News podcasts and documentary podcasts, like news stories or visual documentaries, adhere to specific codes and conventions in order to develop accuracy and maintain certain ethical standards that a listener would not find in a theatrical or dramatic podcast. One way of thinking about the difference between the two is fiction and nonfiction. A dramatic or theatrical podcast is fiction. They are free to play with the truth, embellish, even create storylines in order to establish a relationship with the audience. However, a news or documentary podcast is like nonfiction. Their job is to bring balance, insight, and a certain level of objectivity to a subject by remaining as faithful to the source(s) involved.
Why it Matters
In 1938 Orson Welles made an infamous radio broadcast the night before Halloween. “The War of the Worlds” was a dramatic broadcast, but it employed elements of news reporting, like news bulletins, which caused confusion in the audience and panic in certain parts of America. This “Hoax Broadcast” blurred the lines between news broadcasts (nonfiction) and dramatic broadcasts (fiction) and shows the importance of an audience being able to distinguish between fact and fiction.
More recently, Alex Jones, radio show host of the Alex Jones Show and owner of the Infowars website, publicly apologized for his role in promoting “Pizzagate,” after a gunman opened fire in a restaurant. The “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory claimed Hillary Clinton and members of her presidential campaign were running a child sex trafficking ring out of Washington D. C. pizzeria. Jones has also used his radio broadcast to claim that the Sandyhook School Shooting was staged and that the US government played a role in the 9/11 Terror attacks. Like his broadcast, his news site Infowars is an example of fake news.
Seeing it in Practice
Every broadcast podcast needs to be analyzed critically by an active, engaged, and most importantly, an educated audience. Use the criteria below to critically assess the codes and conventions of broadcast podcasts to assess its purpose.
codes and conventions of broadcast podcasts
A podcast must be balanced in order to show both sides of an argument to ensure it in not biased. Both sides of the story must be shown fairly for a podcast to achieve this. Balance can be considered in terms of the amount of time a podcast spends exploring each side of an issue or if the opposing side is given the opportunity to have a voice. This technique allows a podcast to create depth with its subject and present a multifaceted story, in lieu of a single story.
A good news or documentary podcast dedicates a great deal of energy to maintain a neutral point of view. Examples of bias can easily be found in language. This is why a podcast host chooses his or her language carefully, or allows the subject of their podcast to speak. An example of biased identified from “Megyn Kelly Reports on Alex Jones and Infowars” was Jones’s use of “Liberal Trendies” to describe the victims of Manchester Concert Terrorist attack.
While a good podcast should maintain a neutral tone that does not mean that the purpose of the podcast is neutral, or that the podcaster(s) do not have an emotional connection to their subject. In fact, a good podcast will allow the audience to know and understand the personal feelings, tastes, and opinions of the podcaster(s) on an issue or subject. They do this to fully explore the issue, but also pay careful attention to not let their subjective ideas and opinions impact the impartial tone of the podcast.
The tricky issue with opinions expressed in podcasts is how to balance them with facts. A good podcast will often cite a specific reason based upon a verifiable fact to arrive at a claim. Not all opinions are equal. Often, logical fallacies inform our opinions about a subject or issue, so a podcast must carefully examine and analyze the rationale behind opinions they express and the opinions expressed by those they interview.
Fairly representing a subject is crucial in an ethical story. Statements that can put a person in a false light or misrepresent someone is not only unethical, but also potentially illegal. This is where language and issues of balance and bias come into play. A good podcast chooses its language carefully to thoughtfully explore an issue without accusing or falling into a logical fallacy.
Being objective in a podcast considers balance, bias, subjectivity, opinion, and representation to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions about an issue. If a podcast fails to remain objective, then they risk losing credibility with their audience.
Privacy is an important ethical concern for any podcast. The people at the heart of a particular story have specific legal protection from invasion of privacy. Thus, an ethical podcast usually relies upon direct interviews, facts, and information already available in the public domain in lieu of gossip and rumors to ensure that the information portrayed is relevant and in the public interest.
The language used to describe the individuals and issues being discussed in a podcast needs to be impartial. If the tone and language is too impartial, then a podcast risks bias. Having a podcast refer to an act as “evil” or describe someone as “no good” or “rotten” breaks impartiality and brings issues of unfair representation or too much subjective opinion into play instead of facts.
A credible podcast will use facts sourced from resources that are checked for accuracy. To do this, a podcast might pull information from news reports, police files, or court documents. Often, a source of information used in a podcast is a personal interview. Podcasts might complete multiple interviews and ask many people the same or similar question in order to arrive at the truth. The tricky part about credibility with a personal interview is that human sources may not recall exact details or possibly even lie. A good podcast presents these interviews impartially and closely analyzes their content to present an objective story.