Podcasting as tech comm

close-up photo of basket of yellow, orange, red, and purple cherry tomatoes
TC Talk
Podcasting as tech comm

We spoke with Dr. Joseph Robertshaw about his show, The Podcast of Podcasts, and the potential that podcasting holds for everyday technical communicators: students, professionals, educators, and even homesteading enthusiasts.

Sources and further reading



JWe can do that almost teleporting with podcasts. And that’s the other thing that podcasts are, and I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to find a way to preserve them long enough. But just like writing, it’s time travel for thoughts.
ADo you remember last spring when we talked with Joseph?
BOh, yeah. Joseph!
AYeah. So we’re going to release that interview now. And I want to give a little bit of context. TC Talk is mostly you and me, you know.
AI think that is as it is meant to be, yet.
AI like to mix things up every now and then.
BWas that a cocktail joke?
AYes. Yes, it was.
BNow it is.
AIt was on purpose. While we’re at it. [clinks glasses] Our last episode, we interviewed a couple of folks about vaccine trials. We also spoke with another podcaster in the rhetoric and writing studies technical communication area, Joseph Robertshaw, who does The Podcast of Podcasts, where he talks to podcasters. So we were featured on his show. He asked us questions about the origin of our podcast. And when he invited us, I thought, you know, we could do kind of a double interview where we asked him about his podcast. And the angle that I wanted to take is looking at podcasting as a form of technical communication.
ASo we talked to him about that. We also talked to him about gardening.
AAnd this was back in the spring. So he was just starting, he was talking about well, you know,
BListen to the interview.
ABut I will say I asked him for an update and he sent me lovely photos of his bounty.
AAnd he did in fact make his grandpa’s pepper relish.
BWell, that’s just swell.
AAnd your garden. We, I shouldn’t say we because I had nothing to do with it. You grew tomatoes for the first time successfully.
BYes. Cherry tomatoes I have found to be harder to screw up.
AAnyway. You were awash in tomatoes,
BCherry tomatoes, kind of, they don’t hit you all at once. They just keep coming and coming and coming and coming until it freezes,
AYou know what was my favorite?
AThat they came in different colors.
AYellow, orange, red, purple, it was gorgeous.
BIt was.
AIt was like a rainbow.
BAnd that was exactly what the vendor at the farmers market was thinking would be fun. Also, earlier in the season, I was able to make some tomato chutney. And I threw in goji berries for good measure. And
AOh, that’s right.
BBecause we’ve got a goji berry plant. And they’re sort of on that line between, they’re sort of similar to tomato, kind of between sweet and
AIt was almost a little spicy.
BSpicy. Yeah, they’re a little bit spicy.
ABitter, maybe? I don’t know how you’d describe it, but it is
BIt is peculiar for sure.
BAnd I thought a chutney would be the right kind of peculiar to stick it in.
AIt was. No, it totally blended in. I don’t know what else you’d do with goji berries. Weren’t they super few, a superfood a while back?
BThey are in fact still are a super food. They’re just less trendy now. Fun fact, also known as wolf berry.
BPossibly because they’ve got a little bite.
ASo next month we will be back to our regularly scheduled programming of you and me chatting about our respective reading. Doing the interviews has, has bought me some time as I’ve started the new fall semester and I’ve got a lot going on, but I definitely want to keep this up because it forces me out of focusing on just the thing that’s right in front of my face. You know, like the fires I have to put out in my email or the student assignments that need to be graded, that kind of thing. To that end, we’re going to continue TC Talk on a monthly basis rather than a bi-weekly basis. Or would it be bi-monthly?
BYes. Bi is twice rather than semi-weekly, maybe? I don’t know.
AOh, right. We used to do it once a fortnight.
AWe’ll aim to publish on the fourth Thursday of the month going forward, barring any disasters. Which is a nod to our next episode.
BGetting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Not that it would be the end of the world or anything.
AAnd with that, on to the interview.
AWe are trying to something a little different, talking with people, not for their academic expertise, but because we want to know how tech comm operates in daily life, how do people do technical communication? And I define technical communication as communicating specialized information to a variety of audiences in a way that they can use and understand. Given that definition, I see podcasting as a form of technical communication. Do you agree?
AAlright, I figured you would. So I’d like to ask you a few questions about your podcast.
BAre you gonna, I’m sorry. Were you going to ask him his name?
AThat’s exactly where I was going with this! We’re, we’re new to interviewing as well. You can ask him who he is.
BHi, please state your name.
