Critical Photo Essay Proposal

I’m curious about podcasts because they’re a really fascinating media to me, but I’m not really sure just about what yet, so I have kind of a list of questions going through my head now that I intend to narrow down to one after more research. What does it take to make a popular podcast? What role does scripting play in podcasts that seem off-the-cuff, i.e. question and answer podcasts? How much of a podcast’s popularity is due to production value? Host personality? Subject? Current cultural values?

I don’t know for certain that all of my questions are completely unsolved. I took a look through JSTOR and found that some have ideas about what makes a podcast “good,” and others have connections between production quality and popularity. None have anything about question-and-answer podcasts particularly, which is, I think, where I’d like to focus my time and energy on. I think it’s worth working on because it seems like a new-ish field of study, and a really interesting one in terms of how much of it is based in fully scripted writing, how much of it is technical things like sound design or audio equipment setup, and how much of it is popular due to cultural zeitgeists.

I want to study the question by using existing scholarship to help me analyze several popular podcasts right now that are done by answering listener-submitted questions: the Slate “Dear Prudence” podcast, and “My Brother, My Brother and Me.” I’d ideally like to break them down and pull out soundbytes from each, ranging over several episodes (probably 5-10 over the length of each podcast’s history), and compare them to one another. I’m a little less sure of this part, so I intend to do more research into the existing literature before beginning this analysis, in case this reveals a better way to do this.


Annotated bibliography:

Kennedy, Dennis. “EAR! EAR! Podcast Gains Are in the Listening, Not Creating.” ABA
     Journal, vol. 97, no. 7, 2011, pp. 30–31. JSTOR, JSTOR,

This article provides a look into the beginnings of literature about podcasts, when the media was just getting big (the first “podcast” titled as such was in 2004, but the popularity of them, and the particular way in which they were being used by independent content creators, came later), which I will use to frame my analysis. The article gives tips to beginning podcasters and defines what is/is not a good podcast, and what contributes to that goodness. It’s rather short, so I’ll be looking for a longer, more comprehensive version with more to say about this same subject, unless it proves useful in some yet-unseen way. At the very least, it will inform my understanding of existing literature — i.e., that much of what I found seems to be dealing with the technical side, currently.

Lucking, Robert A., et al. “Can You Podcast?” Science Scope, vol. 30, no. 1, 2006, pp. 16–16.

This article is incredibly short, and deals with using podcasts in the classroom, created by the teachers for the students. It’s more technical stuff, like what’s needed for a podcast, how to record one and what they should be. It also mentions that podcasts should be only sound, because so few people have MP3 players that work with video, which is interesting with regards to podcast and tech history, as podcasts are now known as audio-only, and this article was published only a year after YouTube was created. I’ll probably use this, like the Kenning article, for historical perspective and not much else.

McElroy, Griffin et al., hosts. My Brother, My Brother and Me. Maximum Fun,

This podcast features three hosts, all brothers, who answer a combination of listener-submitted questions and other various comedy bits. It’s independently produced, though supported by a podcast conglomerate, Maximum Fun. It’s billed as comedy advice, and, unlike other Q&A, tends towards bad or ridiculous advice over useful, genuine advice. I intend to use it to explore the limits of the genre of Q&A podcasts, as well as define what makes something independent popular, as this currently a very popular one. I also want to use it to analyze the language of podcasts, as listeners of this tend to pick up phrases the hosts use because of their general oddness. Finally, I hope that this one will help me figure out the role of host personality in podcast popularity.

Meserko, Vince M. “Standing Upright: Podcasting, Performance, and Alternative Comedy.”
     Studies in American Humor, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 20–40. JSTOR, JSTOR,

This article speaks to some of the history, legal (non)issues of podcasts and the FCC, podcasts as situated in “time and space,” and comedy podcasts in specific. It seeks to situate comedy podcasts in culture using some of the most popular of the genre today, none of which I’m currently considering using, but which will provide me valuable information on the similarities between them. I’ll use this information to help answer the question of whether or not there are specific characteristics that always help podcasts become popular, or if it’s more a matter of time, place and possibly luck.

Ortberg, Daniel, host. Dear Prudence. Slate,

Modeled after Dear, Abby columns, the “Dear Prudence” podcast is a podcast that discusses user-submitted questions sent in to Ortberg, which he does his best to answer. At this time, I’m not sure if the podcast itself is scripted, as the matching column Slate does is a live chat between Ortberg and readers, and is not scripted. I intend to use this as one of the examples of Q&A podcasts which I will analyze. I also want to compare news-site sponsored/professionally produced podcasts and independently produced ones, of which this will be the latter. This podcast, in comparison with the other I’m using currently, is not billed as a comedy podcast, but is billed as an advice podcast.

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