Annual Meeting Reports

Scientific Podcasts: Why, When, What, Everywhere

Podcasts are increasingly a staple of many people’s daily lives. They can be entertaining, educational, informative, relaxing, and enjoyable, and as much as many of us may still be attached to print media, audio platforms can go where text cannot: in the car while one is driving, on the train or plane, or even at the gym if you’re especially adept at multitasking. I know that my daily commute would not be half as enjoyable without my favorite podcasts. So how can the scientific and medical publishing community translate that popularity into a benefit for academic journals? Anna Jester, of eJournalPress, led an informative and interesting panel of three editors who discussed their experiences with starting up and building on scientific podcasts for their journals.

Sue Silver, editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, began the session by talking about the three podcasts produced by the Ecological Society of America (ESA): Field Talk and The Ecologist Goes to Washington are produced by the Public Affairs Department, and Beyond the Frontier is produced by Frontiers staff. She explained that two editorial assistants took it upon themselves to learn how to start the podcasts, and things launched from there. With the help of interns, the staff at ESA work the podcast production into their daily schedules, operating on virtually no budget; the latter brings its own set of challenges, but the results have been worth the effort. Journal staff members produce one podcast per issue of Frontiers in an effort to improve communication and to reach a wider array of audiences.

Silver; Christopher Lowe, managing editor of Gastroenterology and self-taught podcast producer for Gastroenterology and Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology; and Sheehan Misko, managing editor of Clinical Chemistry, together provided a comprehensive list of what goes into creating a podcast, including equipment, software, and preparation. Here is a sample list of the materials necessary or useful in creating a podcast:

  • Hardware ƒ
    • Computer with microphone. ƒ
    • Headphones (mostly for editing).
  • Software ƒ
    • Skype (conducting interviews, free). ƒ
    • Pamela (recording via Skype, free). ƒ
    • “Podsafe” music (free or not free). ƒ
    • Audacity (audio-editing software, free). ƒ
    • Sound Forge (better audio editing software, not free). ƒ
    • GarageBand (included in iLife suite for Mac). ƒ
    • Google Analytics, iTunes, or other methods of obtaining use metrics. ƒ
    • RSS in XML file (feed is customizable at ƒ
    • Bundles that include microphone, headphones, audio-editing software, and so on, are available for purchase.

All three panelists insisted that creating a podcast does not require expert knowledge of the process—in fact, there are not many experts, because this is still such a new platform. A few important things to consider and decide on in the beginning are who you want your audience to be (for example, professionals in the field, general public, or students), what the format will be (for example, Q&A session with the author of the “sexiest” article in each journal issue, an author telling background stories about the research, or an interview with students or experts in the field), and frequency of release (for example, when each journal issue is published). Lowe also noted that video podcasts are becoming more common.

The session wrapped up with the panelists offering some tips to keep in mind: Podcasts are recorded, so there is less pressure than in a live broadcast; the ideal length of a scientific podcast is about 10–15 minutes; advertising for a podcast associated with a journal article can be handled by using a headphone icon on a table of contents page, in print and online, or in a print ad or somewhere on the journal’s or society’s Web site; and it is a good idea to have a press release or social-media update to accompany each new podcast and announce its availability.