By Flabbergastrate 7 Comments
When I'm listening to a podcast, I usually imagine myself in the room with the participants, conversing with them in my head; I take their viewpoints and compare them with my own, arriving at a conclusion not unlike that which you might have with real life group of people. I don't agree with everyone's point of view, but that's only to be expected. I usually have a better time when I'm debating with someone's points than I do when I agree with them.
This metaphysical experience works best when the breadth of perspectives that a podcast can provide creates genuine discussion on a topic, and when those opinions are as varied as possible. What I've found is that variety of expressed opinions on a podcast is in fact the exception, when it should be the norm.
I won't go so far as to say that most people on podcasts all come from similar podcasts or share the same opinions on everything, because it's not true. The problem comes from the confrontation that comes with disagreement; if someone has something to say that disagrees with the rest of the group, they'd better be able to back it up right then and there. Contrast this with writing, where you have all the time in the world to compose your argument. Though many people share different opinions on many topics, if you fail at verbalizing your point of view effectively, you might end up looking foolish.
But when debate works, it benefits everyone. The 1UP Yours podcast was at its best when Luke Smith and Shane Bettenhausen bickered at length over Sony and Microsoft's strategy for the current generation. Though the arguments tended to get very juvenile at times, it was worth the gripes to listen to both sides of an argument rather than a boring consensus. My favorite episode of the Giant Bombcast is the 2008 Game of the Year episode, in which the bashed heads in order to decide what game was most worthy of the title. Though I didn't necessarily agree with their final decision, the logical discussion that lead up to the result was enabled me to accept their choice.
It's difficult to force people into discussion they'd rather not venture into, especially when the people you're podcasting with are close friends. The arguments you have in a recording booth undoubtedly spill over outside. But this type of discussion is valuable to both the people in the discussion and the listener. For the listener, it allows them to "participate" in the conversation vicariously through a person whose opinion on the matter they share. When everyone is in strict agreement without much debate, those who don't agree feel "left out" of the conversation because they can't relate.
Providing a wider range of opinions -- whether they agree or not -- lets more people feel like they're in the conversation. If a listener feels as though the podcast never ever shares their opinion, they're less likely to listen to that podcast regularly. It's fun to disagree with someone every once in a while, but when you simply can't see where a particular group is coming from, it's difficult to debate futilely for a long time. If you can manage having members who appeal to several audiences, you have a greater chance of having more people listen to what you have to say as an individual and as a group.
It's a difficult problem to address, honestly. If your podcast lacks variety, should you just have someone on because they're likely to disagree with you? Perhaps, but it's runs the risk of coming as though you're only having that person on to boost ratings. Discussions have to flow naturally, and if you can manage honest debate about a topic that can provide new insight to both the listeners and the participants, it ends up being better entertainment for everyone.