Transcript: In Conversation with Dr. Ian Cook

Note: This transcript has not been edited.

Lori Beckstead 0:00
Hi, Lori Beckstead here Associate Professor in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University. Recently, I was invited to chat about podcasting with Dr. Ian cook. Ian is a research fellow at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. He’s a sociologist and anthropologist and is currently writing a book exploring the intersection of podcasting and knowledge creation. So we connected to chat a bit about my experiments with open peer review podcasting. It was a really fun conversation. And while it was meant to be for Ian’s research, it struck me that our conversation might also be useful to share here to shed more light on the open peer review podcast concept. So with Ian’s permission, here’s our conversation.

Ian Cook 0:51
So maybe, let’s like just start talking then maybe just the very sort of general question: What can podcasting do for academia?

Lori Beckstead 1:01
What can podcasting do for academia? I think it can….I’m hoping it can drive a wedge into the door of the ivory tower and help pry it open for people who are not so amenable to the hegemony of the written word. It’s, you know, I mean, in academia, there’s certain expectations. For example, I remember when I was first asked to write up my CV in a given format, it was a format that was required by a funding body and the format required that the very first thing on your CV underneath your name was a number. And that number was meant to be how many publications do you have? And they didn’t want the names. I mean, maybe that probably there was a space for it later in the CV but they wanted a number front and center. And I felt like I was no longer a human being that I just needed to have this number tattooed on my head and that obviously the higher the number, the better scholar you were supposedly right. But um, you know, and this was early in my career, and I mean, I’m, I’m mid career now and I still don’t have a lot of publications under my belt because I my M.O. has been to try to disseminate the, what I’m working on in alternate format. So I will do interactive sound installations, or I will hack a physical object to become an interactive object to play with data and kind of understand some of the data that I’ve collected. So, you know, so that number for me was meaningless and totally dehumanizing. And so I think what podcasts can do for academia is help humanize it. It can allow voices to rise to the top beyond, you know, text, and I think it’s a certain type of person who is good at writing that style of text and it’s also a certain type of person who can even read those texts and understand them. I just happened to be listening to a podcast and it was a podcast, to parents were producing it they have disabled son. And they talked about reading through scientific literature to learn more about their son’s condition and how it took them years to figure out what the heck the researchers were talking about. So I think podcasting can help academics do what they’re what I think they’re meant to do is create knowledge and, and allow that knowledge to be, you know, put out into the world so that people can use it, as opposed to keeping it kind of behind this gate kept it’s in a journal. It’s written behind opaque language. And you know, there’s only a privileged select few that really get to kind of work with that and understand it.

Ian Cook 3:48
I mean, the Yes, I mean, I share like so many of your feelings that were the last project I did. We did a comic book out of some research into toxic waste. And it was… but it’s actually I think, also it was really great as a…. to make you go back and think about your research, because when you have to sit down in this case, when I had to sit down with an artist and I was trying to, you know, present certain ideas, visually, of course, and I was really I really struggled because very, very difficult without basically with no, we have, you have hardly any text at all for because there’s just no space. And I noticed like, and then and then it makes you then when it came to actually writing a text about it, which I have not done the academic text yet, just like a journalistic text, I find it much easier because I’d been forced to rethink the material or in a different way. So it’s like as soon as you change mediums and you can go back to the medium that you’re meant to work before I say that the the text that I also feel like I have a strange relationship with the academic text, but I think I hope it makes you a slightly better writer by actually having to do stuff in podcasts as well.

Lori Beckstead 4:49
Yes, I believe that’s the case for sure that, that by having to articulate yourself verbally in a conversational context, you, you’re forced to kind of deal with your own scholarship in a different way than when you are trying to type it out into sort of academic speak. It’s just a different way you have to kind of summarize that you have to articulate it in the moment you have to. And and I believe that talking about your scholarship through podcasting brings you to new understandings of what the heck it is you’re doing. I mean, newsflash, when you’re a scholar, and a researcher, you don’t always know exactly what you’re doing or what the what it is, what the meaning is of it all. And so I think that having these constructive conversations, and being able to have a bit of a push and pull a dialectic, you know, somebody may be poking back a little bit. Well, have you considered this? And what about that, and why did you reach that conclusion? That’s part of that conversational nature that really helps you see things from a different light.

Ian Cook 5:53
Do you think there’s much space for these sorts of conversations inside academia? Inside you know, around the university conferences, and so forth?

Lori Beckstead 6:01
Well, yeah, that’s the first thing that jumps to mind is the idea of conferences. And, you know, maybe we’re learning thank you 2020 for at least one lesson that we have to figure out ways for researchers and scholars and academics to get together more often without having to jet around the world spewing fossil fuels. Because that’s really difficult to do, it costs a lot of money. There’s not a lot of time in the year to do those things. And certainly that face to face interaction, and then having a couple of drinks over which to discuss your research later is always useful. But I think that podcasting can really, really assist with that as well. It can be a framework for doing a very similar thing. So I think it could be really useful to academia because conferences are one thing and they’re fantastic, but you know, it’s it’s kind of limited by the expense and the resources needed.

Ian Cook 6:52
Yeah. I also think I’m, I really like listening to some podcasts that have come out of conferences where people have, you know, pulled someone aside and sat down and had like a 45 minute talk about their work. And yet, obviously, I’ve not been at the same conference. But often, I don’t really go into conferences very often because I just, I find them a little bit to the performances that is expected from you in a conference doesn’t always seem to be a conversational one. It seems to be what’s a presentation, right? You present something. And then some people ask some questions, or they ask some pointed questions that are particularly useful for anybody but themselves. You know, that there’s Oh, yeah. And is that and then there’s also quite rushed and dense and like, yeah, so like, I don’t know, I, for me, it’s just like, you know, what people want to find out about what’s happening in my field that I’d rather sit and listen to, you know, a podcast, of course, you’ll get to speak to the person and all this sort of thing. And meeting people, of course, is important. But in terms of the actual finding out about work, I found, I find podcasting more useful. Useful is the right word than, than sitting listening to a presentation at the conference.

