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Podcasting Congress?

? Power of Digits Part II |


| PubSub unveils new government search ?

May 31, 2005

Podcasting Congress?

Heather Green

Believe me, (she says, getting ready to put on her flak jacket), I like podcasting. I read Jeff Jarvis religiously and think he's very thoughtful. And I have tons of respect for Ernest Miller.

But Miller's request, seconded by Jarvis at Buzzmachine, that in Congress "every single darn committee, subcommittee, whatever, have a podcast (in the future, broadcatch) of its hearings" seems silly. Ok, if not silly, a little premature.

Faster access to digital transcripts, yes. RSS feeds for those transcripts,sure. But podcasts? When less than 4% of the entire U.S. population will be listening to podcasts by 2008, according to Forrester Research?

UPDATE with clarification: The less than 4% number (technically 3.65%) is U.S. households.

03:01 PM


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Tracked on June 1, 2005 10:00 AM

Heather, I disagree. I'm hoping that podcasting will be cheap and convenient enough so that they can put them up on a Web site at minimal cost. Even if only a dozen people download an obscure meeting, I think it's good for history to have this stuff on the record. And plus, if one of those dozen people happens to hear something worth noting, word can spread quickly. And before you know it, lots of people will be listening.

Even if it adds a bit of cost, I would hope that each podcast would have an outline of the subjects covered, minute by minute, so listeners can move straight to what they're interested in. If that sounds expensive, check out how much Congress spends to print thousands and thousands of (widely unread) paper reports every month

Posted by: steve baker at May 31, 2005 03:39 PM

I am all in favor of getting out information about public meetings. But I just think that you should attack the broadest way of doing it first, and that's through the printed word. More of that, more quickly seems like a better use of money. And plenty of conversations are started using those. I don't get why it would be inherently better with audio.

Before we could do podcasts at BusinessWeek, we had consultants come in to train on how to do podcasts. And they told us we needed expensive equipment if we wanted to do "good quality" podcasts. Congress or the local school board or county zoning board would have to do the same.

Get them to start a blog, or put up easier to find links, or make the reports that are available now more accesible before jumping on the podcast bandwagon.

Posted by: Heather Green at May 31, 2005 03:50 PM

Well, look at this in the big picture. Technology evolves, merges, and emerges quickly and constantly.

For instance: In many areas, cable TV systems offer deliver audio channels as well as video (usually music programming, but it could be any kind of audio content). Combine that with on-demand ordering tied into the internet (kind of like Web TV), and you might well have a sizeable market for podcasts!

I don't watch much TV, but often when I'm doing housework I'll leave C-Span on so I can listen to it. I'd venture a guess that I'm not the only person who does this.

So, mentally, just take the "pod" out of "podcasts" and you'll see that there are tons of ways that independently produced audio programming can be distributed. "Podcast" is actually a limiting name for this type of media, I've never liked it, and I said so in my very first audio posting . It doesn't have to be the geeky, clunky method that podcasting uses at this early stage. Think bigger. Think simpler. Be flexible.

- Amy Gahran


Posted by: Amy Gahran at May 31, 2005 06:25 PM

I have no problem per se with podcasting congressional hearings, congressional sessions, stakeout comments, or even interesting hallway discussions, but some strcuture is needed. I like to go to congressional hearings as much as anybody, but they're too long and rambling to be true podcasting material. An edited hearing could very well be a great podcast, but that implies somebody (not Congress) doing the editing. Also, you really want a fully-linked media for a typical congressional hearing, including the testimony documents (which may be only summarized in the audio) as well as other documents used in the hearing.

Some hearings (as well as DC think tank seminars and conferences, which can be just as interesting and relevant) are available as full-video webcasts, so converting to audio-only is not a major production headache, but having an agenda and outline and presentation screen shots linked to the raw audio would be nice.

Face it, podcasts were a cute and clever idea that got people excited, but full-blown hyper-media is needed to do justice to a lot of this stuff. I've actually seen this done well on some web sites, but the emphasis was on "streaming" rather than the retro downloading of podcasting. Remember when streaming and webcasts were considered cool and quite a technological breakthrough? Personally, I dislike the concept of chasing after fads, and I resent attempts to *force* people to do so. Free and open markets are so much better.

-- Jack Krupansky

Posted by: Jack Krupansky at May 31, 2005 07:35 PM

Every elected official should blog for the people every day with reader comments.

Also I'm with Jeff Jarvis and Ernest Mill...."every single darn committee, subcommittee, whatever, have a podcast (in the future, broadcatch) of its hearings".

Any elected official who does not file a daily report on his or her blog with reader comments today should be replaced immediately by someone who will.

See United States Congressman John Conyers blog here for excellent example.........

and more blogging legislators here.....

and here....

Posted by: Doug Kenline at May 31, 2005 08:05 PM

Heather: Fair enough but you're thinking like a big-media person, measuring success with numbers.

