Audio Astra: Podcasts reflect the evolution of media and journalism

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Audio Astra reviews recent audio reports on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio reports. Eric Thomas heads the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

About five hours after I started listening to Kansas podcasts this week, I paused the audio. As the Kansas farmlands faded in front of my rearview mirror, I asked myself, “What am I listening to here?” Of course, that’s the central question I ask myself every week as I write this recap of the best audio journalism in Kansas.

However, listening this week seemed to me to deviate from what I heard 20 weeks ago when I started this column. I hadn’t noticed the changes so clearly before now because the changes had happened gradually over those five months.

The changes are real, however. And these changes reflect what is happening in journalism and the media in general.

Nonprofits own digital audio news

The most interesting podcasts covering state news are mostly free of corporate ownership. There are efforts like ours Kansas reflector podcast, as well as public radio stations like KMUW and KCUR who produce weekly podcasts. In the case of the new launch Kansas City today, we now have daily listening to public radio in our podcast feeds. Another reliable podcast – the Streetwise podcast – comes from Pitch KC, an alt-weekly.

Audio offers from the biggest newspapers linger. Of course, the Kansas City Star titles are available to be read by an automated voice each morning. For me, it’s not quite podcasting. The Star reliably publishes two sports podcasts, including one by one columnist. But news podcasts are absent. The Wichita eagle has been without its audio title service for almost two years. The Topeka Capital-Journal produces “Chillin in the Statehouse” but often weeks pass between episodes.

News is not always delivered by journalists

In reviewing my listening this week, it’s striking how many podcasts that provide good newsworthy talk don’t come from reporters with a capital “J”. The producers of these podcasts unearth and discuss topical issues at length, sometimes from the comfort of their own basements. Some do not have the support of a media organization, while others are not attached to any larger organization. Consider podcasts such as “Lawrence speaks, which hosted this week a discussion of the census and congressional maps. The Legislative Post Audit podcast provides another newsworthy podcast on how rider school districts are with the data – and how much extra support they need to protect it. Or the guys from the Wichita podcast talking about Wichita State University football plane crash.

This lack of a formal journalism degree often reinforces the expertise and dissemination of these podcasts in unexpected ways. (And this sentence comes from a journalism professor at the the largest school of journalism in the state.)

Schools of journalism and mass communication are cleverly thinking about how to create expert media professionals whose work may not rely on reporting as important as the press journalist of the 1990s. As listeners, we benefit from hearing non-journalists interviewing. For example, who could ask better questions about conservation than experts in wildlife and science? host the Flatlander podcast? While they haven’t covered much of the Kansas-specific news, the Ritz brothers’ interview skills from Indicate your line deserves a listen and rivals those of any J-school trained host.

Diversity of subjects

The lack of corporate pressure on these podcast producers frees them to dig into stories about undercover populations and narrow issues.

My listening this week included an interview with a Haskell University Lakota Runner, a reflection on how Children in LGBTQ foster care can be overlooked, afghan refugees coming to Kansas and the possible abuse of Native Americans at the Shawnee Indian Mission. Kansas-based news podcasts appear to be more concerned with stories about the marginalized than their print counterparts, and far more than TV news producers.

Simply more podcasts

Kansas audio producers have stepped up production over the past year. These 6 podcasts launched since early 2020:

And these have started since early 2021:

Of course, it’s only a week. Some of these trends will change from week to week. However, 20 weeks ago I struggled to find four podcasts worth recapping. Now, as the hyperlink confetti above shows, there’s so much more listening here in Kansas, and it’s the product of an exciting, informal, and enlightened universe of audio producers.

What did we miss? E-mail [email protected] to tell us about a Kansas-based audio program that would be of interest to Audio Astra players.


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