[Appeared first in print in Our Times]
Podcasting is probably the online tool we’re least likely to use in our union work. But that also means that when we do use it, we get a lot of attention. Here’s a podcast starter’s kit for you.
PODCAST STARTER’S KIT
Podcasts are audio files that are made available on a regular (daily, weekly, monthly) basis. You can register your podcast with a service like iTunes, and then each time you post a new edition to your website (or rented space elsewhere), the people who have subscribed to it through iTunes will automatically get a copy of it.
Think of podcasts as radio shows that come at you from your computer rather than your radio and you won’t go far wrong.
There are union pods out there, but they’re pretty few and far between. Podcasts require a lot of work and an ongoing commitment, so they have tended to come and go. They disappear either because they were created for a specific situation (the wonderfully creative lockout pods produced by Canadian Media Guild members at the CBC for example), or because the volunteer producers just ran out of steam.
A notable exception has been the audio pod produced by a member of the Electrical Trades Union in Australia called, inevitably, The Spark. But even The Spark is, after three years, being produced much less frequently now. (See www.etu.asn.au/rss/podcast.xml.) Still racing along with as many as four video episodes a month is the Union Show, produced by Phil Cleary in Victoria Australia as a TV show and then podded via iTunes. (See www.etu.asn.au/2007/union_show.html.)
Less ambitious have been the pods that pop up for a specific purpose and which are intended from the get-go to disappear once the need for them does. Podcasts to do with bargaining, strikes/lockouts, campaign, conventions and elections (union and otherwise) are all doable. And they are easy and cheap as far as technology goes: all you need is content. Still, it’s best to have a team rather than relying on one person to do it all.
Is there anyone who doesn’t own an MP3 player these days? Nothing like taking a bargaining update to the gym or a picket line or listening to it on the bus on the way to work in the morning. Especially if it’s blended-in with some interviews with co-workers, maybe some music for the line, a cheering line or two from the national president, and a Q&A segment for members on what the new collective agreement means to them.
Think of it as a membership meeting members can turn on and turn off at their convenience over the course of a day. Just make sure you pay enough attention to the format and content that it doesn’t get turned off and left that way.
For more details on webcasting of various kinds check out the Webcast Academy at www.webcastacademy.net. You’ll find free information, tutorials and discussion forums, lots of open source software reviews and links, and even live online tutorials.
Once you’ve browsed the academy and have an idea what your podcast will sound like (or even look like: a video podcast is an option for the ambitious), you’ll want the software needed to get started; something that allows you to manage the recording as it is taking place, and then to edit the results.
Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/)is open source software, free and with a large community of users who can provide tips and tricks when you start to push the limits of what it’s capable of. The developers even provide free online tutorials for using Audacity at http://audacityteam.org/wiki/index.php?title=Tutorials.
Like much open source software these days, this isn’t a second-best option to a commercial product. Audacity has won awards for “best product” in its class in direct competition with commercial software.
Once you have the software, all you need is a decent microphone (average cost about $20), and a laptop (desktops are a little awkward for those “streeter” interviews) or an MP3 recorder.
One obvious use that podcasts haven’t been put to by unions is education and training. If you know of an experiment along these lines, please get in touch.