I'm sure hearings are recorded anyway. If the process of turning them into MP3s (is that better than "podcasts?") could be automated, why not? Who cares of they don't get a big audience. If one hearing gets an audience of one citizen who finds something amazing or amazingly stupid therein and blogs it and you pick it up, aren't we better off? Transparency in politics -- or the press -- isn't aobut big numbers. If you put up the transcripts of your interviews, you should hope that most people don't read them (and I"m not making a comment about my transcript...) because you did such a good job writing the story and your editors (cough) did such a good job editing them. But if someone finds some fact that you chose to leave out for your large audience and found value in it, that's good. Ditto Congress. And the truth is, I wouldn't listen to Congressional hearings. But I sure as hell would listen to my local school board (which I can't attend because, ironically, I have children).

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at May 31, 2005 09:44 PM

Podcasting is a word that actually hurts the growth of the technology. Downloadable MP3's are what we're talking about. Where would internet radio be if it was called 'ROIP'?

The convienience of automatically downloading content using RSS is far less important to people than the content itself.

If you have content that people want they'll welcome cool ways to deliver it. Podcasting gets it back to front. The cool delivery technology is supposed to justify the content. It doesn't.

Posted by: Sam Sugar at June 1, 2005 06:00 AM

The technology is getting easier and quicker - so an automated feed / MP3 system would add real value and transparency to the process.

We had a number of high profile legal injustices in the UK in the 70's and 80's - they are less likely to happen now - due to the routine recording of police interviews - that was a positive step forwards.

Posted by: davidcoe... at June 1, 2005 06:52 AM

I actually feel more egalitarian when advocating that old technology (web site design, digital publishing, even RSS feeds) that could be used better, rather than something that most people won't use or have access to.

Isn't the idea that people should have the ability to find and comment on information themselves, rather than have others do it for them? Shouldn't we aspire to making the discussions and decisions that affect the public and are done in the public's name available in the most democratic, most popular (read easily accessible) way possible.

Sure some people will sift through one or two hour long podcasts, but will most people have the time or the expensive iPods to do so? Ok, so maybe the answer is structured presentation, better search, etc. But if there is a problem with how people access public information digitally, which seems to be the heart of the idea here, shouldn't we try to deal with the issue first, rather than just moving on to something that might end up having its own problems?

Posted by: Heather Green at June 1, 2005 09:45 AM

I totally disagree - audio has MANY advantages over simple text transcripts.

And remember - 'Podcasting' just means making MP3's, which can then be replicated throughout the web ... no iPod (etc.) required.


... NIF

Posted by: TJ at June 1, 2005 09:59 AM

among all of these posts there is a solution looking for a problem, but what is the problem? people don't have access to legislative activities? we don't have audio records available for legislative activities?

no doubt, there will be blogs for every U.S. Senator and congress person, but how accurate or truthful will these blogs be? You think DeLay's blog will be truthful? "Yep, me and the family took home $500K of campaign funds since my wife and daughter sure worked hard to keep me elected." uh, I don't think his blog will be very useful.

besides the veracity angle, do we really want the world to see/hear all of our legislative process? what is the downside of opening all records of the legislative process to influence peddlers or other more nefarious organizations? somehow, i think there is some level of danger/downside to a totally on line documentation of the legislative process.

sure, i want insight and accountability for our elected officials. i especially want to know what is on the table before votes are taken. that seems to be a very big issue - votes are made without full disclosure/knowledge of the legislation. i do totally believe that blogs can be the solution to this. however, before we implement a blog as a tool, we need to consider what we really want and the ramifications.

btw, here is an interesting link about legislative blogs. not sure how up to date this is, but it's an interesting site -

Posted by: jbr at June 1, 2005 10:24 AM

Forgive the cliches, but isn't part of "the long tail" exactly this, niche-casting? And it doesn't really seem that obscure a niche, people who want to listen to government hearings in audio!

I'd like to see this sort of thing automatically included in and heck ya, all the way down to neighborhood meetings.

There is no longer any technological barrier to total information availability for citizens. Storage is free, bandwidth ought to be nearly free if the US weren't in 13th place around the's a lack of political will that keeps people from being allowed full information in whatever medium they prefer.

Yes, sound quality is important, but I allready see lots of awful MP3s on the web. Anybody else try to listen to the PaidContent MP3 from the syndication and IP conference last week? It was awful! It's about proffesionalism and attention to detail, and you can find that in people on all levels of society, right down to school boards.

Ultimately everything is going to be digitally recorded by Brewster Kahle and the US government, right? Not just government meetings, but everything! And I want access to it too.

Posted by: Marshall Kirkpatrick at June 1, 2005 01:00 PM


First, of note, I found this post via Google with the search terms Congress and Podcast.

As a lobbyist I'd PAY to get podcasts of Congress. In the same way that I burn through audiobooks on the train to work and throughout my day (getting more out of it than reading) I can get so much more information piped into my brain if EVERYTHING had a podcast or audio version. Granted the software exists right now to turn the audio portion of a committee hearing etc. from CSPAN into an audio file but if it was done for us (which would not be hard) the public might be able to zero in on issues that are meaningful to them; debates, hearings, or even press conferences on important issues. I say anything we can do to make it easier for people to access and interact with the information they need the better.


Jon Posey

Posted by: Jonathan at December 7, 2006 11:05 PM

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