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Danielle Parrish: Hi, this is Danielle Parrish. In today's Social Work Podcast, I'm talking with Jonathan Singer, the founder and host of the Social Work Podcast, about the podcast. Jonathan received his MSSW from UT Austin, his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and he's now on faculty at the Temple University in Philadelphia. He had actually invited me to, to do an interview at S.S.W.R. (Society for Social Work and Research) on evidence-based practice and in return I was really interested in learning more about the Social Work Podcast and wanted to interview him as well.
So, today we're going to talk a little bit about how the Social Work Podcast started, how he selects his topics and the people that he interviews and how after the interview the podcast is actually produced and then finally how he connects with his listeners in a variety of ways. So, I found it interesting. I'm sure you will, too. So, now on to episode 64 Behind the Scenes at the Social Work Podcast: An Interview with Jonathan Singer.
Hi Jonathan. Thank you for joining us today and talking with us about the Social Work Podcast.
Jonathan Singer: You're welcome Danielle. Are you trying to be me?
Danielle Parrish: [Laughs] I am. [Laughs] I get to be you for a day.
Jonathan Singer: That's right. I'm very glad to be here talking about the Social Work Podcast. Thank you for asking me to do this.
Danielle Parrish: It's my pleasure. I'm excited to learn more about kind of how this developed and where things have gone since, since you started it in 2007.
Jonathan Singer: Great.
Danielle Parrish: So, can you start by talking a little bit about what lead to your decision to start the Social Work Podcast?
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, so I was teaching a practice theory class at the University of Pittsburgh and I wanted my students to have summaries of the lectures because I knew that they will be important when they took their licensure exam. And then I realized if I put them on the content management system - it was Blackboard at the University of Pittsburgh - that the students wouldn't have access to them once they graduated.
So, I decided that I would give it a domain name. I found SocialWorkPodcast.com. It was available - which is I guess not so much of a surprise in 2007 - and then got some server space and I started recording these summaries and posting them online and I told my students that they were there. And that's what I did.
Danielle Parrish: So, it sounds like it really started out as a teaching modality to support your course and, you know, kind of, you've taken that and you've integrated your knowledge of technology and it's become kind of just taken off for something not just reaching students but a wider audience of practitioners and researchers. Do you still use it on your courses?
Jonathan Singer: I do use it in my courses.
Danielle Parrish: Yes.
Jonathan Singer: And I feel a little bad for my students because I think there's something -- I've heard from other instructors that there is something nice about assigning the podcast because it gives their students a different perspective but my poor students have to listen to me in class and then they have to listen to me outside of class so [Laughs]… I do use it.
And actually I use the podcast as a reminder for myself when I'm prepping for, for my classes. Like when I'm teaching behavior theory, I will listen to my podcast on behavior theory because it reminds me of some of the things that are important. Or, you know, if I'm talking about working with diverse populations, I might listen to the interview that I did with Nancy Boyd-Franklin about spirituality in African-American families or any number of topics. It's a good reminder for me as an instructor to bring up things in class.
Danielle Parrish: So, at what point did it move from being your own summaries to involving other professionals within, within social work and I'm assuming maybe other disciplines as well.
Jonathan Singer: I try and stick to social workers.
Danielle Parrish: Oh.
Jonathan Singer: But there have been interviews -- a couple of folks were not social workers, Chris Wolf, a sex therapist, I interviewed her. Nancy Boyd-Franklin, she's a psychologist but is sort of an adopted social worker. I try and stick with social workers because I think it's important for where social work students to be able to access these technology resources created by and for social workers. There are a lot of resources out there for counselors. There's the American Counseling Association Podcast. It's got a lot of topics on clinical issues. American Psychological Association has information out there. So, I wanted the social work perspective.
Now, I did a bunch of summaries of lectures that I gave and so those were the first episodes that went up. DSM for social workers, crisis intervention, the basics and I already have those lectures written so it was in a sense it was easy to, to record them and then after awhile I kind of ran out. [Laughs]
I didn't have much more to say and so I started interviewing folks. I interviewed Ed Sites who is a Professor Emeritus from University of Pittsburgh. We talked about grant writing. Here is a guy who has successfully received I think almost half a billion dollars in grant funding through his career. He's never once in his career been without a grant like so who better to talk about writing a grant than Ed Sites and I was at the University of Pittsburgh. He was at the University of Pittsburgh. I knew he was retiring and I thought I want to archive this. I don't want to have to come up with a lecture on grant writing for my students when Ed could do it for me but he can't guest lecture because he's retiring, so I'll record it. So, part of the purpose is to have an archive of knowledge that is in the profession and to have it so that I could access it and so that, you know, if you're, if you're one of two instructors in a small social work program, somewhere in the United States, you can have guest lectures by Allen Rubin… You can have guest lectures by Kia Bentley… by Larry Davis talking about race and social problems. So, you can have these people come to your classroom without any cost to you. So that's part of why I did it.
Danielle Parrish: What an excellent resource for, for social work educators. Have you gotten feedback about the use of the Social Work Podcast among educators and social work and…
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, I have. A number of social work -- I've gotten emails from instructors -- and some instructors, they'll email and they'll say hey, would you -- is it okay if I link to the podcast and I just want everybody to know that it's, it's got a creative commons license which means as long as you don't modify it, as long as you don't make money off of it, and as long as you attribute the content to the Social Work Podcast then you can do whatever you want with it. You can take the mp3 files and upload them to Blackboard. You can burn them onto a CD. You can put them on a hard drive. You can dub them on a cassette tape and send them to your grandmother – it's totally legitimate, whatever you want to do with them as long as you follow those simple three rules. And those are the -- it's basic academia, right? That's what we do in academia with resources. We don't modify. We attribute and we certainly don't make any money off of it. I don't make -- I lose money on this every year because I have to pay for server space and the domain name. I don't get any money in so… and it's a service. I mean, that's why I do it.
