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Podcasting for Humanism


This article originally appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 17 - The Harvard Conference.


Jes Constantine and Duncan Crary are the voices behind Humanist Network News, the monthly audio podcast for the Institute for Humanist Studies. Although there is some stiff competition out there, the HNN podcast is about the best around. Jes and Duncan bring you interesting segments from their interview with Julia Sweeney, to stories of humanist espionage, to their hilarious sex issue (live sexual theatre included). The SSA has invited this podcasting pair to contribute to our Activist Training Session at the Harvard Conference.

Senior Campus Organizer talks with Jes (the tech savvy one) and Duncan (the PR savvy one) about their popular show, and about what they plan to impart to student activists at the conference.

Organizer: So Jes, you're the tech person, and Duncan, you're the PR person. It seems like a perfect match. But do things ever get a little sticky in your recording room?

Jes: Whenever two creative people do something together, it can be hard to be objective and not to take things personally. We bust on each other during the show, but we really rip on each other when the microphones are off.

Duncan: I felt obligated to buy Jes one of those "Easy" buttons after she had to spend a week with me in our tiny recording room working on a five-minute promotional recording with our favorite clips.

Organizer: Duncan, you were just in Ohio giving a seminar to our affiliate groups on how to get more media attention for their group. Tell me about your sessions with our students. Did you learn anything from them?

Duncan: Secular students have a wealth of newsworthy stories to share with the world. A good article can attract new members and supporters, and may even influence the world in a positive way. But group members have to be active and effective in contacting the newsroom.

When you go to a foreign country, you should at least learn to say "hello," "please" and "thank you" in the native tongue. Same thing goes for dealing with the press. In my talk, I focus on a few simple practices that students can do to get the attention and respect of the media.

Organizer: Again, for Duncan…you're going to be giving a similar talk at our conference about communicating with the media. What are the three most important things that you hope students take away from your talk?


  1. Reporters don't know you exist. Here's how to write a press release to fix that.
  2. The SSA helps its affiliates write and issue press releases.
  3. Does your group write a monthly "Ask an Atheist" column for your college paper? It should.

Organizer: Jes, our groups really need your tech savvy help. Only about 50% of our affiliates have functioning websites. Maybe they're worried that running a site is too complicated or overwhelming-but from your experience, how difficult is it to maintain an up-to-date website for your group?

Jes: I'm a firm believer that anyone can create and maintain a webpage. The trick is to keep a simple site with a clean design and current information. If you don't know web programming (and have no desire to), there is plenty of software out there to help you make a website without typing any code. Take this quiz to find the right software for you.

If you're interested in starting from scratch, there are also several tutorials that teach html (the simplest language of webpages) and other web-design techniques.

Organizer: Jes, you've created a pretty cool MySpace page for IHS, do you think that an informative MySpace, Facebook, or blog would be adequate for our student groups?

Jes: Yes. There are several benefits for each.

MySpace/Facebook profiles have built-in technologies that allow you to:

  • give the profile a look and feel like a website (color scheme, background images, etc.)
  • communicate with other people via comments/messaging
  • advertise up to date information via bulletins to hundreds of thousands people
  • invite several people to events (and target invites to locations)

Most blog software has built-in technologies to allow:

  • giving a more structured look and feel like a website
  • keeping most up to date content at the top of the page automatically
  • user feedback/comments to your site content/blog entries

For most of these programs:

  • it's free to register and start your profile/page
  • you don't have to worry about finding a company to host your page
  • you don't have to know very much about coding/programming to have a site/profile

Organizer: And for the two of you: If our groups wanted to start their own podcasts, could they do that easily from their dorm room? What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to create, edit, and promote their own show, or just electronically broadcast their meetings and events?

Jes: Absolutely - and first, a podcast is simply an audio file you create in an mp3 format that contains your own radio show. You upload this file to a server and then listeners can download the file automatically if they are subscribed, or manually after you send them an email with a link to the file. People can listen to the file at their own convenience on their computer, mp3 player, or burned cd.

What you need to start your own podcast :

  • a computer with a line/mic input (pc or mac)
  • a microphone and/or headset
  • sound editing software (i.e. Audacity for PCs and GarageBand for Macs)
  • an account with a hosting company (like http://libsyn.com) to host your sound files
  • for long distance interviews, use a phone recorder or Skype

Like web design, there are tons of podcasting tutorials out there on the web.

Duncan: In every podcast installment, always tell your listeners what the purpose of your group is, and give your web address, meeting times, e-mail address and phone number.

This website lets you engage your listeners with a free listener comment line.

Podsafe Audio and Promonet have free music that's legal to use in your podcast.

It usually takes podcasters a few episodes before they figure out how everything works. The sooner you start podcasting, the sooner you'll get good at it.

Alison: Is it true that you've added a new segment to your podcast that features ultra religious guests?

Duncan: In our most recent episode, HNN #16, Jes interviewed God on His cell phone. That's one for the resume.

Jes: I actually interviewed Mr. Deity for our regular "Break on Through" segment, where we investigate a breakthrough between humanist and religious communities.

Mr. Deity is a YouTube comedy series starring Brian Dalton as God. Picture the cast of Seinfield designing the universe.

Brian appeared on our show in character to answer our annoyingly mortal questions like "Why is homosexuality a sin?" and "Why don't you answer our prayers?"

Duncan: For the next "Break on Through" we're thinking about calling in to Kirk Cameron's Way of the Master show to confess our fear of bananas.

Duncan, Jes and the rest of the Institute for Humanist Studies staff are always happy to share their expertise with freethinkers. Click here for the IHS staff directory.

This article originally appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 17 - The Harvard Conference.

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