JMy name is Joseph Robertshaw. I teach technical writing and business writing and technical editing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
AAnd you are also a podcaster.
JI am.
AThinking of podcasts as technical communication, with the Podcast of Podcasts, what specialized information are you trying to communicate?
JWell, with the Podcast of Podcasts, I’m trying to communicate to a couple of different audiences, actually, the first one being myself, because I learn from every guest that I meet about something new that I can do to make my podcast better. I have kind of like this plan to go into several seasons. The first season is all about rhetoric and tech comm and people who do that sort of podcasting, because I thought who better to learn podcasting from than people who are professional communicators and educators, right? So eventually I plan to go into other zones and that’ll change the nature of the information. Right now, I’m trying to maybe inspire, maybe just tell other beginning podcasters or people who are about to begin podcasting or thinking about podcasting some of the information that they need to gather before they begin. It seems to work really well when my guests tell them all the information, I just ask the question. Unlike now.
AI know that I was absolutely in your target audience. I saw your podcast come out right around the time that we were starting TC Talk. And I thought, oh, I want to hear the behind the scenes of the different ways that people do this. So I have personally appreciated that. But it sounds like it emerged out of just a personal interest, is that right?
JYeah. I wanted to know what it was like to do podcasting so that I could teach podcasting. And with that in mind, I thought I should find some experts to learn from and they’re already out there and they’re all doing the thing, but then we’re just seeing the final product. So I decided that the only way I was going to be able to get that behind the scenes information was to go ask somebody. So that’s what I did.
AAnd that final product makes it seem so easy.
JIt does. And it’s not.
AWhat choices do you make to communicate your message to your audience? And that might include things like choosing the mode of podcast in the first place. The types of questions you ask, the tone you aim to strike, anything like that.
JWell, being a early to mid Gen-Xer, I grew up watching shows that were like James Lipton. He used to do Inside the Actor’s Studio, right. And there was all these late night talk shows and stuff I liked as well. But James Lipton always stuck out because he kinda stuck to the same set of questions. And I thought if I did that, that would make the answers that my guests give highlight the many ways that we can do this. So it wouldn’t be the same answer every time, but it’d be the same question every time. And then the various answers give people a lot of different directions they can go. At least that was the hope. So that was a choice that I made was to kind of stick with that model of asking very similar questions to every guest.
AThat makes sense. You want to show that variety, keeping those questions consistent.
AAs you have done more episodes, how has your approach changed, if at all?
JWell, obviously, I have adopted the things that I’ve learned from my guests from show one until now. I’ve learned a lot of things. I’m probably going to put together like a bonus episode for this season, sharing some of the best of that, putting it together in a shorter version instead of our normal like half-hour, 45-minute version. But yeah, I’ve, I’ve adopted a lot of the things that my guests have shared as secrets for recording, secrets for editing. A lot of that behind the curtain knowledge. So hopefully those choices are coming across in the final product as the podcast matures.
AWhat’s the best advice that you have heard and applied so far?
JAudio markers for when we have some sort of a snafu in the recording or in the interview, some people will bang on a desk so people will clap. Some people will leave a long silence and looks, look for the trough in the wave form. But some sort of a visual marker to make editing easier.
AWe don’t do that.
BWe don’t.
AWe just say we have to edit that out.
JWhich is also a marker.
AThere you go, okay.
BIt’s just less visual.
JRight. And the other one was a bit of advice that you guys actually gave me, but I was already doing it. I’m trying to do all of my episodes kinda bunched together, before doing one at a time and then releasing it one at a time and then releasing it because that is almost a full-time job. So taking the time that I have available to me, just recording a bunch of episodes is what I think I’m gonna be doing for next season as well.
AAnd giving yourself some breathing room then when it comes time to release those.
JI teach four classes per term and they’re all writing intensive classes. So time is at a premium.
AMore general question. Now, what potential do you think podcasting holds for everyday technical communicators? So that could be scientists, teachers, medical professionals, students, even hobbyists. It doesn’t need to be you know a traditionally technical area. So what potential to podcasting hold for those people to convey their messages to a variety of audiences?
