Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Harmonious dialogs - The Word Nerds

Common advice for podcasters is to have more than one voice on the show. When podcasts contain conversations, they are easier to follow. As much as this is true, there is, in my opinion, also a trap: making the dialog work. If the participants are completely free, they may start rambling and the conversation becomes tedious. What many podcasts with more than one host do is to script the dialog between the hosts. This more often than not is so artificial, it does more harm than good.

TWNHere I wish to highlight the podcast The Word Nerds that has always more than one host (sometimes up to four) and has perfect dialogs. I have always been wondering whether these dialogs were scripted. The speakers collaborate so well, that some scripting must be at work, but then again it also sounds so natural, it can't be entirely acted. Then, in the last show (about Writing) a real discussion arose. For the first time it really appeared that the dialog was not scripted at all. The hosts just have a splendid rapport and in this harmony an excellent podcast emerges.

The Word Nerds is more than a light show about 'language and why we say the things we do'. It is also an example of a good amateur podcast. Apart from the excellent dialog the show is an example of good balance between sections, between talk and music, good audio quality and an altogether pleasant atmosphere that makes one connect to a show.

Previous reviews of The Word Nerds on this blog:
Word Nerds on Facebook,
Abrrev & txt,
Stories and Story Telling,
Ambiguity and linguistic tics,

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The Ethicist - a New York Times podcast

Erno Mijland of the blog Alles kan altijd beter reminded me of the assorted podcasts by the New York Times. I had reviewed Times Talks in the past - and not liked it very well - but took Erno's reminder as an incentive to look once again. Thank you Erno!

The first podcast I began to listen to was The Ethicist (feed). This is a short (5 minutes) weekly podcast in which one or two letters, allegedly from NYT readers, are read by one of the NYT employees. Each letter presents a moral issue of day to day life and writer Randy Cohen responds with the ethical solution. The letters and cases as presented, occasionally made the impression they were a bit stylized, but seemed largely authentic. The reading varies in quality as does the delivered advice. As to the bottom-line of the advice, I could agree with all of the ones I heard (a dozen or so), but the tone was frequently a tad paternalistic, rhetorical and pedantic. This exaggeration is not persistent, otherwise I had taken the whole show as satire.

Though it is a nice, practical and accessible podcast, even if satirical, it can be putting off at times. The whole thing is a little bit over the top. It starts with applying a huge word, ethics, to what ultimately is pretty common sense advise. The handling of the alleged letters, when not read in an authentic fashion and stylized to a more interesting (for whatever reason) case gives rise to suspicion of collusion towards the pedantic answer. Only when the case seemed authentic and the issue a tough dilemma, I found myself truly excited and wondering how Randy would solve it and only then the pedantic set up was overcome.

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