Lori Beckstead 7:54
Yeah. And you say, you know, you don’t get to interact with the people in the podcast, but in a sense, if a podcast is done well, the people in the podcast are meant to be sort of the avatar for the listener, in a sense, like the advocate for the listener in that they should be asking all of the same questions that a listener who’s experiencing this information for the first time would probably have, you know, to sort of anticipate Well, what does the person need to know next, what context needs to be given here and so to guide, you know, that conversation maybe happens naturally, or else it’s really well planned out by the producer of the podcast. But it should end up feeling like you did participate in a conversation even though you you weren’t literally participating in it.

Ian Cook 8:37
I agree. And so I want to let’s talk a little bit about the about the project that you’ve been working on in terms of this peer reviewed podcast because for me, it sounds super fascinating in a number of ways. So before, maybe I’ll let you tell me the whatever the big idea first, and then and then I’ll ask my little questions.

Lori Beckstead 8:54
Sure. Okay. So the big idea. So the open peer review podcast is what it’s called. It’s at, just launched that. And so far we have one episode. It’s basically a demonstration episode. The idea is that a researcher would be invited on to this podcast to talk about a particular project. And there is a host who is aware of what the research is about, but isn’t necessarily an expert in that particular field. And then the researcher invites a peer reviewer so much like, you know, at my school, when you’re applying for tenure or promotion, you get to nominate several people who are experts in your field to review and evaluate your performance. So in that same spirit, the researcher asks a peer reviewer to join them on the podcast. So there’s the host, the peer reviewer and the researcher. The way I designed it was to be…. so I’m all for, I want to lay this out here first… I am all for podcasts in and of themselves being considered a, quote unquote legitimate research output, you know, something that I could add to my tattoo on my forehead, the number. I’ve put a podcast out, so that’s an extra number, right? So beyond the standard academic journal or a publication that I believe that podcast just in and of themselves can be considered a legitimate academic output. However, what I decided to explore with this particular project is how could podcasting assist on the way to publication? So what role could podcasting play pre publication? So assuming that a scholar still would like to publish in the traditional forms, but what could they do with podcasting before that? So the idea is to have a conversation pre publication, where the peer reviewer can ask them questions you can have this this conversation, this dialectic and it affords an oppor tunity for the scholar to think about their work in different ways to be able to leave from that conversation, and perhaps go back and polish what they’re doing or refil rework some things reformat things. And the idea is that it’s an opportunity to have that conversation and then be able to have an even better shot at publication in terms of having having already had some pure feedback and being able to have done some review and some polishing and some editing based on that. I don’t know if I’ve kind of covered does that….

Ian Cook 11:37
My question is like, so this will this will be for people who before they’ve submitted it to a journal basically. So

Lori Beckstead 11:43
Yes, yeah. So I just wanted to explore that particular space for podcasting. I do believe there space for podcasting on all levels of academic research, you know, from the data collection, point of view. Also from simply you know, making a podcast and considering it a legitimate research output, but I’ve just thought, let’s explore this particular spot. After having done my lit review, I think, you know, there are scholars working in many of these areas, and probably also this particular one that I am as well. But it didn’t seem like a lot of people were really focusing on that space. So I thought, well, I’ll just grab that as mine. Yeah, every podcaster would find the niche. Yes.

Ian Cook 12:25
And this is like, and how do people like, you know, how and how do you select the papers that you’re going to that you’re going to want the papers? Yeah, I guess papers, right? How do you select the research and the researchers like how does it work?

Lori Beckstead 12:38
Right, so so far, I haven’t gotten that far. So the demonstration episode was actually I was the researcher. So it’s a little bit circular here in that I, you know, I have another project that has to do with podcasting. It’s about identifying genetic codes have podcasts or at least attempting to and how could those codes be used to improve recommendations engines for listeners. So that was the particular research study. And it was me. And then I’m also the one doing the larger study of how can podcast beat so it gets a little bit circular, a little bit meta, a little bit confusing there. But so I just wanted to get that demonstration down on tape, so to speak. And then, you know, be able to say, here’s what we learned from this, here’s the model that we think works, and then invite other scholars. And what I’d really like to try is getting scholars from, from disciplines outside of media or storytelling, who maybe aren’t as familiar with podcasting, to see, you know, could this work, you know, Could someone working in biology, for example, use this as a method?

Ian Cook 13:43
Yeah, yeah. So it’d be super interesting. I’m gonna keep tabs, keep tabs on that. I mean, I mean, I, if I was going to be then… if I put my critical hat on, I would say that, okay, you mentioned before that, you know, you didn’t want to have this dehumanizing experience of numbers and measurements and so forth. And podcasting for the moment is not really measured by most institutions, at least not in the same way. And, and you possibly, you know, going down the path of, you know, taking this free, wild, independent scholarly pursuit, which university managers haven’t managed to suck all the love out of yet. And helping university management control our, our free, our free spirited academic podcasters.

