When newspapers aren't newspapers

Who wants to listen to podcasts by crusty old hacks?

Newspapers are busy getting into podcasting. They regard it, as they do blogging, as The Future - by which they mean that it is one way of attracting younger readers/ listeners. Hmm. I'm not so sure. While it's fair to say that young people are more likely to be umbilically attached to their laptops and MP3 players, no one's going to download the dull and the crusty, no matter how much they're in thrall to technology. A podcast is no different from a radio show; if it doesn't please on a first listening, the listener is unlikely to bother with it again. And at least radio picks up casual traffic; stuck in my car, I'm a captive audience for programmes I ordinarily despise. This is not the case with a podcast.

Content, then, is all. If someone has a great idea for a podcast, well, stick the mike in front of him and let him begin. A new exhibition at the Royal Academy? Get the art critic to provide an audio guide. An outrageous gaff at No 10? Your political editor has insider gossip. But if you're going to run daily podcasts, you now have space that must be filled. At the moment, this is how the Daily Telegraph's new podcasts sound - like so much space being filled. The last time I listened, crusty bloke after crusty bloke hesitantly described all the stuff I'd already read in the papers. The chap in charge (using the word "presenter" in this context might be stretching it a bit) was cheery, but his links were beyond satire - worse than anything on TalkSport.

An arts bod came on to talk arts. "Tate Modern . . . it's come out of nowhere, hasn't it?" said cheery chappy. Has it? I thought it was the acclaimed six-year-old outpost of an esteemed cultural institution.

The only woman in evidence was Hilary Alexander, the Telegraph's strident fashion director, who talked, not very wittily, about wedding dresses.

Will I be downloading the Daily Telegraph podcast again? I doubt it. Why would I? Given that there are so many other ways to get this kind of information - including the slick news podcasts of the BBC - I can't see the point. My hunch is that amateurish podcasts dangerously diminish the brand they aim to promote. So why are newspapers so obsessed by them? Has none of this occurred to those who run them? It is not even as though podcasts are madly popular. Only 15.2 per cent of those who own MP3 players use them to listen to podcasts. In the third quarter of 2006, two million people used MP3 players for podcasts, which, shared around, is a none-too-hefty figure. And I bet that most of them were only downloading Ricky Gervais. I know I was.

It is all most perplexing. Oh, well. The good news is that Tina C is back on Radio 4. No idea who Tina C is? Get with the programme, honey. The creation of the Olivier award-winning performer, Christopher Green, Tina is a Republican country singer from Tennessee whom Libby Purves has, rightly, described as an Edna Everage for the 21st century. In her new series, Tina's State of the Union Tour (Wednesday, 11.15pm), she is to be found gigging in Europe. Believe me when I tell you that Tina is a) hilarious and b) the sharpest send-up of Bush's foreign policy since The Daily Show. Imagine Condi Rice playing slide guitar rather than Rachmaninov, and in rhinestones rather than Max Mara, and you're beginning - only beginning, mark you - to get close.

Pick of the week

Live at Midnight: Gomez at the 2006 Truck Festival
12 November, midnight, BBC6 Music
Mercury Prize winners Gomez might sound like slackers, but they tour like crazy. Here’s the proof.

Book of the Week: Seize the Hour: when Nixon met Mao
13-17 November, 9.45am, Radio 4
Margaret Macmillan’s book about Nixon’s 1972 trip to China – then like the dark side of the moon.

Don't miss . . .
Photographic portrait prize

In this its fourth year, the National Portrait Gallery's prestigious Photographic Portrait Prize has harvested a fine collection of 60 images from the 5,065 prints sent in anonymously by more than 2,000 photographers for the open competition. The clutch is as diverse in its styles of portraits as it is in its international approach and includes this image: "Mursi Tribeswoman with Rifle, Ethiopia" by Steve Bloom. Following the NPG show, it tours to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, and Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

Runs at the National Portrait Gallery, London WC2 until 18 February. www.npg.org.uk

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