Veteran high-tech reporter and editor Shelly Brisbin has been a podcaster since 2004, making her a pioneer in the technology. She recently spoke with PRWeek about the evolving arts of blogging and podcasting.
PRWeek: Are you both online and print?
Shelly Brisbin: [The magazine is] distributed through three formats. Most of our readers get it in digital format, and it uses a magazine metaphor through a product developed by our publishing company, Larstan, called “Flipper.” So when you open the magazine in Flipper, you have a traditional magazine layout and you can page through the editorial and the advertising. There are enhancements throughout, so advertisers can have audio and video ads, and we have podcasts that go along with the articles. For example, if I do an interview with someone there's a podcast that goes along with it.
The second format is print, and that's the only format for which we charge; there's a subscription. But we don't distribute on the newsstands, because it's really a trade magazine. The third format is audio podcasts. For free, the subscriber can get the podcasts distributed to them through iTunes or whatever distributor of their choice. The podcast consists of all the articles in the magazine read aloud, plus a feature called “10 Questions” that I do every month, which is 10 questions with someone from the blogging or podcasting world
PRWeek: Are there other publications like it?
Brisbin: There are a couple of people that have tried to do podcast magazines. In the blogging world, there's a lot of blogging about blogging. But nobody to my knowledge has really done a publication that tries to [focus] on blogger stuff. They tend to use the format they're based in. There's one other podcast magazine that's out there in PDF form. There are a lot of tech magazines that address new media. So I guess there's some competition there, but no one who's trying to do what where doing. We look at it as a syndicated podcast; there's just different media distributing it.
PRWeek: Who are the typical readers? What is the content, basically?
Brisbin: We want to address people who are serious bloggers and podcasters. We don't want to say only professional, because there are a lot of people who are hobbyists who take it more seriously or might want to make it a source of income. So it's people who take it seriously in terms of their craft or their art. We do news and we do long-form features. Some are profiles of bloggers. We do some tech features as well, helping people figure out what tools are best for blogging and podcasting. We do product reviews. And then we have “10 questions.” We try to find somebody who's a big name inside and outside the blogging world – for example, we had Arianna Huffington on one of our covers. We also talked to Matt Mullenweg, who developed the WordPress blogging platform. He's not a big deal outside the blogging world, but everybody inside the blogging world knows who he is.
PRWeek: Do you find yourself pitched by PR firms or people saying promote our software or a certain blogger?
Brisbin: Unfortunately, some of the pitches aren't very well focused, because the people don't appear to read the magazine. There are a lot of bloggers or podcasters pitching us about their show. If someone is doing something really innovative and famous, we'll cover them. But I just got [a pitch] today about a podcast on modeling. OK, that's really great, but I don't know what the news value of that is for my readers yet. So I get a lot of pitches from individuals with blogs or podcasts to pitch, more so than from tools vendors. I come from a podcasting background – I've been doing it since 2004, when it first started – and the thing I've learned about bloggers is they tend to be very trusting of one another and less so of the “media.” So bloggers want to be promoted in blogs. They tend to talk among themselves a lot, and the technology allows really quick and easy linking. We find that podcasters tend to pitch us more, and tool vendors from the podcast world pitch us more than bloggers do. There's more of an infrastructure developed in the meta-blogging world – bloggers talking to bloggers – than there is with podcasters. Many of them didn't really see the value in us as a media outlet early on. I think that's changed a lot as we've got to know people. And with bloggers you have to do some convincing in terms of “Hey, long-form is good.”
PRWeek: How many people do you have on staff?
Brisbin: We have two full-time editorial folks and an art director, plus a lot of contributors, such as columnists and feature writers.
PRWeek: Will podcasting become less relevant as online video quality improves?
Brisbin: There are a lot of video podcasts. We define podcasts as something distributed through RSS. Some of the video podcasts are the ones that are having the biggest success, like Ask a Ninja and RocketBoom, who actually have sponsors. It's not so much that audio competes with video; I'm sure it does. But I make the argument that there are lots of situations where you don't have access to video, when you're driving or working out.
PRWeek: Can anything potentially be a podcast, like NBC Nightly News?
Brisbin: Sure. NPR does a ton of podcasts, like NBC and others. What a lot of networks have done is experimenting with podcasts through ancillary media networks, through excerpts. MSNBC shows excerpts on five-minute podcasts, so it's not the whole show, but it has the effect of letting people be exposed to content. There are people with free content as an excerpt and you can subscribe to a paid podcast. We have a feature right now on podcasts for which people pay, rather than listing to ads. The jury is out on whether that can work. People are arguing about what model works best.
PRWeek: Corporations are doing a lot of blogs now.
The [issue] is, does it make sense to do a blog if you're a corporation? If so, what should it be? Should you have a blog just because someone said you should have it, or do you actually add value to the customer experience? Obviously you're opening yourself up to criticism from customers, and how to deal with that. Also, a lot of these bloggers are putting themselves out as marketing and PR consultants. So what they do in their blogs is give a taste, and usually it's a pretty good taste, of the kind of advice they would give to their clients. They also network with one another. A lot of people think the way to make money in blogging is to help other people do a better job of blogging, because nothing will get the scorn more of the blogging community than a badly done blog. Bloggers have high standards and they also have a lot of opinions, because they aren't constrained by the things that would normally constrain mainstream media or companies. So they're used to expressing their opinions in very straightforward ways.
PRWeek: What trends in blogging do you see?
Brisbin: Just the fact that there's so much discussion about marketing and how to use new media in business environments. Another trend that I've noticed is the melding of blogging and mainstream media, so you have mainstream media – The New York Times has a number of blogs – or you have a number of blogs making content deals with mainstream media outlets. You might have a blogger go on CNN to talk about the content of his political blog or you may have a blog site that incorporates headlines from a mainstream media outlet. Merging is too strong a word, but that partnership is something I think is pretty noticeable the past few months.
Name: Shelly Brisbin
Outlet: Blogger & Podcaster Magazine
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Web site: http://www.bloggerandpodcaster.com/