Lori Beckstead 14:29
So you’re saying I’m on the wrong side here? On the side of the enemy? [laughs] And I did worry about that. Yeah. Because part of my approach was to, to develop questions that would allow for a conversation that talked about the things that would normally go into a paper so for example, the questions were things like, tell me about your research, which would be a summary, kind of like an abstract, the overview. Tell me about what inspired this and an opportunity To talk about the literature review the underpinning theories, we there’s questions about methodology, etc. Now those questions were carefully planned. And of course, the conversations have a tendency to just kind of spin off from there. And so those questions in the demonstration episode weren’t necessarily specifically hit, although I do believe that all of the information that you would normally want to review in terms of methodology and analysis ended up in that podcast. But yeah, that’s a very good question. You know, would this kind of crush podcasting if we expected, if we… you know, if the bean counters got ahold of it and said, well, in order for it to be considered for this, it must contain this and it must contain that, and does that suck all the joy and the life out of it? Yes, that is something I had considered. But I guess what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to slowly… I’m trying to encourage perhaps the the sort of curmudgeonly academic types, who think, you know, it’s got to be a certain way or it can’t be evaluated. I’m trying to demonstrate to them and encourage them, that this is a way… Look, we’re kind of doing the same thing that you expect, we’re just doing it in a different format. So it’s almost like a stepping stone to get us to the point of accepting podcasts in and of themselves in their existing formats to be considered legitimate research outputs. It’s just kind of that that stage in between if you will.

Ian Cook 16:31
Yeah, I mean, I’m gonna I answer my own question, my main question, like example, I’ve obviously been asking this to some people and so some people will be more like who say Listen, you know, we this is work that we’re doing. And if and, and there’s only a certain amount, so much time that you have in your life and your academic life. And if you want to think this is important scholarly work, then you need it to basically be recognized as scholarly work by, you know, by our peers. Otherwise, then it’s always otherwise then we have to still write the papers to get you know, jobs and to keep jobs and to get promotions and make podcasts, you know, in the evenings on the weekend. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make podcasts as part of our day job, because they are serious scholarly output. So that’s like one side that I get from a lot of people and the other but the other side is, and this I think it very much depends on the, probably the stage, the age, let’s say, or stage in career of the person, because if someone’s like, super secure, like, you know, you know, you know, a tenured professor who just does it because they can actually do whatever they want, you know, like, and they like, and they say, Please, God, no, I don’t I don’t I want to do this, and I’m doing it. And I don’t want anyone to tell me anything about it, you know, and I’m so I guess it’s really those, I think those are two different things. Right. So one is like, you know, an academic podcast in a sense, you know, this is a podcast, which is a, you know, has a scholarly ambition. And the other is, this is a, this is a podcast made by an academic, which maybe doesn’t go for the same sort of scholarly rigor. But they might do for them a bit of work, but they still want to do it anyway. You know, and so I guess…

Lori Beckstead 18:03
That’s a good point. Yeah. Because I, I do a podcast about sewing. And you know, that doesn’t go on my year end report for my academic, you know, it’s maybe a little side note. Oh, by the way, I’m a producer, which kind of helps me be able to talk to students about production. But yeah, so I’m a scholar who does a podcast, but it’s not at all a scholarly podcast, in that sense, in that case, yeah.

Ian Cook 18:26
Yeah. Yeah. And, and isn’t I mean, yes, I think there’s like probably, like, it always, like born with the word podcasts, right? It’s to grow to describe all the different things that happen. Because the same way like, I mean, it’s the same with any sort of text, I guess. But, you know, journal articles become very, very fixed, but a podcast, you know, some people spend months crafting, basically audio documentaries and putting out as a podcast, and some people just, you know, turn it on and talk about, you know, this week in virology, as an example, you know, and they just make a podcast every week for five years, whether it’s talking about what are the latest papers are out in their fields, I mean, these two things can’t probably compared anyway, like, is the same type of output? I don’t know.

Lori Beckstead 19:06
And that begs the question, you know, will there eventually be sort of a standard or checklist or, you know, to, to evaluate a podcast as an academic output, you know, the legitimacy of it, the rigor of it, etcetera. Yeah. And as podcasters, as practitioners, I think that’s what we fear. But I also think that we need to be open to considering that in order for it, you know, if that’s what we have to do to make this quote unquote, legitimate, then let’s have a look at how that could be done. And maybe as podcasters slash scholars, we can have control over how that’s done. As opposed to handing over that control to, you know, who I like to call the bean counters. I’m gonna get in so much trouble for what I’m saying! No, I’m not really. I have tenure. It’s okay! [laughs] Isn’t that bad. Yeah, maybe cut that part out. I seem like a total ass saying that. [laughs]

Ian Cook 20:05
It’s fine. Actually people… I mean, I’m only using select parts. That’s the part I’ll use, of course, no I’m only… [laughs]

Lori Beckstead 20:09
Of course it will be! No, that’s fine. If you want to use it, that’s totally fine. I’m just…

Ian Cook 20:13
Actually, I mean, this has, this has actually been said to me before, like some people said that they probably wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have tenure. And…

Lori Beckstead 20:18
Exactly. I think that’s very true. And that’s why that’s why I want to do this project to help people, you know, early stage, early career professors to be able to achieve tenure without having to tattoo that number on their forehead.

Ian Cook 20:33
It’s actually very interesting, like in terms of like, yeah, sort of an age and being willing to talk because are speaking to two guys in Germany who are making like a sustainability podcast. And they were saying they really struggle because they said, Listen, we… one of the reasons they wanted to do it was similar to like what you were saying before about changing, disrupting, let’s say their field you know, and so they said, okay, we want to make sure we get all these like young researchers coming on because you know, they’re doing the most exciting stuff. And, but a lot of them were really reluctant to come on because They were basically scared of putting down, you know, on tape their thoughts on something until they’d really thought it through, like and really, you know, because they were scared that they will be judged on this. Whereas, you know, once you get, you know, your 65 year old professor, she or he just like whatever they’ll talk, yeah, they’ll talk about anything. Evem the stuff they’re not experts on. [laughs] I mean, okay, because yeah…

