There's nothing like a whiff of new technology to bring on the grandiose predictions of wonder or woe. Imagine the heady atmosphere in the halls of government of Grand Forks, North Dakota, when the techies grasped the potential of podcasting. Basically, podcasting provides a way to automatically deliver audio programming to subscribers. Why, they could put Mayor Michael R. Brown in the digital audio players of every citizen who owned one!
It was thus with great ceremony that Dave Miller (the evident webmaster of the city's site) announced earlier this year that Brown would soon be "the first mayor in the country or the world for that matter, to do a podcast!" True? Who knows. But it makes good publicity!
That was February 9; on February 10, the promised podcast (an interview with Brown, by Miller) appeared on the site. March saw the posting of the mayor's State of the City address...and then the podcasts perished.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has embraced podcasting, along with near-daily blogging, at his website, though admittedly his commitment to podcasting is easier to maintain than his enthusiastic neighbor to the north's, as the biweekly segments don't feature the mayor talking. Instead, his PR guru Richard Callow along with a cadre of young staffers at his firm has shaped the podcast into a celebration of the myriad (sometimes mundane) people and issues that contribute to St. Louis' sense of place.
Every other week or so, a 10-minute-ish podcast features thoughts from local notables from Police Chief Joe Mokwa to fashion icon Jerry Talamantes. Since its inception in May of this year (missing the "first in the world!" bragging rights by mere months), more than 20 podcasts have appeared. All follow a similar format, of the subject speaking in snippets that are interspersed over a Muzak-style bed, which takes on topic-relevant moods (thumpy bass for the hip hop segment with Kiki, The First Lady, and J-Nicks; a sort of "Up with People" inspirational chorus, curiously matched with Confluence Greenway's David Fisher, interviewed while pedaling along the Riverfront Trail). The questions are not recorded, so the interviewee has to try to be complete enough so that answers stand alone. From a purely technical point of view, the relentless music seems a little much, and in some cases, nearly drowns out the speaker (as in the case of poet Suzanne Rhodenbaugh.)
Still, the podcasts present an interesting and pretty diverse snapshot of our town, and it's a credit to the city administration that they're presented relatively unvarnished, letting each person speak her mind. Restaurateur Larry Forgione holds forth on his plans for a major fundraising event downtown next fall, including his pals Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and Emeril, "not to sound like I'm dropping names." Rhodenbaugh describes some of St. Louis' rich poetic history, adding, "We should be known for more than just animal abuse and meth labs." Talamantes gives a careful assessment of the mayor himself: "Mayor Slay looks great for what his occupation requires of him." (The hidden gem of the podcasting project may be this statement, with an audible giggle from the interviewer in the background.) Talamantes goes on to advise against light-colored suits or button-down collars for the city's head honcho.
At a conference in October at Webster University, Slay and Callow spoke about the mayor's use of blogging, podcasting and other new technologies, and said that the site is getting about 20,000 visitors a month. Now, we'll just wait for the Mayor Slay Flickr account, and then Elburn, Illinois, mayor Jim Willey will have nothing on the Lou.