JThat’s a really good question. Something that I’m looking at right now. I’m writing a paper or two about it. I really like to follow this group of folks on YouTube called homesteaders. They’re really interesting. Everything that they do, I’m sort of hanging on every word. They do a lot of vlogging and they started out, in fact, blogging. But now there’s some doing podcasts as well. So this is one example where a community has formed around the communication, the electronic communication with really wide dissemination possibilities. And I think that the place is sharing things that some of the things that they talk about on that show were almost lost knowledge. And they’re bringing some of that stuff back. And then even some of it is new tweaks on an old a bit of knowledge. So they’re bringing these things back and they’re augmenting them and they’re carrying them into the future so that we don’t lose who we are, where we came from. So there’s kind of an eye to the future there. But there’s also a line into the past so we can kinda center ourselves and form an entire community around these modes of communication, both the video vlogging and the, they have different, just like in fact, that’s probably going to be my next season if I can talk enough of them into doing episodes with me, is to talk about the activism of homesteading. And so recruiting as a potential thing that podcasts can do, forming the community and also anchoring us to our past. And those are just, just, just off the top of my head.
AAnd you must know Benton is in his element right now as you’re talking.
JI had no idea.
BYou said homesteading and I was like, ah.
ASo what was the channel again or is it just a general?
JKind of a general. I first started watching them when I ran into oh, now I’m going to geek out here for a moment, if you don’t mind.
JSo Joel Salatin, I ran into him on a movie, Food Inc. And then there were other movies. So they did documentaries and put them in video forms, put them out on different like Netflix and Amazon and things like that. So that’s where I first saw them. And then around that community, they, they organically started using podcasting and vlogging and other things. So then Justin Rhodes is where I went for the next solid one I could hold onto because he was there all the time and kept coming back week after week with new episodes. And then there are probably a dozen more. The Fit Farmer being one, Mike Dickson. Sow the Land is also one of my favorites. Art and Bri, and who else is there in there? There’s so many. I can’t name them all now and I would leave someone out and then they would be like, really upset and not do interviews with me.
AAnd what is it about the podcasting? What does, in that space, what does a podcast do that say a blog post could not?
JWell, this I actually learned from my son. I can walk around the block and listen to a podcast where I couldn’t do that with my television. I could ride a bike, I could ride a bus. I could go out in my garden and turn over some compost and I could do that with some headphones on, still listen to the podcast. So I can occupy my intellect while my body’s doing other things.
AMakes washing dishes so much more enjoyable.
JI don’t really think of it like a download though. I mean, I don’t commit to memory everything that they say. But I kinda get support, I think from that particular group.
AAnd there’s something about the voice too, hearing people talk that gives you a window into who they are which you might not otherwise get.
JThis is something I just recently learned from a music professor that hearing the sound of another person’s voice is as close as you can possibly be because the sound of their voice and the actual thing that they’re producing is going inside your body and vibrating your eardrum, right? So it’s actually, without actually physically touching skin to skin it’s the closest you can be to another person. And now we can, we can do that almost teleporting now with, with podcasts. And that’s the other thing that podcasts are, and I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to find a way to preserve them long enough. But just like writing, it’s time travel for thoughts. Which I really enjoy that idea that I can, I can speak into a page or into a microphone. And then like months and years later, somebody else could dig that up and my ideas come out. Or somebody’s ideas have come out again.
BYou could be like, Oh man, that was back before this catastrophe. Huh. Those times.
AAnd I didn’t realize that you did so much teaching around podcasts. So thinking of students doing podcasting as technical communication, how have you approached that? What kinds of work have they produced?
JI think they use it as social communication more than technical communication because of the particular class, I think the way it was structured. It was a lot of creative writing majors and things like that. So they’re using that techne for the purpose of communicating emotion and communicating social awareness and things like that. so that might not be the answer you’re looking for because I don’t think I’ve had any do strictly technical subjects, although I’m always open to that. Let them do that if they want to.
AEither way, there’s, there needs to be that careful consideration of audience. Whether it’s more creative or more scientific.
JThat as a teacher, I think is the very first thing I tried to impress on all of my students in all my classes because it’s the hardest thing to get them to shake. That I’m not the audience for the thing that they’re making, whatever they’re making. It’s actually someone else and they have to find out who that is so that they can best communicate to them.
ABefore we get to the fun, you know, the funnest question, is there anything you want to let us know about the work you do in podcasting to technically communicate? What have we missed?
JGood question. I don’t really consider it work. I consider it almost historiography the way that I’ve undertaken this particular podcast, because I’m hoping to get folks interested in producing instead of just being consumers. And I think that probably goes beyond podcasting, but definitely with podcasting as well.
AI like that. I realized when I started podcasting, Hey, I’m a creator. It’s a, you shift into a different mode. You’re putting things out into the world versus just consuming and analyzing, and pushing students to do that as well.