Lori Beckstead 21:25
And even recording that demonstration episode, I felt the same way. You know, as the researcher who is presenting her research, I felt really a lot of pressure, a lot of scrutiny. I felt like I was going in for a PhD defense. And, of course, you know, Dario Llinares was my peer reviewer. And, you know, it was a wonderful conversation. So I didn’t have anything to fear in terms of him trying to skewer me the same way that some scholars might do in a PhD defense where they’re really posturing for each other, rather than assisting the the PhD candidate sometimes. But it, yeah, I understand that because it did feel like putting yourself out there. The mics are on. Sure we can edit, but the mics are on and we’re having a conversation and I need to be able to answer things on the fly. So that is one potential barrier for people, I think is that, you know, with a paper, the process is, is meant literally for you to go away and polish it to perfection, until you’re ready to share it with the world. And so there’s a bit of security in that you’re still fearful when you’re finally sharing it, you know, is it good enough? Is it good enough, but at least you’ve had that complete time and you feel okay, it’s as good as it’s gonna get at this point. When you’re having a conversation on a podcast, it’s unpolished. It’s unvarnished things don’t kind of naturally necessarily flow in that very polished way. You might be struggling for words as I often do. And so yeah, you really are putting yourself out there by using this. But I think that’s a really good thing. I mean, almost nothing anymore is people going away into their corner and polishing something to perfection before it’s put out to the universe. We know the value of collaboration, we know the value of feedback, we know the value even of failure. Right? So I think podcasting allows for a peek into that process, where as we might think, well, professors are all these people that just know everything. And they go off and they write a paper in, you know, a week, and then it’s published and everything’s perfect. And, you know, I think the reality is obviously, the opposite of that. We’re vulnerable, we’re, we’re scared of putting ourselves out there. We’re afraid we’re not going to get it right. We’re afraid we’re going to get criticized, all of those things. And so I think you can talk about that in a podcast as well, which is nice. It opens up the process.

Ian Cook 23:49
I think, like, what, politically? Yeah, politically I guess it’s important just to make people realize that, you know, there’s lots of missteps along the way. This is how knowledge is made, like, you know, with mistakes and we and we make miss-turns and we have hypotheses and they get blown out the water and it’s totally fine. And especially now that academia is under so much attack or academics are under attack, especially by the right, I guess, like, you know, as somehow that, you know, like, it’s all just what we do is is all just like partisan or made up or whatever is actually… and maybe appears like that because we sound so assured when we put out a paper, you know, or if we’re asked to, to, to speak to the media, we have to say in two lines, this is this, you know, like, and so yeah, but then now, yeah, you’re actually here 45 minutes. Somebody say, Actually, you know what, I really thought this, then I went there, then I went there. Then I went there, then I ended up here. And I guess it’s important as people sort of, you know, people can see way more behind the curtain. Yeah.

Lori Beckstead 24:46
Yeah, I think so too.

Ian Cook 24:47
Yeah. Absolutely. Like so you because you’re someone who has like a lot of background in radio as well. And you see all these and obviously so you’ve worked up the craft of being able to produce audio, right like all parts of it, like how to speak like how to edit, like how to how to do all of these things and so on. And, yeah, so I mean, and so but this is something that we learn how to write, right? And we learn how to, not necessarily very well always, but like, at least, like, we go through the whole process of going when we go through any sort of university or school, but there’s not really there’s plenty of academics now making podcasts, hundreds and hundreds of them, maybe thousands of them. And some of them have never really thought about the craft of audio, right? So I was wondering like what are your thoughts there as somebody who is a professional who’s, you know, say, done the time to learn something, and then, you know, some guy just rocks up, turns on record and starts talking and then presses, presses stop, does like the minimum, bare minimum they need to do in editing and then puts it out there. I don’t know, like what you feel about the lack of, the lack of craft, shall we say?

Lori Beckstead 25:52
Sure. You know, I say good on him. I say good on those folks who hit a record button and then press an upload button and sort hope for the best, you know, because I, for me, the point is it’s not gate kept. So whereas academic journals and you know, published books and you know, that’s all extremely gate kept and so is radio. You have to get into the building, you have to have proven yourself you have to have the specific skills. And so I think the gatekeeping can keep people out and can turn people off. And having a background in radio myself, I think it was for me, you know, an easy transition to podcasting just because I understood the the production processes, but in a sense that can also be detrimental in terms of what my expectations are of what a show quote unquote, should sound like. So we can, you know, radio folks can bring a lot of baggage in terms of what things need to sound like or how they need to be, I think. You know, I listen to a lot of CBC Radio and I’m sure that I am simply emulating the style of interviewing I hear there just because I’m so inundated with it. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. So I like, I love the fact that anybody can just decide I’m going to try this podcasting thing and I’ve heard ones like that from various areas where people have simply turned on the record button and some of them are completely unlistenable. Because they really are just like, Oh, this is just too much to wade through in terms of technical problems, but others are just, they’re pretty bad, but they’re saying something really important. And that’s the that’s the important thing. I suppose that’s the trite answer. But, but there you have it, you know, that’s that’s kind of the magic of podcasting as anyone can, supposedly anyone can do it. Obviously, there are barriers. It’s a bit of a confusing thing, technically. But it’s, but the barriers are much lower than other forms of media.

Ian Cook 27:53
Yeah. Do you find like like we’ve sort of former colleagues or friends from the world of radio there’s much, I don’t know, professional, I don’t know, disquiet about suddenly that you know, this thing that they do very well, suddenly everyone just thinks they can do it? I mean, is there a bit of professional pride and going on towards podcasters or not?

