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Project of the Week – National Ocean Service Podcasts Diving Deeper and Making Waves

This week, GovLooper’s Kate Nielsen and Troy Kitch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) National Ocean Service help us learn about the latest NOAA-NOS news and a wide variety of ocean topics with their new dual podcasts, Making Waves and Diving Deeper. These two mark the National Ocean Services’ first entrance into the world of podcasting.

Troy Kitch is the lead for the Making Waves podcast series which launches every Friday and focuses on highlights and current news events.

Every other week, Kate Nielsen gets us access to the experts to learn about a variety of ocean topics with Diving Deeper, an audio podcast featuring discussions with NOAA National Ocean Service specialists. The current episode answers the question: What is the Integrated Ocean Observing System? Previous episodes have explored eutrophication, marine protected areas, and marine debris.

Q: Why did you start the podcast?
Troy: Like many federal agencies, we’re exploring new ways to present information in recognition of the fact that people access content in a wide variety of ways on a wide variety of platforms these days. A weekly news and information podcast seemed like a good place to start our venture into the social media realm. About the same time that we started the ‘Making Waves’ podcast, we also began twittering (@oceanservice); added several new feeds for our most popular Web content; and created a place on our site for video, images, desktop wallpaper, and games. We then began our second audio podcast, Diving Deeper. So the podcasts are part of a broader outreach effort. Ultimately, we think our podcasts and other products will help us reach new audiences and drive traffic to the National Ocean Service site.

Kate: The National Ocean Service started these podcasts as another way or medium to reach our audience on the site, the general public, regarding ocean topics and questions.

Q: Who are you trying to reach?
Troy: Anyone who will listen! Our target is the general public, so we try to keep it as jargon-free and non-technical as possible.

Kate: The primary audience for this podcast series is the general public.

Q: Why did you choose a podcast format?
Troy: It’s a popular format. While time consuming, an audio podcast is relatively easy to produce.

Kate: There are more and more forms of social media making their way into communications efforts. Audio podcasts were a great way to have National Ocean Service scientists and experts connect with the general public audience.

Q: Have there been any surprises (good or bad) along the way?
Troy: Scripting, recording, and editing a periodic podcast is tough mainly because you have lots of others things to do each week, too. it can be hard to get it done some weeks. Internally coordinating the podcast with the offices/people featured in a given episode is also a challenge. There’s simply not a lot of time to get it done and posted each Friday. The good news is that we’re getting more and more hits on our podcast page and feeds each month.

Kate: This has been a great learning process personally for me. Each episode I interview a new scientist or expert and everyone has individual levels of experience with audio recording. I have really enjoyed working with the great variety of experts from the many different parts of the National Ocean Service. Overall, this has been a great experience.

Q: How have you defined success for this project?

Troy: Well, I’m posting episode 20 of Making Waves this week. So far, success = getting the podcast out on time each week! Now that I’ve established a good workflow, I’ve started adding interviews to the mix in an effort to create ‘NPR-style’ news stories. This adds a whole new dimension of production and coordination difficulty, but it’s fun.

Kate: Success for this project is focused on driving more traffic to the National Ocean Service Web site both on the podcast page (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast.html) as well as to the other new content throughout our site.

Q: Are you getting what you’d hoped out of the podcasts?

Troy: I think so. Our podcasts are still relatively new, so I think it’s important to give them time to mature. Each week, we get better at script writing, recording, and production. Each week, we get a few more listeners.

Kate: It is still early to analyze results for Diving Deeper. Diving Deeper launched on January 26, 2009. We continue to find new ways to market these products to reach an even greater audience. It will be great to analyze our statistics both on volume of hits and general interest across the topic ideas.

Q: For other agencies and entities thinking of doing something similar, do you have any advice?
Kate: Happy to. Developing podcasts is rather time intensive from working up scripting ideas and questions to recording and then editing and developing the final transcript. These are a great final product, but you will need staff dedicated to produce these to ensure new and fresh content on your site. And with any communications effort, tailor the questions and overall tone of the product to the audience you are trying to reach. Good luck!

Troy: For smaller agencies, it may make more sense to start of with one bi-weekly or monthly podcasts (especially while it’s still a new process). Be aware that the time commitment can be steep, especially when adding interviews into the mix.
— While interesting content is obviously important, consistency is just as important so people know what to expect.
— A good way to get content for an audio podcast is to repackage online news stories: some people will read the web story, some people will hear the story in a podcast…and we will end up with a few more people learning about the Ocean Service.

Troy emphasized the importance of having fun with the project. Don’t be afraid to experiment with presentation style, sounds, he noted. Troy said he will soon put together a screencast to help other beginning podcasters, covering the basics as well as production and editing.

You can catch the NOAA podcasts at http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast.html. You can also follow the National Ocean Service on Twitter (http://twitter.com/oceanservice).

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A very cool example of a gov’t podcast and the real amount of work it takes. People sometimes forget that they have to devote resources to these new projects. I’ll have to fire this up on my Itunes podcasts list.

Allen Sheaprd

Sounds like a podcast in the spirit of Jacques Cousteau.
Have you gotten any feedback on pod cast lenght?

Will you offer short (10 min) and longer more indepth pod casts?

Sigh, editing and scripting takes a long time. Knowing what people want beforehand is also a challenge.

Troy Kitch

Hi Allen,
I haven’t received feedback on the length. For the podcasts without interviews, I’ve been hitting about 6-8 minutes on average. For those with interviews, around 10-14 minutes seems to be about right. I’ve been trying to go into each episode with the mindset to make it as long as it needs to be, but no longer (within reason). I think about 15 minutes is as long as I’d ever want to go to (I heard or read somewhere that this is the outer limits of attention span for most people). In general, I find that it’s hard to keep the episodes short, and easier to go on too long.

Tony Farley

Good to see this podcast come out! I’d love to see a video podcast with underwater shots. If you ever think of doing one, think about reaching out to someone who currently does an underwater podcast and use the talent and expertise that is there rather than re-inventing the wheel. I have a podcast called Beautiful Places in HD that is very popular and I see the National Parks putting out some very bad podcasts (some are good also!) because they have a ranger go out and shoot (or someone currently on staff that knows something about a video camera). There is a lot of talent out there in the podcasting community with people working on their own dime to put out podcasts that would love to do a podcast for their country. I’m one of those people and I have offered my services to numerous National Parks as well as California State Parks and found nobody answers my calls or emails.

Hope this helps.