It was in early 2019 that I stumbled onto the world of fan podcasts – mostly thanks to feedback for a conference abstract I had submitted which directed me to #WizardTeam (a Harry Potter fan podcast), specifically this episode of the podcast which featured an interview with Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, a fan-scholar whose research delves into race and fandom. I loved the episode and was thrilled to discover a fan podcast which dissected the series through an African American lens. While I was intrigued enough to consider including fan podcasts in my research, I was still drawn to the idea of researching fandoms and intersectionality on Tumblr or Facebook. It was only when I began properly researching existing Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and even general fandom podcasts that I realised the largely unexamined potential of these spaces.
My preliminary research found that there are a lot of fan podcasts out there. To narrow them down to a manageable level, I decided to focus on those which were:
a) Either hosted by more than one host or featured guests, because dialogue and exchanging multiple perspectives is a crucial component of critical literacy; and
b) Either the hosts or the guests belonged to a background which is marginalised or stereotyped in mainstream media and culture, since I was most interested in these intersectional perspectives
I listened to sample episodes of all the podcasts which I could potentially use, further shortlisted those podcasts which I felt best suited the needs of my project, then emailed the creators to introduce my project and request their permission to use their podcasts in my research. Of the fourteen podcasts I contacted, I’ve received consent from ten of them (I’ve yet to hear from the remaining four). So far, these are the podcasts my research includes:
General Fandom Podcasts
Harry Potter Podcasts
- Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
- Reading, Writing, Rowling
- The Gayly Prophet
- Women of Harry Potter (an offshoot of The Sacred Text)
- Witch, Please
Doctor Who Podcasts
My initial (laughably naive) plan was to listen to all the episodes of the podcasts in order to shortlist relevant episodes to discuss on my own podcast. I began doing this with one of the podcasts, and it took me more than a hundred episodes over a span of several months, to realise how impractical this plan was. Some podcasts have hundreds of episodes, others a few dozen – even then, I would need to spend every waking (and possibly sleeping) moment listening to podcasts to be able to go through all of them this year. And that’s ignoring the fact that I need to send shortlisted episodes to my co-participants so we can record our own episodes. Like I said, laughably naive.
Even though I’ve received consent from ten podcasts, which is more than enough to offer plenty of ideas for discussion in my own podcast, I’d still like to include the other four podcasts in my research (mostly because I’m greedy for ALL the perspectives but also because they’re all really good). I’m debating whether I can use episodes from the four podcasts anyway until and unless they email me to say they would rather not be included in my research. The podcasts I have heard from have been happy for me to use their episodes in my research with due credit. However, I’m unsure of the ethical implications of using episodes from podcasts I haven’t heard back from. Due to the format and purpose of podcasts, I do consider them to be publicly available media; however, I’m wary of drawing any unwanted attention to them.
Relatedly, one of my co-participants had suggested a fan podcast as a text she would like to contribute. At the time, I had already contacted them for my own research but they hadn’t yet responded to me. Since then, I have received consent from Witch, Please. However, this throws up a problem for future episodes with other co-participants and their suggested texts – should I email everybody to get permission? This may be unfeasible due to the timeline for my project and for individual episodes – some people are quicker to respond to others and waiting for permission may delay the project. In this case, would an email and opt-out consent suffice?
Usually I would like explicit permission from everyone whose work I’m using. However, due to the nature of their creations and the media landscape we inhabit as well as my experience of using an Imaginary Worlds episode in my podcast’s first episode More Inclusive: The Journey of Three Indian Fangirls, I’m reconsidering some of my initial ideas. In the pilot episode, my co-hosts and I only included a passing mention of the two texts we ended up using – they definitely acted more as discussion prompts to frame and explore our own experiences and opinions in greater detail than anything else. This makes me feel ethically better about using fan podcasts and other media which has been published online with due credit but without explicit permission. However, this feeling may change based on the direction of future episodes. At least for the initial episodes, I’m sticking to podcasts who have specifically granted consent.