HHS publishes guidelines for agency podcasting

Federal directories show dozens of agency podcasts, but some are defunct or outdated

Dozens of federal agencies are producing podcasts for public audiences — according to two online directories -- and the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of New Media has released a new online guide on how to get the most of the technology.

However, despite the recent activity, the status of federal podcasting is mixed; although agencies have started new podcasts, others have been canceled. For example, a user consulting the U.S. Government Podcast Directory on the USA.gov website on Aug. 9 discovered that many of the listed podcasts were from 2009 or 2010, or were no longer available.

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The FBI This Week podcast, while listed, was unavailable and appeared to be defunct. The single podcast available from the Social Security Administration dated from February 2008.

Podcasts, which are a form of broadcasting communications via MP3 electronic audio files, have been heard by more than 70 million Americans. The percentage of people who reported listening to a podcast doubled from 2006 to 2009, from 11 percent to 22 percent, but the rate of growth slowed in 2010, with the percentage of listeners rising by only one percent that year, according to an October 2010 study from Edison Research.

At HHS, there are more than 40 regularly-produced podcasts, ranging from health tips on “HHS HealthBeat,” to news on medical research from “NIH Clinical Radio,” to questions-and-answers from the “Ask CDC” podcast, according to an online Directory of HHS Podcasts.

“Podcasting can be an effective new media tool used in conjunction with other outreach efforts,” Nick Garlow, public affairs specialist with HHS, wrote in a blog entry introducing the Center for New Media’s Podcasting Guidelines on July 13.

“There are many forms of podcasts, many ways to produce them, and any of them can be equally effective.”

The HHS new media center’s guidance document for podcasting encourages agencies to define their mission, audience, schedule and communication strategy. It offers information about requirements for accessibility and record keeping, and definitions and basic descriptions of the terms and technologies.

It also offers tips on how to produce a script, schedule interviews and perform voice tracking.The General Services Administration also offers podcasting guidance to federal agencies on its Howto.gov Website, which was last updated in November 2010. It provides an overview of the technology, definitions used, legal and technical requirements and links to other resources.

“Web users are finding podcasts (as well as RSS feeds) to be a very efficient method of keeping up with current news that interests them,” Howto.gov states. “Millions of Americans own iPods or MP3 players and have downloaded podcasts from the Web so that they could listen to audio files at a time of their choosing.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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