Lori Beckstead 28:14
Yeah, and that comes from understanding storytelling, the craft of storytelling, which can be very difficult and, you know, conversations even, they’re meant to sound like they’re completely off the cuff and that they just happened. And maybe that’s why we love podcasts so much, because it feels like we’re just joining in on a conversation with some people, but the best ones are extremely well prepared, well produced, you know, they everyone participating knows exactly where that conversation is meant to be going. And so that is one thing that I realize with this project is I don’t want academics to think that Oh, podcasting! I’ve heard anyone can do it, you know, my son does it. So it must be super easy. You know, like we hear that a lot with every new medium. I remember with websites there were, you know, at the beginning when corporations and companies and independent producers needed to have a website, and I’d be around a table of executives and they’d say, Well, you know, my son does websites. Well, I’ll just get him to do one for our major company here. Do you know what I mean? And so it’s a similar kind of thing as well for podcasting. Of course, there’s a heck of a lot of work that goes into it. So I don’t want academics to think that this this would just be like a lark to do it. Because it is a lot of work for the researcher to come, at least the system that I’ve set up, but I’m hoping what I can do is by demonstrating this, I could get units at universities on board. Units, like we have the Center for knowledge for– Center for Communicating Knowledge at Ryerson. You know, there’s a similar unit, I’m sure at most universities or even the University Press, you know, could those types of units at universities take on the responsibility for having a podcast production element of it to do this style of podcasting to help. I went really circular on you there Ian, and I’m not even sure I answered your original question. But…

Ian Cook 30:15
No, you didn’t. But you made so, you’ve made me think about something else instead, which is also interesting, which is, which is about the role of institutions. So this is actually what I’ve been… So I tell you about the different types of people I’ve been speaking to, like, I’ve been speaking to, let’s say, you know, the historian, and she’s super passionate about, you know, medieval France. And so she just starts making a podcast about medieval France, like, and then it’s successful. Then a few years later, universities notices this, hey, I saw you. Everyone knows your podcast, you know, and then they might give a little bit of support, you know, buy a new microphone or something or they might just not like depending, and there’s these sort of, you know, very individual people. Then there are like, you know, institutions who hire people, you know, like, just to do it like I’m like I don’t know if you also say in Canada, we don’t say it in the UK, SciComm, like people kept talking about science communication, but these Americans, Yeah, I call the SciComm people and I was just like, while they were talking to me, I was googling on my phone, what is SciComm and has figured out yet, you know, this and this, these people are hired now. And often they have a bit of a background in the in the field, like maybe like a master’s in the thing or like years ago, then we went practitioners so they get brought back in. And then you have more like an institution like research institutions rather than whole universities. And then of course, but then now you have like communications officers or whatever what you, what the thing’s called at your place. And those ones to me are the ones that are hardest to really work out. Maybe because that that too, or maybe they’re the ones who are, you know I’m being polite, or like doing things the least well, and because they haven’t yet quite got their heads around what may be academic knowledge, how to communicate– they should know, right?– how to communicate, academic knowledge, at least. I mean, I feel it’s our university and the people I’ve spoken to at other universities, they’re more about promoting the university very often in a headline, in a headline-y sort of way. So, you know, let’s say, you know, you know, you develop the cure for Corona, you know, in between your sewing and your podcast, then that will be very good. [laughs] Then you’ll be you’ll be very good at making sure all the media have the headline, right. But they’re, we’re, they’re less good because almost maybe because podcasts sit somewhere closer, it’s interesting, you mentioned it, to a University Press than what they do to a communications office. Right? Because you basically a different type of skills.

Lori Beckstead 32:34
Yes. Yeah. You know, I hadn’t really thought of it in that context, myself. So that’s great insight. Yeah, that, would a University Press that understands…. It’s not, it’s it’s communi– It’s communicating knowledge, but not in the PR sense. You’re not in the Hey, look at us, big donors, please come and give us lots of money. Which is, you know, which is great and which is needed. But yeah, that has to exist somewhere maybe in between those two things?

Ian Cook 33:03
Exactly. Because sometimes it’s not even even just communicating knowledge. Sometimes, depending on the field, it’s generating knowledge at the same time, you know, like something which is like fields that are more discursive and can generate stuff like that. It’s there, right? I mean, it’s certainly they’re generating new things, even if it’s not first time, they’re just like, talking, basically, through secondary sources, but it’s still, you know, generating new academic production now, like, and so yeah, so this is why it’s not quite the role of communications officers to deal with that.

Lori Beckstead 33:35
Yeah, interesting.

Ian Cook 33:37
Yeah. And so I mean, the thing that I thought would be interesting, maybe if you thought about this is about voice and about creating I guess authority or intimacy or all of these things, because obviously, this is something that we must think about when you’re making podcasts or radio, but it’s a very different type of authority or intimacy or authenticity that we ask from academics, or maybe it’s not I don’t know, like… Have you thought about this, like how the voice changes across these two things and how they can combine or not?

Lori Beckstead 34:11
Yeah,I don’t know, if you’ve had the experience of reading a paper written by someone you know, and you hear their voice in your head while you’re reading the paper. But, I mean, most people don’t have that experience. They haven’t been to a conference and you know, you might be a student just reading a paper, you have no idea who this person is, who wrote it. And the language it’s written in is so different from a conversational language that it’s really hard to hear voice in terms of academic papers. And, you know, that’s, that’s…. I feel like you’ve just given me such an easy question because I mean, voice that is what podcasts are about…

Ian Cook 34:47
Ok, but I mean like your voice as a teacher or your voice as a presenter at a conference. You know, those This is different.