BI personally have had waxing and waning of creator versus consumer. I’ll get to a point where I’m like, ugh, I’m just watching so many shows and I’m not creating anything and it’s what am I doing here? And then I’ll have a push of like trying to come up with a board game or this or that that I want to create and then I’ll peter out a few weeks into it.
AYour building projects.
BMy building projects. Although that last one
AThat closet is amazing. The shelving impeccable.
BIf we took all of the stuff that we’ve put in there out of it now, it’d be almost to Instagram worthy.
AYeah, we forgot to do the before and after. We are off topic, Benton.
BThat’s what I’m here for, haha.
AIt’s true.
BI am here to make sure that your plans do not go linear.
AThat is exactly what happens. I come in with my nice neat outline and then we’re talking about shelving.
BOkay, so. The fun question, we’d like you to teach us as non-experts, a fun fact, definition or process you find interesting about a hobby of yours. Assuming you have hobbies which, you know, I think is fair to assume.
JYeah, it would be fair to assume because I have every hobby. I really am, I enjoy all the things, everything that there is to do, I’ve probably been passionate about it at one time or another. I guess two of my favorite things that are like not work stuff are probably gardening and cooking. So which of the two would you rather hear?
BThey sound interrelated in fact.
JYeah, everything is related. We really do like to try to grow what we can here. We’ve got a little less than an acre, but we like to try to grow whatever we can here and bring it in as it’s quantitatively different food than you find in the supermarket. It tastes different, it acts different, it looks different. It’s a lot, a lot more satisfying, I think, to grow your own stuff, bring it in and cook it up and serve it to the family.
BDo you plant seeds yourself? Like plant them indoors? Or gosh Alabama, I suppose maybe you don’t have to worry about frost.
JYeah, actually, we do. We are in the very north of Alabama where about 15 miles or so from, maybe 20 miles from the Tennessee border. So we do get a little bit, we got a couple of inches of snow the other day when y’all were buried. So we have a little greenhouse. It’s not heated or anything, it’s just a little plastic and metal frame greenhouse, so we use that to start seeds. We’re just about to do that now. Another way that we do this is to put seeds in the ground. And I have built raised beds. When we bought the house, they were three long rows. So we divided those into six long raised beds and then added six more raised beds. And now we have some more, a patch that we dug up in the middle of the yard. And the neighbors are looking at us like we’re crazy, but we like it anyway. And then of course, we’re planting trees and bushes and things all over the place too. Anything that will give us food. You couldn’t tell by looking at me, but I do like to eat food as well. The thing that we do with those raised beds though, is we’ll take seeds, put them in the ground, even just before the last frost. And then we’ll put plastic over top of that, staple it down to the wood. And then when we staple that to the wood, it creates a mini little greenhouse effect. And then by the time we get past the last frost, we can pull that off and then we’ve got little sprouts going on in there. So most of the root vegetables need a little while to grow. So we do that with those. Currently I have 2, 3 kinds of radishes going on. Then some lettuce and some turnips and some carrots and some peas, and it’s early in the season, but we’re working on it. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing during the spring break.
AYeah. That kind of reminds me of the stuff you got to start setting up.
BAh, yes. I was always very ambitious and starting things indoors last year and I had innumerable cut apart milk jugs that were, with holes drilled in them for drainage. And I don’t know, I’d say maybe like 60% of this stuff sprouted up and then it died before I could get it in the ground because I’d started a little too early.
ASo much trial and error.
JAnd adaptation. When something goes wrong, then you go find somebody who’s got some starts, either buy some or borrow some from them. But yeah, that’s, that’s gardening. That’s what happens. You can never tell what’s going to happen. So you just adapt when something does.
AWhat’s a favorite dish that you cook from vegetables that you’ve harvested yourself.
BI know it’s hard to get them all out of the ground at the same time.
JIt is. I do have one that I want to make, that my grandpa’s recipe of red pepper relish, he made a pepper relish that has three kinds of bell peppers and some onions. And let’s see what else was in there, 1 jalapeno pepper in the whole batch. So that is something I’m aiming for this year. For some reason it’s very hard for me to grow peppers. Okay, it’s very hard for me to grow bell peppers. I can grow as many hot peppers as you want.
BPeppers are finicky, I’ve heard.
AWe have not been able to get any successful peppers. But that pepper relish rather sounds delicious. I hope you get a chance to make it.
JSo do I. I’ve been out for a couple of years now.
AWell, it was lovely to talk to you, Joseph, and thank you so much for sharing about your podcasting and your gardening and how you communicate about those.
JThanks, it’s been a joy.