An Ethnographic Study of Journalistic Podcasting in India


Journalism has been in a state of flux for some time now. With convergent newsrooms, cross-platform output and newer business models in the picture, the new-age journalistic practice has become a potent field for ethnographic inquiry. This paper documents some early findings of an ongoing ethnographic study of Indian journalistic podcasting. 

Following the global buzz that podcasting has created, Indian digital newsrooms have taken it up for the past couple of years. Podcasts seem to be appealing to the new-age, informed audience with a quest for qualitative content. How is podcast appropriated by the newsrooms as a journalistic content format in terms of production and dissemination and how does it affect the journalistic practice, hence become pertinent questions. This study draws upon the ‘blown-up newsroom’ concept in modern journalism studies where newsroom as a structure has lost its centrality in the news production process. Journalistic production is now a fluid phenomenon with a diversity of influences. Any ethnography, thus, is not only of a newsroom but of a wider news ‘ecosystem’, which begins from the newsroom and extends beyond it. This study, therefore, uses Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as the basic framework because it helps in tracing this diversity of actors without any a-priori definitions or set expectations of them. The methodology adopted here comprises field observations as well as in-depth interviews with the newsroom personnel involved in podcasting. Producing journalistic output in a new content format affects journalistic practice on many levels. Why do newsrooms take up podcasting and how does the podcast production process pan out in the newsroom is a key question to map out the shifts that this paper deals with.

The initial findings here suggest that Indian digital newsrooms have taken up podcasting as another latest offering in their 'digital-content' bouquet. Despite the buzz, they are yet to normalize podcasts as a journalistic content format. The podcasting journalists remain a nebulous group in the organizational structure. Due to this lack of mainstreaming, however, podcasting journalists report a high level of agency when it comes to news selection and construction.
The study also explores sub-themes like the content vs. technology battle of the production process as inherent in the technique of attractive headlines and emerging business models. Importantly, these field observations, identify another site of production of journalistic podcasts, along with the newsroom and the studios. Smartphone messenger apps are these sites where journalists share initial information, debate about the construction of news, frame a particular podcast and even disseminate the final produced output.
The study contextualizes these observations on journalistic podcasting into the wider journalism industry, highlighting the flux that it currently is in.