Lori Beckstead 34:56
Yeah. I feel like when I’m when I’m in the classroom, I use my voice as you say that kind of knowledge creation. I… I like to ask a lot of questions. This sounds so trite, you know, like, yeah, who doesn’t do that in the classroom, of course, but I ask a lot of questions to tease out, to tease out discussion, too. And it’s an interactive, it’s a conversation. It’s discursive. And I, I hope what we’re doing is trying to come to some knowledge creation together. So I feel like my voice in the classroom is very similar to what it would sound like in a podcast, but my voice in a written paper would be completely different to what it might sound like in a podcast. And I mean, are you asking, Are you worried about like, the voice seeming less authoritative, perhaps because of the nature of podcasts or where professors are expected to be this authority on, on their subject?

Ian Cook 35:56
I mean, I’m, I’m thinking about this is very much thinking like an anthropologist I guess, but like we because we always pay attention to basically who– not only like the, the sort of the vocal performances that people do in any sort of situation to basically create a certain, whatever, mood around them or so forth. And like if, if I am, if I was, like, from, if I was posh and from the southern part of England, like and I didn’t sound like this, then it would be much easier for me to read out…when I read out whatever or when I start to speak about any topic, I would automatically sound more like an academic than what I do. Right.

Lori Beckstead 36:36
Right. And if you’re using the Queen’s English, right?

Ian Cook 36:39
If I was using the Queen’s English, yep. And, and, and you know, and and obviously you know that this is all depending on how you decode and read accents and all of these sorts of things. Like, you know, you probably can’t tell for instance Dario is from Yorkshire and I’m from Derbyshire, just across the county lines, but you know, like everyone else, where you’re from, but we can tell. And but like, but, but you know, but there’s but there’s also this basically affords certain groups of people to most part, like, let’s be honest, that posh white men to be able to, to be able to use podcasts to basically uphold their already privileged position of being the voice of what academics should sound like. And you might have someone who’s super but basically, if you have someone who has a working class accent, women for sure, like, you know, their voices too squeaky, you know, like, they’re…

Lori Beckstead 37:31
too shrill.

Ian Cook 37:31
Too shrill. They just they will, you know, then they might be fine for you know, you know, a comedy podcast, but is it gonna work for you know, talking about astrophysics, you know? And so I worry a little bit maybe about this like that. Okay, it’s great. Yeah, podcasting is there’s no barriers. Everyone can do it. But actually, you know, there are probably certain loads of barriers in the listeners’ minds, or maybe in our minds as well. Like who can, you know, who, who sounds like an academic and who can really just, you know, get away with.

Lori Beckstead 38:01
The conscious or unconscious bias that people have. And you know, in what you’re describing about the voice giving away, you know, clues to, oh, well, that’s a female voice and so maybe unconsciously I’m thinking, you know, she’s less credible or that’s a voice with a particular accent. So that might be more credible or less credible. I think that just exists on the continuum of all of the ways in which we judge people, consciously or unconsciously based on a number of factors and so even with the academic paper, you know, peer review is meant to be blind to try to take away that, those biases so you don’t see a name. So you don’t know if it’s a female or a male or you don’t know if it’s a, you know, a quote unquote American name or or you know, an Indian name or something like that. Which also kind of begs the question about using podcasting as open peer review. You can’t, it can’t be blind. You hear a voice you hear all of those characteristics, you know, you know, you may know who the person is. That sort of thing. So, so there is that, but that… Yeah, I’m trying to think if podcasting can actually overcome that in any way. You know, at least what it overcomes is the visual aspect where we judge people, for example, on the color of their skin, you know, that may or may not be apparent through a particular voice or a particular accent so it can cut down on some barriers I guess in that way. But but still subject to all of the same ridiculous barriers that we’ve set up as a society and in all aspects of society. So yeah, yeah, it’s it’s maybe no different in that regard.

Ian Cook 39:39
Yeah, I mean, exactly. Cuz I think about it in comparison, let’s say lentil supposedly blind peer review that you don’t know, you know, the age of somebody or the or the gender or even like, if you can hear whatever else. And yeah, and then really, podcasting is just, you know, it’s gonna it’s really gonna not gonna allow some people, which is, you know, I guess it’s okay. Maybe it’s not I don’t know, but it really, so it’s…. I just I worry a little bit like we celebrate too much. Yeah, anyone can start a podcast, but you know…

Lori Beckstead 40:06
Yeah. We need to be careful of that. You know, the barriers are lower than, say doing a show on the BBC. But yeah, we have to be mindful of that attitude that Yeah, just do it. It’s, anyone can do it. No, you need to have access to a lot of things, including money. You know, it’s, you need to pay for hosting, and you need to pay for various things. And you need to know how to make a website. If you don’t, then you need to pay someone for that. So, yeah, that’s another thing that comes up around this whole project is, you know, there are resources, there are fewer resources, perhaps needed than say, publishing a book, or, you know, producing other types of media, perhaps, but there still are resources needed. And so I feel like part of my job in doing this demonstration is educating universities on the resources that are needed that it isn’t just like, Oh, yeah, podcasts, you know, my daughter does that in her bedroom. So yeah, just go ahead and do it. And you know, no extra, no extra anything, just please do it. And then if it works out we’ll we’ll have the headline on our public relations website.

Ian Cook 41:07
But like so you said I mean, you set up this website yourself right? I mean, I think I checked so the university or you couldn’t get funding for them to do it or, or how does it work?

Lori Beckstead 41:16
I didn’t even try that would have just taken too long just… [laughs] I just used you know, free WordPress, there’s probably gonna be ads for “you won’t believe what’s living inside your stomach” at the bottom of my pages. But, you know, for demonstration purposes, I suppose it’s good enough for the moment.

Ian Cook 41:34
So this is, this is the, this is the the model that you, that you’re demonstrating. Like, what are the, what are the other models that you look at that you know about in terms of people trying to trying to make podcasts more, I guess, reviewable or more serious scholarly outputs.

