? How is the “site” to be maintained through the announcement date? Or at all? (d) Even if a podcast has a companion website, will the judges look to the podcast’s companion website instead of judging the podcast on its own merits as a podcast? Would the judges judge a radio production by the radio station’s companion website? Without reference to the audio itself on its own terms? Or judge a television production based on the living room in which it is viewed?
It is true that the most popular podcasts are parallel means for distributing content that is originally produced for radio, broadcast television, and cable television. To the casual observer, it might seem that all podcasts fall into this category. But the Peabody Board is not (or at least should not be) a casual observer. Is the Peabody Board aware that most podcasts are independently produced primarily as podcasts and that the RSS feed (and not radio or television) is the primary, and usually only, means of distribution? Can it be that the Peabody Board is unaware that true podcasting is an entirely different and unique channel for media distribution and consumption, entirely apart from traditional radio and television? I hope that this is not the case, but the rules sure make it seem that way.
Whether intentionally or otherwise, the Peabody Awards’ entry rules communicate loudly and clearly to anyone who would enter a podcast episode or series that podcasts are at least misunderstood – and, very probably, unwelcome – in Athens.
While criticism is sometimes useful, solutions are actually helpful. And usually more welcome. To that end, I hope that you’ll not think it too bold of me to offer a solution to the problems identified above. I suggest the following modifications to the web/podcast rules.
Web and podcast entries should correspond to one of the above entry categories and be produced exclusively for the Web, or through an RSS or similar feed, and not re-purposed in any way from an offline medium. If the entry was done “in collaboration with another medium” (e.g., the Web site or the podcast is an added value in content, interactivity, or multimedia to a radio or television broadcast or cable production or is simply an alternative means by which to consume an entry that is primarily intended for distribution by radio or television broadcast or cable production), the Web entry or podcast should be included as part of a broadcast or cable submission. The date the entry went online must be specified when the entry is submitted for competition. Entrants must keep their nominated entries online, intact and accessible from submission until the Peabody Awards are presented on May 23, 2011. A Web site entry must be accessible by the use of a current version of a commonly-used Web browser and to both Windows and Macintosh platforms. A podcast entry must be accessible in a form usually and ordinarily consumed using widely-available portable media devices (e.g. MP3, WAV, or M4V). For judging and archiving purposes entrants must also submit the entry on audio CD or DVD.
As you can see, the modifications take into account the actual nature of Web and podcast media, respectively, and address the issues raised above.
I hope that you consider these changes or changes similar to them. Doing so would make it clear to potential entrants that the Peabody Awards recognize and embrace the evolution of electronic media and make available to the Peabody Board additional worthy entries to consider for its prestigious award.
Podcasting is a vital and growing media form that produces work worthy of the Peabody Board’s consideration. And it would be in the finest tradition of the Peabody Awards to revise the rules to make it clear that the best, the brightest, the most brutally honest, and the most compelling of electronic media – in all of its varied forms – is welcome in Athens in January.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Very truly yours,
/s/ Stephen L. Tupper
You can download a fully-formatted version of the letter (that shows the redlining in the proposed language for the rules) at http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/Peabody_Letter_2010-11-03.pdf.