The ME Show

See me, hear me, feel me, fund me! Are vlogging and podcasting the ultimate slacker careers?

"I remember George Orwell's 1984," Brower says, "where it predicted that in the future, everybody stays inside and does whatever they do without leaving the house for the corporation. And he was writing that as a bad thing!"

Brower, who still works the swing shift as a corporate IT guy and takes on the occasional Web design job to split the couple's bill-paying responsibilities ("There's always a running tally going on in the background"), admits he doesn't even tell his own clients and co-workers about his Web site.

"It'd be kind of bad if I'm late on a project and have to use the excuse, 'I've been really busy' -- and then they go and see the video that's date-stamped in my blog!" he says, laughing. "They'd be like, 'Yes, I see. Just how long did it take you to get that pirate hat to fit?'"

Christian Brower's got the look -- and life -- that's custom-made for vlogging. "Maybe I project my life like a TV show. That's how I talk, how I look."
Jeff Newton
Christian Brower's got the look -- and life -- that's custom-made for vlogging. "Maybe I project my life like a TV show. That's how I talk, how I look."
The Dragon Page podcasters Michael Mennenga (left) and Evo Terra. "The question right now is who's gonna make money in podcasting," says Terra.
Jeff Newton
The Dragon Page podcasters Michael Mennenga (left) and Evo Terra. "The question right now is who's gonna make money in podcasting," says Terra.

At his software-engineer job in Tempe, Chris Hagedorn listens all day to the podcasts he downloads the night before and reads up on tech news from a variety of Internet sites. When five o'clock rolls around, Hagedorn gets in his car, switches on his iRiver portable recording device (or sometimes his Powerbook, which he props up in the passenger seat), and records his own podcast on the long commute home to Avondale.

Some call the practice "freeway blogging." Hagedorn prefers the less dangerous-sounding "commute-casting."

Most of the time, Hagedorn talks tech -- podcasting's early adopters are still primarily geeks.

But Hagedorn is also openly gay, a voice you don't normally hear on regular broadcast radio, unless it's accompanied by a flamboyant lisp for yuks on the "Morning Zoo" shows. On a typical podcast, Hagedorn may switch from authoritatively discussing the latest coding challenges in Apple's XML parsing engine to craning his neck to see who's driving the car in front of him with the rainbow sticker in the window ("Oh, it's two women. And they're smoking.")

Hagedorn, 28, fits the profile of the average "newbie" broadcaster Mennenga and Terra describe. While a few popular podcasts strive for the polished "real radio" feel The Dragon Page's co-hosts bring to their show, many more, like Hagedorn's, consist of regular people riffing on whatever topics they're into -- and amazed when they check their own download statistics and find that their glorified "notes to self" are being picked up off the nightstand by so many interested strangers.

"That blows me away!" Hagedorn says over a lunch break at a nearby Starbucks, pointing to a stat sheet he's printed out that says he's already had 32 people download the ramblings he recorded on his way home from work last night. "I'm amazed. Why are all those people giving a crap about what I have to say?"

Hagedorn says that's what drives him to keep doing the things every weekday. "For a lot of podcasters, it's just another outlet in which to say things you couldn't say elsewhere," he says. "Or to spark a conversation with people who may not be in the same city as you, or who are very much spread out."

For gays and other minority groups, that sense of community is particularly gratifying.

"I think any group that doesn't feel like they fit in with mainstream media, or feels like they've been shut out of mainstream media, is gonna gravitate toward podcasting," Hagedorn says. "And gay people are definitely included in that. There are a lot of gay podcasts, for some reason. It's definitely an outlet for people you know would never get on the air anywhere else."

In that way, podcasting -- and vlogging, too -- remain close to the soul of text blogging, which has weathered its own media fury to become primarily a peer-to-peer publishing system that gives voices to the little guys and creates community through feedback and hyperlinks.

Athena Simpson, a 21-year-old ASU broadcasting major set to graduate in May, has learned more about TV and radio than most of the people making podcasts and vlogs today. Yet she still prefers banging out text on her MySpace blog page, and thinks all the star-struck vloggers and podders poised to take control of the media need to intern at Clear Channel, as she did in Denver before enrolling at ASU, for a quick reality check.

"What I like about blogging is you get to express yourself and get feedback from people who don't necessarily know you, so all they can tell you is what they think based on what you write in your blog," she says simply. "It's point-blank advice -- not the usual sympathy or comments you get from friends and family, who are biased in that they know you more and can't give you an objective view."

Like most bloggers, Simpson likes the idea of building a community of online friends through group-joining and interest-sharing and fears that community would be obliterated if all she focused on was becoming the number one blogger on the Internet. And she also wonders how turning the activity into a career would ultimately effect her freedom of expression.

"What happens if people do start getting advertisers for their blog site, and if they have to start worrying about keeping an audience?" she says. "Eventually, you're gonna feel like somebody's telling you what you should say. And that's the exact opposite of what blogging's supposed to be about."

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