Lori Beckstead 41:49
Yeah, that Well, there’s a couple in particular that were quite inspirational. So I don’t know if you know, Ted Riecken? Have you spoken Ted Riecken? Okay. Okay, so Ted Riecken, in 2014, recorded a podcast called “Mapping the Fit Between Research and Multimedia: A podcast exploration of the place of multimedia within or as scholarship” .

Ian Cook 42:15
Yeah, I should have read that.

Lori Beckstead 42:18
I think so. Yeah. I’ll send you the link.

Ian Cook 42:22
I found it already.

Lori Beckstead 42:23
Oh, have you? Oh, you’re good. You’re, look at your Google skills, you are definitely a researcher! So, as far as I can tell, it’s one of the earlier sort of official, here’s a podcast that is meant to be seen as academic output. I could be wrong because I’m sure there are many out there and maybe there are some out there where people did it and didn’t even call it a podcast and who knows what. So he, so Ted Riecken is in educa– he’s an educational researcher. I think he’s at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. He’s an educational researcher and he’s using the medium of podcasting to explore the norms and processes of multimedia as a way of presenting knowledge and information.

Ian Cook 43:14

Lori Beckstead 43:16
Yeah, so and what’s super… One of the interesting things is he records this podcast out in the forest while he’s walking around. So he’s kind of extemporaneously just talking about these ideas. And you can hear the forest and he’s walking around and, and so it’s a really interesting use of the medium. And then there is a second podcast, which is the peer review response to the first podcast. So it’s three other researchers in the field who have a discussion about that podcast, and they’re having a discussion much like we are, you know, what is the value of podcasting? What would it take for it to be considered as a, you know, a legitimate academic output? How do you evaluate them, etcetera? What’s different about them than say a peer reviewed journal? Can there be blind peer review in a podcast, etc. So yeah, I feel like that’s something you should definitely know about in your work. But that was one of the things that I was looking at. And then of course, the other one was Hannah McGregor, whom you know, Hannah McGregor and Siobhan Mc– Mc– I can never say that name– McMenemy, are working on. They’ve just launched the Amplify Podcast Network. And it’s a network of, for scholars who are using podcasting in their work. And so I think they have a number of graduate students who are producing podcasts as their scholarly output. But rewinding a bit from there, Hannah McGregor started off by creating a podcast called Secret Feminist Agenda. So it’s basically, she interviews, she interviews people about how feminism exists in their everyday life, and so it’s anyone from you know, artists and writers to academics and, you know, quote unquote, average people who are being interviewed. And she asked a number of scholars to answer a bunch of questions about those podcasts to kind of gauge their level of, you know, do you, could you consider this to be a sort of legitimate academic output this podcast. So her approach was really, I’m going to make a podcast, and it’s just going to be a podcast, the way podcasts generally sound. It it can be a very general interest podcast, you don’t have to be a scholar to listen to it. You don’t have to be interested in scholarship or research. It’s just an interesting podcast to listen to. So I would call it general interest. But then what she’s attempting to do is to kind of establish that by doing a podcast in its kind of natural format, I guess, if you will, let’s try to consider this as legitimate research output. So that’s really interesting too. And so I shifted mine to be a little bit more in that space of like, Okay, well, let’s maybe… I almost felt like I wonder if she’s leaping too far ahead. Too far, too far, Hannah! [laughs] You know, will the bean counters have a heart attack if you do this? So I guess I kind of backed up when I looked at, you know, how can we but, but I really admire what she’s doing. It’s a wonderful project.

Ian Cook 46:23
Yeah, I have to double check both my notes, but when I spoke to I think she didn’t originally have the idea to do it as a as a topic peer reviewed until she finished the first season I think. And then, and then in conversation with the editor whose name we can’t say. McMenemy? Yes, then… Yes. Then, then they said, Okay, let’s try it. And let’s see if it and then it became a regular thing, but yeah.

Lori Beckstead 46:49
Yeah, I love that. So that’s, um, you know, the needs of the academic community are not being superimposed on what a podcast is, in that sense, you know, I love that idea. She just made the podcast and it’s like, Okay, now let’s make it so that we can look at it through the lens of, you know, an academic output.

Ian Cook 47:08
Yeah. So who else you do you think I should speak to then? Like around these sort of topics, who else you think might be an interesting…or at least read. I mean…

Lori Beckstead 47:19
You know what, if it’s okay with you, I’m gonna go through my annotated bibliography and I’m gonna send you a bunch because I’m like, I’ve got some great resources that my research assistants helped me find. So I’m sure there’s lots in there.

Ian Cook 47:33
Thank you. Thank you. That’ll be great.

Lori Beckstead 47:35
Yeah, pleasure.

Ian Cook 47:36
Yeah, I mean yeah, I’m super excited to see what happens with this with going forward. Like once you, like you said like, once it gets like, I don’t know, a biologist or somebody like that, like this will be like yeah. It’s funny with the, with the, say, with the harder sciences, it was a little bit more difficult for me to speak to them. Maybe just because of my circles, or academic circles, but some didn’t really understand like the, the point of my research in a sense. [laughs] But then but they’re, they’re by far, sadly to say–not sadly, it’s good for them. The most listened to, like these hard sciences. like I mean, I was asking people how many people listening to podcasts? Of course this is just, you know, it’s, it’s not particularly for other than just asking everyone I spoke with, but the people who were doing the harder sciences, they always had way more people listening to their podcasts and wow. And yeah, so this seems to be an epithet. Yeah. Interesting. I mean, yeah, I mean, maybe the exception is like, I don’t even know like, Hardcore History. This American guy. Yeah, yes. I don’t know. I can’t remember hundreds of thousands of people every show. Yeah. But he’s a super interesting guy. And he was super nice to talk about as well because he feels like almost coming from the other side. Like, I wanted to speak to him because, okay, he’s not an academic. He’s a radio show host. But he you know, he’s, he’s y’know, he has a degree in history. You know, and so he, and he feels a bit like, Oh, I hope that historians don’t hate me like, for what I do. And I was actually telling him, no, actually, people are actually jealous, because they wish they wish they had his gift of the gab, you know, like to be able to talk passionately about, about the things that they can’t do. So, yeah, yeah.

