Podcast Review #1 - The PetaPixel Photography Podcast

** update - I neglected to include a link to the podcast initially; here it is **

This is the first in what I plan to turn into a semi-regular series looking at the broad range of photography podcasts, vodcasts and video shows out on the internet. It's something I'd been meaning to do for a little while but it was when PetaPixel - one of my preferred photography news outlets - announced their brand new daily podcast it jolted me into action. I've tried almost every podcast out there at one stage or another and do periodically check all of them from time to time, even those I don't catch regularly.  At the time of writing five episodes have been published.

The idea behind the podcast in the words of PetaPixel themselves is to present "a fusion of news, opinions, humour & real-world experience" and it's with these goals in mind I started listening. Each episode focuses on three or four news items, all sourced from articles posted on PetaPixel in the last 24 hours.

The first thing that struck me as ambitious was the planned daily frequency... that's quite an undertaking, and producing a quality podcast every day takes a lot of work. I was a little skeptical they'd either be able to maintain this pace, not to mention quality, and sure enough by the fifth podcast the format has already switched to bi-weekly. This makes sense for a lot of reasons I'll cover below.

Podcasts live and die by the charisma & wit of their host, especially audio-only formats where presenters can't use body language or visual cues to get their message across. The PetaPixel podcast is hosted by Mike James who has had his own show in the past and freely admits he made the move to PetaPixel to reach a larger audience. It's pretty clear he has the photography credentials to talk knowledgably about the subject but from the very first episode it felt too scripted and a little forced. It's always a bit of a red flag when someone tells you just how crazy their humour is, and sure enough the jokes have been a bit weak. I was hoping this would improve over the next few episodes but the monologue still feels quite "on rails" and a little awkward. I don't think the problem is Mike as such, though time will tell, I think it's more that for an audio-cast, you need a foil to the main presenter and with two people they can play off each other to make it more of a conversation than a lecture. 

The first podcast very nearly turned me off completely. The introductory item was a piece about the new Sony A7SII. Although I'm sure it's going to be yet another outstanding camera from Sony, for a huge wedge of the first show Mike & his Sony Ambassador friend did nothing but wax lyrical about such an awesome piece of kit. It came across like the whole thing was one huge, unsubtle Sony advert and though sharing the news about how potentially great a camera will be is fine, and how excited you are, it sounds extremely disingenuous when after spending a quarter of your show about how capable the camera is you reveal that you are looking forward to using it when you get a review unit! If you haven't used & reviewed a camera, do not waste your audience's time with how good you think it will be... Otherwise, as was the case for the whole of episode 1, it comes across like a sales pitch.

My other major gripe with the podcast so far is that the content has largely been recycled from PetaPixel - it's simply repeating the news from the main site. This is pointless really, especially when Mike knows his audience mostly found him by reading that same site. Though in on or two of the episodes he did offer his own opinions & commentary, in the main it was just rehashed stories from the parent site. The times he does go into a personal commentary on a subject it just feels... confused. Take his piece on the "shooting on train tracks" and the very valid message advising people not to do it, when he swings off onto a tangent about couches in a field & lame jokes about the names of people involved in the story it tends to dilute the message he's trying to deliver & comes across disjointed.

I know that part of the reason to produce a podcast is to draw an audience from iTunes who may not otherwise be aware of PetaPixel but it's a catch 22 situation; he needs to appeal to the existing PP audience to make sure the podcast is successful to attract the newcomers who he wants to tempt to the website with news stories, which turns off people who have already read the same stories.

There's also been to much backslapping about the podcast's iTunes performance, requests to review/rate it etc. For a less frequent & longer podcast this is much less of a big deal but a few times he's spent more than 2 minutes of a 20 minute podcast trying to drum up positive reviews - that's more than 10% of the entire podcast, day on day, spent asking his audience to vote for him instead of delivering content. If you want to make a sales pitch, do it at the end so people can decide if they want to after you've impressed them. Win people over with quality content and you don't need to ask for nice reviews.

So far, so negative. There have been some good segments though, like a piece about how the DMCA might sometimes work against photographers but even here he falls into the old trap of saying "I'm not a lawyer" multiple times before offering his brand of legal advice. It made him sound, on that occasion, like one of the many trolls you find in the PetaPixel comments section! So far the best sections have been in response to the questions from listeners about specific photography technique questions - such as the lighting umbrella question in particular.

My final criticism was going to be about the accuracy of his facts & quality of research with the specific example where he accused Peter Lik of copying user images from Instagram before tweaking and reselling. After a second listen to the episode in preparation for this article reveals an obvious overdub with the correct person responsible, Richard Prince. Maybe he did read the comment I left on the website after all... :)

Conclusion

It's been a stuttering start. The occasional interesting segment has been overwhelmed by a number of niggling issues and the occasional major blunder. To make the podcast work & stand on its own feet he needs to deliver something the website does not. To my mind this is best done coming from a commentary & opinion standpoint interspersed with some technical advice where he can interact with listeners. Right now it's almost completely news-oriented and as such gives little the website doesn't offer.

I'm hoping the switch to bi-weekly will help. Mike can spend less time parroting news items because he knows it will already be "old-news" for his audience; he can assume they already know the story and are coming to him for his opinion. He can leverage his photography skill & experience and make better use of listener questions. Given his photojournalism background, anecdotes & stories from his career could well be very interesting to hear too. But most of all he needs to get some help, someone he can talk to on-air who can provide balance. And he needs to relax and not try so hard to be funny, his humour can come out over time.

I really, really wanted the PetaPixel podcast to work. I love the fact it's audio and not video; video demands so much more dedicated time whereas audio can be enjoyed while doing many other things. I'll stick with it for a few more episodes but I hope the guys up their game. So far, I've been disappointed but I'm willing it to work!!