Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Podcasts are killing good writing (at least some of it)

I am already on record as saying I like podcasts. They are perfect to listen to while I walk or I ride public transit. These are some of the best:

SModcast: Kevin Smith, writer/director of Clerks et al. sits down generally with his producer Scott Mosier (sometimes, like right now, when Kevin is back East he does it with his friends from back home) and they just talk about...stuff. It is meandering and not always factually correct, but Smith is a funny motherfucker, and the quietly droll Mosier is a good balance to some of Smith more outlandish claims.

The BS Report: Podcast by ESPN's the Sports Guy, a former comedy writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live. A very Boston centric guy who likes to break up the sports especially on his podcast by talking pop culture and especially the state of newspapers with a pretty amazing roster of interesting guests that include Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, and his friend from high school, Jack O'Connell, better known as JackO, a Yankee fan with neuroses to match Simmons' Red Sox fandom.

Never Not Funny: Comedian Jimmy Pardo and producer/comedy nerd Matt Belknap talk with a different comedian each week, including names like Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter and Jon Hamm, in addition to their regulars, most of them friends of Pardo and plugged into the LA comedy scene. Recently went to a monetizing format, but it would be totally worth the money if I was not unemployed.

The Adam Carolla Podcast: The cranky old man ranting schtick benefits from a long form with no limits on language. Unfortunately the show suffers when Adam decides to talk politics, where his simplistic approach to things tends to fall apart. The only check to him is when a guest decides to stand up to him, which really depends on the guest. Most just go along.

Fresh Air: Terry Gross talks to people. And she is really good at it, and they find some really fascinating people to talk to. Nuff said.

With that out of the way let me tell you why writing is suffering. The last three are fine, neither Pardo or Carolla are a writer as far as I can tell, so them being able to get their thoughts out there in a radio type format is a good thing, it gives us an outlet that we would not normally have. Fresh Air is traditional radio but superior in every way to any other radio or perhaps even TV talkshow around. The first two however are writers, and podcasting has hurt their writing in different ways.

Smith first. My Boring Ass Life was the best blog around hands down for a 1-2 year stretch. This was his last substantial update on a subject that was not movie promotion. December of '07. The last time he updated it on semi-regular basis was September of '07. Early in '07 he starts using the blog as an advertisement for SModcast. So what? you say. So he stopped blogging and started doing a podcast. Well read this (don't forget to read the continuation on the next day) and tell me writing in general is not poorer for him not blogging. For more like that you can keep going backwards, another highlight being Kevin writing as an actor on the set of "Catch and Release". A publisher even took the time to collate the early blog entries and publish them in book form.

Another problem is one I now have with Bill Simmons. Bill just completed a book. A big book. Devoted to basketball. I will read it. The problem is, just from listening to his podcast and reading his columns I already know about a third of what the book is going to be. I don't really have an answer to this. He put a great deal of time and research into this book, so justifiably he is going to use this newfound knowledge when he talks about basketball, he will apply it in his general discourse, it is hard not to. The problem is the book does not come out until next October, and basketball is his favorite thing to talk about. Now maybe it will calm down a little once the Finals are over, but it has gotten to a point when he says the fatal but oft repeated phrase "Now, I wrote about this in my book, but..." I wince and almost don't want to listen. Its really not fair to the amount of time and effort he put into crafting a supposedly 650 page book for it to be stepped on ahead of time. I want to go along with the book reading experience. I want to read it and let the information and conclusions unfold as he wrote them. I know that will not happen though. I will read it and I will have half-formed notions on each theory, so most likely I will either be a little bored in going over material already covered, or I will misunderstand what he is trying to say because I have ill-informed preconceptions. Neither is good. This is a new problem, but I am glad I did not have to listen to Charles Dickens talk about, around or reference Great Expectations (just an analogy, I don't put Simmons on par with literary greatness) in the months before it was realeased. Immediacy can be bad.

Thats what it comes down to in the end. Immediacy. Writing is hard. Really hard. I am not half as good as these two guys, and it takes me forever to churn out these blog posts. (witness my once a week posting habits.) It is much easier to sit down with a friend, or an interesting guest and just bullshit for an hour. When Simmons was trying to finish his book he stopped writing columns almost altogether and just did podcasts, a mark of how easy they can be. He was writing like crazy trying to finish his book and still had time to punch out 3-4 podcasts a week. Like I said, I find this format to be very enjoyable, its just I fear the already shallow pool of good writing out there gets a little less deep each time one of these guys does a podcast rather than writing.

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