By E.K.Bensah II
Quite a number of Ghanaian media outlets—both print and otherwise—own websites. Rare is the website that provides the possibility of downloading digitally-recorded material. In the Ghanaian case, it is downright non-existent. I am not quite sure whether it is a technical lacuna within these organisations, or that the Ghanaian media feel there is nothing qualitative from, say, their radio stations for download. For whatever mysterious reason, the state of the Ghanaian media insofar as facilitation of ICT tools and applications, such as podcasts, remain downright execrable.
Each time I listen to the BBC, which I know many Ghanaian journalists are wont to listen to, I am both quizzed and mad. I feel quizzed because I cannot for the life of me understand why despite the fact that some journalists enjoy the privilege of being sent out of the country to consolidate their journalism skills, their training fails to translate into dexterity and/or an appreciation for the current ICT tools. I am mad because a number of these tools that are part and parcel of what is considered the "New Media" are free! If any of us are able to become, say, a blogger overnight, you can imagine how a journalist – writing in his capacity as a private person – can maximise the use of blogs. If that journalist works for a radio station, you can imagine how much he/she can benefit from the use of podcasts by the radio or television station.
Pleasure of podcasts
Put simply, podcasts are recorded digital media files – usually audio – that can be downloaded onto any device, including mobile phones. It is exclusively distributed over the Internet, often using syndication feeds, for playback on portable media players and personal computers. The term is what online encyclopaedia Wikipedia calls a 'portmanteau' term of "i-pod" and, it is assumed, "broadcast". The Apple I-pod is the brand of portable device for which "scripts" were developed. In turn, these scripts enabled podcasts to be automatically transferred to a mobile device after they were downloaded.
Listen to the BBC World Service and within each hour, you are bound to hear remonstrations by both the station's presenters and continuity alike to visit the world broadcaster's podcast page, so that you can enjoy and re-visit the rich experience that the World Service offers. It has been advertised so many times you might get the impression that these podcasts are for sale. In fact, they are absolutely free, and can range from a minimum of 5 minutes to more than 60 minutes.
Not just for radio
It would be erroneous to believe, on the strength of the BBC, that only radio can offer podcasts. The truth of the matter is that if you look closely to how the quality Western media is doing it, even newspapers are doing it. Far be it for me to plug London's Guardian newspaper, but you cannot avoid it, especially when it's been, for a long time, dubbed the best online newspaper. The website has a podcast page, where you can obtain audio downloads on Money; Culture; US elections; Travel; Environment, etc. You name it; the site has a podcast for it—even if it's only three minutes long. In my view, this is innovation at its best: taking the print platform and revolutionising it to the extent that it becomes real—without being too in your face. Surely the Ghanaian media is capable of this as well?
When UEFA-licensed coach Nana Agyeman suggested on a private radio station (with a "refreshing lifestyle") three weeks ago that sports journalists were generally uneducated in the journalism profession, he incurred the wrath of many. The truth of the matter is that journalism has ironically had bad press for so long –- what with solidarity money, or sole, to write stories; bad pay, and whatnot –- that when journalists are not seen to make the rest of Ghanaian's lives easier by making it pleasurable to read, watch, and listen to practitioners of their profession, they will only go to reinforce an image of their profession that is far from positive.
Let's face it: podcasts are not only supposed to educate us; they are supposed to make our lives easier. Issues with internet connectivity notwithstanding, last time I looked, most internet cafes enabled you download from the 'Net and even from and unto your storage devices. Even without a connection at work or in your home, if you knew you could re-listen to your popular breakfast, or lunchtime show, by way of a podcast, I could imagine you would end up feeling both sated and dedicated to your station of choice—knowing they not only care about the kind of programmes they produce, but want you to be further interested in giving you the opportunity to listen again. To boot, your productivity would inevitably be boosted knowing you would not make too much effort to listen to a programme on the hour, especially when you can catch it again—albeit without contributions by text and email you might want to make.
Future for Media can be Podcasting
Truth be told, the tectonic shifts in technology and the media is spawning not just a whole slew of terminology that was alien to us a decade ago, but a whole phalanx of media practitioners that are forced to become media warriors—armed with new ideas and new skills on top of the traditional ones they know. Despite the fact that organisations like the Ghanaian-based PenPlusBytes—Ghana's only Institute of ICT Journalism—has regularly offered training to Ghanaian journalists, the commitment by these journalists has been this side short of poor. I do not believe for one moment that aspersions should merely be cast on the individuals, for opportunities, in theory, ought to be made by the management of these media institutions. If that is failing, that it can only be incumbent on these media-warriors to grab up their skills and interest and teach themselves within the information society.
From my experience, the saturation of information is such that there are little excuses these days to be technologically-illiterate, especially when you are a practitioner of the proverbial Fourth Estate. Journalism, surely, ought to not simply be about re-hashing press releases, and waxing incessantly about issues that are bound to polarize us, but ought, in my view, to be about formatting, or packaging, the information within society by using the information society to inform society in the traditional gate-keeper fashion. Let's be clear: podcasting alone will not do this, but undoubtedly, it can revolutionise the media and, by extension, society into keeping in tune with what the twenty-first century has to offer.