Earbuds are ubiquitous. They’re lodged in the ears of walkers, runners, passengers and cubicle-dwellers everywhere. But the mix of what’s playing is changing. Sure, there’s lots of music. And NPR. Then there is direct-to-your-device listening.
A decade and a half after their introduction, podcasts are a growing part of the listening habits of 25 percent of Americans. According to Edison Research, monthly podcast listenership grew 24 percent in the last year among a core audience of 18- to 54-year-olds.
There is plenty of competition for what Edison calls “share of ear.” The Apple podcast directory, through which almost two-thirds of podcasts are consumed, lists more than 400,000 titles. What’s more, RawVoice, a podcast hosting and analytics company, reports that at least 1,000 overtly political podcasts have been added to the mix in the year since the 2016 presidential election.
So where do explicitly nonpartisan podcasts that give voice to state and local government fit in this world of spoken-word audio delivered directly to your personal device? Fred Dews, a writer, editor and podcaster at the Brookings Institution, set out to find an answer. His scope included all public agencies — including the federal government and nonprofit organizations. On a first pass, he noted that only one public entity cracked Apple Podcasts’ top 200: a cleverly named show from NASA called Houston, We Have a Podcast. Countless searches and much scrounging later, Dews curated a list of 175 shows to see if there are common through lines in public podcasting.
Dews found wide variation in production quality, longevity (some were almost brand-new, and some dated back to the introduction of the now discontinued iPod), and diverse, eclectic subject matter. The California Driver Audio Handbook from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles was syndicated as a podcast early on, as was a show for and about prison and probation officers in Michigan.
Dews drew three key lessons from his extensive listening tour around the world of nonprofit and government podcasts: (a) they can demonstrate an organization’s relevance; (b) they are often started as skunk works within agencies and sold up within the organization; and(c) for the size of the sector, there really are not too many podcasts in this space.
Beyond Dews’ list, we have been listening to a number of state and local podcasts. Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), the people who brought you the #cityhallselfie, also produce GovLove, a podcast that introduces listeners to the people who do the work of local government. Eighteen months ago, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) offered its own take on managing local government with its podcast series Local Gov Life. And from the town of Gilbert, Ariz., Chief Digital Officer Dana Berchman hosts Government Gone Digital, a podcast that chronicles how local government life is changing.
At about the same time, Salem, Mass., Mayor Kim Driscoll and Ruston, La., Mayor Ronny Walker each began their own podcasts. Last summer saw the launch of the eponymous Mayor Greg Fischer Podcast from Louisville, Ky. Mayor Rahm Emanuel changed up the model earlier this year when he began telling Chicago Stories by sitting down with everyday Chicagoans for surprisingly candid conversations.
We’re talking the talk too. Our podcast Not Safe for Government (NSFG) helps unpack what new technologies mean for states and localities. And Governing magazine’s flagship podcast, The 23%, features conversations with women who serve in government.* You can find both (among others) at govtech.com/podcasts.
Podcasting is a crowded, loosely organized, noisy world. It is also in an in-between state — big and mature enough to claim a permanent spot in the media landscape but still open to experimentation and new voices. Discover. Listen. Subscribe. And maybe even start your own.
*Governing is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.