A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

Header image with the text Marginally Fannish

Month: February 2020

Pre-Podcast Recording – Some Technical Lessons

The day before recording the pilot episode of the podcast with my co-hosts, we decided to do a technical test run in an effort to deal with any technological challenges. Before we met on Skype, I spent a day and a half going through podcasting courses on Skillshare; some ended up being more relevant than others. However, as someone who has no experience with podcasts (beyond listening to them), I gleaned several helpful tips from the various videos and it helped boost my overall sense of confidence in experimenting with a new kind of media. The website offers a two-month free trial so if you’re thinking of making a podcast but have no idea how to go about it, I’d highly recommend looking up courses there.

Some of the things I discovered during my technical research:

1) Turn off the video feature to improve the line quality while recording on Skype.

2) You can record on Skype and edit on a free software called Audacity.

3) SoundCloud is only free for hosting 3 hours of audio, after which you need to subscribe to  SoundCloud Pro. I’m currently using Anchor as a backup to SoundCloud and I’m in the process of applying to my university for funding for a 3-year subscription.

Some of the things I discovered after the test-run:

1) Everyone seems to hate the sound of their own voice. It’s fine!

2) It helps for both the host and the guest to record the conversation. The subsequent two files can be combined on Audacity for a better quality of audio.

3) Most of the courses suggested investing in a USB microphone. However, either a smartphone or a laptop’s inbuilt microphone in a quiet room work pretty well too. (The phone worked better than the laptop for my co-hosts. I’m using my boyfriend’s cheap gaming headset with an attached micrphone)


Planning A Podcast With Co-Hosts – Lessons Learned

I met my co-hosts Aparna and Sanjana over video chat for our first official podcast discussion on the 12th of January. We had been chatting about the podcast on WhatsApp on and off but we’d scheduled this meeting to decide the format, themes, and schedule of our episodes, as well as draft a plan for our pilot episode.

Sanjana suggested two segment ideas for future themed episodes:

1) What If? – Discuss what happens if a specific element is changed in canon

2) Missed Opportunities – Discuss gaps in canon where we can explore diversity

We decided to introduce segments based on the episode and the texts we were discussing, thereby keeping the format for every episode quite flexible. We also decided to record episodes every three weeks rather than every month to make up for the delay in the podcast schedule (I’m about a month behind). When I told them about my too-many-participants problem, Sanjana pointed out I had to stop looking for more at some point soon. While I had initially planned to do another round of recruitment in mid-January, I’ve now indefinitely postponed this plan. Aparna suggested having multiple guests on a single episode. While I was tempted by the multiple guests format, I was (and still am) hesitant about that since it would mean much less time and space for individual guests to share their diverse perspectives and ideas. I’m still undecided but for now, I plan to have more frequent episodes than I had planned with individual guests. Of course, that might turn out to be a huge mistake and cause my future self to boo and hiss at my current self!

Sanjana suggested that the first theme we explore should be race, which Aparna and I immediately agreed to. Sanjana thought it would be a good place for us to start, considering that we’ve grown up identifying with Western media which features people from another race and how this continues to influence our beliefs. She also believed it would be interesting to explore Harry Potter and Doctor Who, both of which are set “in the world that colonised us.” Later, I mentioned that one of my supervisors had suggested our first episode not tackle race since that is a theme which most intersectionality scholarship delves into the most, often at the expense of others. Hearing this, Sanjana had second thoughts. However, I agreed with her previous points. Furthermore, intersectionality scholarship largely explores the perspectives of black communities in the US who have a very different relationship with race than three Indian women, one of whom is now an immigrant in a largely white country.

Before the race episode, though, we agreed it would be prudent to record a pilot episode where we introduced ourselves and our engagement as fans with fandom. Here, we wouldn’t focus on a particular individual theme and would use it as a test episode, since none of us had any podcasting experience. The day after our meeting, I listened to The Sorting Hat episode of Imaginary Worlds, and thought it would provide a perfect framework for our pilot discussion.

Lesson Learned Number 1: Plan! 

We had initially decided to record our episode on 18th January but didn’t end up talking about the episode at all until the 17th (by which time we hadn’t planned anything). I suggested meeting to discuss the pilot episode before we recorded it on the now postponed date of the 19th/20th. For future episodes both with my co-hosts and with guests, I’ve learned to be more proactive about planning the schedule to prevent delays.

Lesson Learned Number 2: Communicate! 

Sanjana thought the pilot was going to be a mock episode about race. I didn’t think we needed to rehearse an episode before recording it; the pilot episode could act as our experiential learning process. After our meeting, we decided to do a technical test on the 20th and record on the 21st. To avoid miscommunications in future episodes, I’ve learned to clarify plans and not make assumptions about what the other person may have understood.

Lesson Learned Number 3: Discuss! 

By the time we met via video chat on 19th January, Aparna had suggested two articles. Before meeting, we jotted down our ideas for potential discussion topics on a shared Google doc. We decided the segment order collaboratively and organically as Paru made notes on this shared document. We also decided that we’d take turns leading different segments and divided responsibilities collectively. We ended the meeting feeling very good about the usefulness of the meeting itself and excited about our episode. For all future episodes, I’m going to meet my co-hosts and guests – preferably over Skype but at least over email or Instant Message – to discuss the format and themes of our episode before recording it.

Ethical Considerations Of Selecting Fan Podcasts For My Research

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 

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.

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