Lori Beckstead 49:16
And that’s an issue, you know, who is a good talker? But yeah, in radio, you know, as a producer, you’re looking for the talkers, the good talkers, if they can’t explain themselves, or they’re, you know, boring to listen to, then…. So that is one issue with using podcasts in this way. But you made me think of something talking about, is it Dan Carlin the Hardcore…Yeah, so, you know, the thing about podcasts, I think people expect, to a certain degree, to be edified by the experience of having listened to a podcast. I think more so than most other media. Like you don’t go to YouTube, to expect to be edified at the end of the experience like you know, do you know what I mean? Like? Maybe, but generally not. Whereas, and sure there are some podcasts that are just pure lark and whatever. But I think, generally speaking, there’s an expectation that you’ll learn something that you’ll feel like you’re kind of you’ve bettered yourself somehow by having spent time listening. And so in a sense, that makes it kind of the perfect medium for scholars or in the case of Dan Carlin, you know, it’s not particularly, he’s not a scholar, but you know, he’s got a degree in history. He’s got, he’s got, he’s got the credentials in terms of the topic that he’s talking about. And so that makes so much sense to me, because I know that I approach listening to podcasts with that same kind of, I’m going to get something out of this, it’s going to actually make me more informed, more knowledgeable. I might be entertained along the way, but ultimately, I will somehow be a slightly better person after listening to this than I was before.

Ian Cook 50:56
Yeah, that’s really interesting. I wonder, I wonder if it’s because I mean, now I’m just thinking off the top of my head. But I wonder if it’s because of the very linear nature of podcasts. It allows for these deeper, more intellectual, edifying topics, whatever to come forth. It’s not It’s not something you can skip ahead and skip back, right? But YouTube, or even what’s the what’s the one now, I found very helpful. Now the kids are using TikTok, like, that’s all about but it’s all about Boom, boom, boom, you know, like, and I’m like, yeah, so I just wonder whether there’s maybe it is that’s that that’s the fit as well, like that. It’s, it’s, it’s not really social media although some people think it’s social media. I’m not totally sure whether I’d call podcasts social media, but it but it circulates within the world of social media, but which is very fast and brutal, like, you know, but it’s, it’s, it’s a moment of stillness in that, you know, like…

Lori Beckstead 51:57
You have to invest. You have to invest. You know, you can use that sort of skip ahead quickly button or whatever it is, like the fast like, listen to it at double speed or whatever. Yeah. Which kind of makes me cringe because I’m like, noooooo, that’s not how this is supposed to work. But whatever works for you, that’s fine. I’m trying not to judge. But you do regardless, even if you have the play it faster button, you’re still investing time.

Ian Cook 52:22
Yeah, I still get locked in to listen to things in the order that the person made them as opposed to Yeah, skipping backwards and forwards. This is before like, I realize we’ve been speaking for more than an hour and i don’t know i don’t want to take up too much of your time. But it’s about teaching because obviously you’re teaching now a lot of I guess younger younger students and so on, maybe like and it’s only like when you’re teaching or do now and my audio production so on, are you teaching radio and podcasting is two separate things or together or how does it, how is this like? Because I know it was a was a big debate, you know, is it radio is it not radio etc and so on. But I was wondering when it comes to the actual teaching of the next generation of radio producers and podcasters, where does it start that division or not?

Lori Beckstead 53:07
So, in our program, it’s the RTA School of Media. And they have to take a mandatory audio production course in first semester, and we’ve set up the course so that it’s iterative assignments that lead to them putting together a short, like, 10 minute podcast episode. So and that’s a switch in the last, say, five years, whereas it used to be much more focused on producing stuff for radio. Now it’s producing things for podcast. And I’m trying to think I mean, philosophically, I don’t know if we’ve ever actually tackled that question in that way. But we do have separate courses. There is a radio production course that focuses on the business of commercial radio, and, you know, creating radio for that. And then there’s a course I’ve been calling Beyond the Radio Format, which has recently been changed to be called The Art of Podcasting. So I guess that speaks to the evolution of how we’ve thought of it that, you know, I included podcasting. And of course, it was called Beyond the Radio Format. And now it’s just called, you know, okay, let’s just call it Podcasting now. So, but that’s interesting. I, you know, we’ve never had that– shouldn’t be maybe admitting this out loud, but we haven’t had that philosophical conversation about how, you know, do we keep them separate? I mean, I teach also courses like a course called Sound Media, which is a survey of a number of different sound media and how sound design is used and how sound is used to tell stories, etc. And so then it’s considered on, as part of a continuum. But, ah, you’ve given me something to think about. That’s for sure.

Ian Cook 54:48
That’s what that’s what we want to happen in conversation. It’s been, and thanks so much. I realize I’ve taken a bit more of your time that maybe I originally promised. Okay.

Lori Beckstead
It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Ian. Thank you so much. This has been really, really, really enjoyed it. Thanks for the time.

Ian Cook
Thanks. So I’ll send I’ll send a draft of everything as soon as it’s ready and then you can see what you think. Yeah,

Lori Beckstead
Great. Okay, and I’ll send you some links to some things that might be useful. Okay.

Ian Cook
Thanks so much, Lori. Bye bye.

Lori Beckstead 55:14
Thank you! Bye.