The university announced its new postgraduate degree last week, with the first students due to start in September.
Sandy Warr, head of podcasting at City and presenter of the LBC News Sunday breakfast show, told Press Gazette the MA programme grew out of an elective module in podcasting first offered during the lockdown.
“Rather to my surprise, 140 students signed up for it in the first year,” she said.
She said what emerged from City’s podcasting module was that “actually, podcasting now is much bigger than the skills we could teach on a short course. And the students were saying: ‘What about this? I need to know that.’
“And out of that I started having some conversations with podcasters and with the industry just to measure that. Is that right? What do students actually need to know? Is it more complex, is it a mature industry in its own right that is identifiably separate from radio or newspaper or TV?
“And the answer kept coming back as a resounding yes. It actually has its own set of skills, its own structure now, its own career development.”
Asked what skills differ between podcasting and linear broadcast, Warr said: “Some of it is in the nature of the product. You don’t just need to know how to make the audio and video – you definitely have to know how to run the social media side of it, how to manage the community that relates to it, how to build and connect with audiences. And so it’s a much more rounded product in that sense.
“But also it’s all about the real business skills – about monetising your product, about publishing your product, about tracking the metrics of who’s listening and how long for. It’s about much more complicated copyright laws and IP rights.
“It was also about telling stories in a different way: what might be a one-off documentary on linear radio could be best told as a series on a podcast.
“It’s a complete bundle of skills that some of which we teach anyway at the university in different departments. So I’m bringing them into this new mix, but some we’re designing completely bespoke for the podcasting students.”
Warr was speaking with Press Gazette, for example, from podcasting booths set up on City’s campus specifically for the course.
The new course was met with some scepticism on Twitter, with commentators asking whether it was worth paying £10,000 to learn to use a medium in which numerous amateurs have succeeded.
But Warr noted City had heard from the industry that “some companies are finding it very hard to recruit the people they need with the skills they need. Because it’s such a sophisticated industry now…
“Some of the Hollywood studios now are making podcasts around the releases of their movies, for example, and they’re very high production quality. You’ve got people like Dolby investing in immersive sound environments with podcasting.”
Warr added: “If you want to just make a podcast and be heard, fantastic! And it’s brilliant that that’s so available for people.” But if you wanted to make a career of it, “you need to also be aware of all these other dimensions to it”.
The course is not for journalists specifically. Warr noted that the degree is named “MA podcasting”, not “MA podcast journalism”, as it is also “for people that might be wanting to make some of these more hybrid formats that are a crossover drama documentaries, or they want to make comedy podcasts, or they want to make sort of a Q&A informational podcast – there’s a lot of those being made in the health sector, for example, or in business training skills”.
Alongside the course, City is setting up a Centre of Excellence for Podcasting, which Warr said is intended as a resource for the industry. The centre will be led by Brett Spencer, a former BBC radio and Bauer Media Group executive.
“We’re hoping to put on regular events where we’ve got speakers coming in or creatives can meet and share ideas and pool knowledge,” Warr said.
“And we’re also hoping – this is sort of blue skies thinking – to peel off some of our modules and offer them as short courses, as career development models for people that might be working in radio but want some of these social media management skills, or they might be working in newspapers but want some of the voice and interviewing and production skills.”
She added that City is exploring opportunities with partners to include sponsorships and apprenticeships within the course to try and boost the MA’s value for money.
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