KETR

In An Effort To Get People To Tune In, Government Agencies Try Podcasting

Oct 11, 2017
Originally published on October 11, 2017 8:33 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The U.S. government has any number of ways to get out its messages - press releases, news conferences, social media. Now, some federal agencies are trying out podcasts. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Search for podcasts on the usa.gov and 30 of them come up. Some are kind of bare bones, like this one from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "YOUR MONEY")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Welcome to Your Money where we help you achieve your saving and retirement goals. We have three good questions today.

NAYLOR: Others clearly have higher aspirations. This is NASA's.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PODCAST")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: T minus five seconds and counting - mark.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Houston, we have a podcast.

NAYLOR: Even the inspector general's office at the Environmental Protection Agency has a podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIA ALBON: Hello, I'm Tia Albon with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General.

NAYLOR: Deputy Assistant IG Jennifer Kaplan says their podcast started in response to radio stations that wanted audio about various reports. She says it's done right in the office.

JENNIFER KAPLAN: They are very easy to do. We literally use the voice memos app on an iPhone or two depending on where the people are located, and we have two people sit down and have a conversation. We record it, edit it a little bit and add some music.

NAYLOR: The Department of Energy's is a bit more ambitious.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DIRECT CURRENT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This is direct current.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Of all the laboratories in all the world, dark matter had to walk into, well, none of them, not that we could tell anyway. And that was the problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

SIMON EDELMAN: Hello, this is Edelman.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hey, Simon.

NAYLOR: Simon Edelman, a former documentary filmmaker, produces Direct Current with a team of five using an office they converted into a makeshift studio.

EDELMAN: In our research, there wasn't a lot of government podcasts out there. If there were, it was a lot of just talking or releasing long-form audio, so we tried to do something a little bit different, and a lot of people actually compared it to NPR.

NAYLOR: Kaplan at the EPA IG's office says her podcast, not so much.

KAPLAN: They don't sound like NPR podcasts. It's definitely amateur voice talent.

NAYLOR: Another perhaps unlikely agency with a podcast is the Government Accountability Office.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WATCHDOG REPORT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: You know, drug residues in imported seafood - it is a potential health risks to consumers. Folks need to know that.

SARAH KACZMAREK: Welcome to GAO's Watchdog Report.

NAYLOR: Host Sarah Kaczmarek says she sees her role as having a conversation and trying to get sometimes dry government auditors to explain what's important about their reports.

KACZMAREK: You know, if I have questions, take that seafood safety one that we just did, about going to the grocery store and I'm looking at buying imported seafood, how do I know if that's going to be safe for my family to eat for dinner?

NAYLOR: Chuck Young, who heads the GAO's press office, says it can be a challenge to get a compelling story out of a wonky government report.

CHUCK YOUNG: If you dig deep enough to find some of the really interesting kernels in there, it may not be as, you know, it's not a gripping murder mystery like Serial might be, but you are getting information out to people that, you know, that they can - can be very useful for them or their policymakers that need to see this information and hear about how things are working or not working.

NAYLOR: Most government podcasts don't draw huge numbers of downloads. Young says the GAO podcasts get a thousand or so. Edelman says Direct Current listeners are in the tens of thousands, maybe not Serial numbers but not bad. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.