Web Extra: Lawmakers discover the appeal of podcasting

Podcasting's flexibility lets people listen to congressional updates while walking their dog or driving around town

Congressional offices often communicate with constituents via weekly podcasts. A number of lawmakers, including Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), have taken to the microphone.

Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and his spokesman Matthew Faraci began discussing the idea of a podcast in September 2005. “He was very open to the idea,” Faraci said. “Congressman Hostettler is an Internet user himself, and he has kids who come from perhaps the most tech-savvy generation yet, so he understands how podcasting works.”

In November 2005, the lawmaker launched “Capitol Update,” which has evolved into an e-town hall meeting. Hostettler encourages people to suggest topics via e-mail. With permission, he reads the letters on the air and then responds.

Hostettler’s weekly podcasts vary in format from 30- to 45-minute “Capitol Update” segments about various issues to 3-minute “Pod-Report from Washington” briefs about specific bills.

When technologically possible, Hostettler’s staffers try to make the audio files small enough for the public to download via dial-up connections.

Faraci said podcasting’s greatest appeal is its flexibility. People can listen to a podcast while multitasking and can stop and start a podcast at their discretion. In contrast, e-mail demands a person’s full attention, and TV news dictates its own schedule.

“Rather than reading an e-mail, you can listen to a podcast while walking your dog, driving around town or sitting on the Metro,” Faraci said. “I think it’s the optimal way for people to receive information.”

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