It's been a BIG week for Ben Franklin's World. On Monday, May 23, the show received its first award nomination: "Best History Podcast" from the Academy of Podcasters. The award is the equivalent of a podcast Oscar and Academy judges award it based on craft.
The Academy nominated 10 podcasts for the award. The top 5 podcasts in iTunes’ history category received automatic bids and the Academy voted in the other 5 nominees.
Ben Franklin's World will be judged alongside powerhouse podcasts such as NPR's Radio Diaries, Lore (which HBO will turn into a television show), The Art of Manliness, and, of course, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History--the most popular history podcast, which receives 3 million downloads per episode.
Admittedly, it took a few hours for the fullness of the news to sink in. Ben Franklin's World is successful, but it's not yet a "Top 5" podcast in iTunes’ history category. It doesn't offer fancy storytelling or presentist diatribes or opinions about history (which are very popular), it offers two historians talking about well-researched early American history in a way that offers listeners insight into the world of professional historians and historical ideas they can think about.
My fellow podcasters voted this very different type of history podcast as standing among the 10 best in its category. Not only do they like the content we historians provide, but they appreciate the craft that goes into each episode.
The craft of podcasting was not something I fully appreciated until I started Ben Franklin’s World. Since mid-2014, I have listened to podcasts like most of us read history books: I listen for information, but I also pay attention to structure, interview and transition techniques, and other elements of craft. I take notes on what I like and try to implement these techniques into Ben Franklin’s World.
Over the last 5-6 months, the craft of Ben Franklin’s World has improved a lot. I think there are two reasons for this improvement. First, like any craft it takes time, study, and practice to get a feel for what you are doing. Second, I have become very involved in editing the show.
Once I realized that podcasts can provide historians with another outlet for scholarly work, I began approaching each episode as a serious journal article. I apply the same skills we use when we write articles to episodes: I research my guest and their work, I choose which information to include or cut, I rework questions for clarity, and I edit to make the flow or language of episodes tighter. Each BFWorld episode receives at least 3 editing passes: My initial edit, an edit by my audio engineer, and a final proof where we find and fix what we missed during the first two passes.
This isn't ground-breaking work. Historians work like this all the time and many NPR hosts follow a similar production process. But this work is something that is a bit new to interview-driven podcasts and to history podcasts in particular.
Realistically, I don't know if Ben Franklin's World will be able to overtake the giants in the category to win the award. Although I'm considered an “old podcaster,” I still feel like I am getting my feet wet in this medium and have so much to learn. With that said, I also like Ben Franklin’s World’s chances. Ben Franklin’s World will have a very unique, if meta, submission: a 5-minute clip of historians talking about their craft for an award based on craft.
I have decided that the submission I will send to the judges will come from one of two episodes, both of which are from the “Doing History” series with the Omohundro Institute. I'm proud of this series and its creative challenges have pushed me to improve in both my craft as a historian and as a podcaster. Additionally, these episodes represent the work of everyone on my small team: me, Darrell Darnell, and the OI.
Darrell is my fantastic audio engineer. He not only assists with editing the show, but he works to ensure that each episode sounds as good as it can be. The folks at the OI have also had a huge impact on Ben Franklin’s World. In addition to sponsoring and assisting with the production of the “Doing History” series, they have helped me professionalize and manage the show's backend so the podcast can better serve the profession. If Ben Franklin’s World wins this award it will be because of this team and it’s important that everyone's contribution be represented in the submission.
Aside from the Academy nomination, Ben Franklin's World hit another HUGE milestone this week. It surpassed 750,000 downloads.
If the monthly average of about 60,000 downloads stays the same, Ben Franklin’s World will surpass 1 million downloads sometime during late summer or early fall.
Most podcasts never make it beyond episode 7 and many podcasters will podcast regularly for close to a decade before they reach the 1 million download mark. And yet, Ben Franklin's World may make it there in less than 2 years. This is awe inspiring.