So, instructors say they like it. I get lots of emails from students. Some are looking for information. Do you have a podcast on such and such? I have to give a class presentation or I'm trying to do a paper on such and such… do you have PowerPoints that you can send me? Whatever. And sometimes I'm able to say hey, I don't have a podcast but the University of Buffalo, they've got a podcast here. It's called Living Proof Podcast. They have an episode on this so I can refer them to another podcast. I also get a lot of emails from social workers in the field who say that the podcast has been really useful in helping them to pass their licensure exam and I, I think it's more placebo than anything else because there's nothing -- I haven't looked at the licensure exam list and I don't create podcasts to prep for that. There are sites you can go to - there are lots of paying sites you can do and they have excellent resources but, but yeah… So social workers in the field say "it helped me pass the licensure exam" or, "you know, I work with this population. It was so nice to do this or I just got back into the field. Thank you so much. I've been listening to this." And practitioners and instructors from around the world have sent emails and said that they like the podcast.
So, for me it's just, it's amazing because this is something that I started for my students at the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 and it's obviously met a need.
Danielle Parrish: Yeah, it sounds like you have a very wide audience. How do you pick your topics? How do you decide what to do next?
Jonathan Singer: That's a great question and there are a couple of different ways. So, folks send me suggestions all the time. In the last six months I've gotten 17 requests for different topics. Sometimes I will get a request and I will search out somebody with expertise. Sometimes I know somebody with expertise that I know will be a good interview and I will seek them out. And sometimes I'll be engaged in a conversation with somebody and they'll say, "you know, I really love the podcast - I really wish there were more episodes on community organizing because I don't really have very many on community organizing at this point." And I'll say "oh, well, you're a community organizer?" "Yes, I am." "Well, let's do something with that." You know, so let's meet that need. So, those are three ways that, that I come up with my topics and there's no real rhyme or reason for the order of what I publish when it's, whenever I get them out.
Danielle Parrish: So, how do you specifically engage your audience most? Is it through, through Facebook? Is it through your, your actual websites? And I understand that some folks are able to automatically download the podcast, so can you talk a little bit about that and for folks that are trying to stay continuously connected to the podcast?
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, absolutely. So, there are a lot of different ways that I connect with listeners. One of the ways is sometimes people post comments on the Social Work Podcast website. More often they go to Facebook because there's a Facebook fan page for the Social Work Podcast. Right now there are almost 1500 fans of the Social Work Podcast from all over. If you're a fan of the Social Work Podcast then whenever there's a new episode it automatically says hey, there's a new episode. People "like" it. You know, they click the "like" button or the leave a comment. I also have a Twitter feed for the Social Work Podcast and so sometimes I'll take quotes from episodes and I'll just post them up there or I will say "I'm interviewing Danielle Parrish on evidence-based practice, is there anything you would like me to ask her?" I do that on Facebook and then people can respond.
And so, increasingly I'm actually trying to integrate listeners' questions in my interviews because I think that's a really interesting way of figuring out well what people want to hear.
Danielle Parrish: Absolutely. So, you're getting feedback and you're using multiple -- or through the social networking sites and you're, looks like you're using a lot of different ways to kind of engage your audience through social networking.
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, and I also have -- there's a Google voice phone number and so on the Social Work Podcast webpage if you -- on the right side, there's something that says call me and you can call a number and it goes automatically to voicemail and you can leave me a message saying "Hey, my name is Doug. I'm from Iowa and I'm really interested in how you work with truancy in youth. Could you do a podcast on that?" And so, you can actually leave a voicemail if you don't want to leave a message or email or whatever. People can also email me at email@example.com and, you know, I respond to those. So, there are lots of ways to connect.
Danielle Parrish: [Laughs] Great. I would imagine that you've had an opportunity to meet a lot of different people through the course of interviewing for the, for the podcast and I'm wondering what have been some of the most memorable experiences for you in this process and just in general what the processes is like meeting with so many different people across, you know, the social work profession.
Jonathan Singer: Well, it's been great. I mean, people say that they learn from the podcast and I certainly learn from the interviews that I do. Sometimes I ask questions because I think they're good prompts but oftentimes I ask questions because I don't really know the answers and so I learn. I think that in terms of actual interviews, you know, they run the gamut.
Some of the interviews have been just kind of awe inspiring. And some of the interviews have been challenges to figure out, you know, what's the right question. Or, you know, I'll ask a question and I realize after I've asked it, it's not getting it what I want to get out of the question. As a clinician I know what that's like, but when you're having a session with a family or you're doing group or you're doing -- like you can do it again. But you don't want to ask the same question over and over and over again in a podcast so, so that's been challenging.
But I think in terms of memorable interviews, I think that -- like when I was interviewing Barbara Jones on Pediatric Oncology social work, I, I teared up. I was so moved by the story she was telling about the kids that she worked with and I totally wasn't expecting that and I think you can hear that in the podcast. I mean, you can't hear me crying but you can hear the, the sort of the connection and it's really powerful. Another episode that was memorable for a different reason, I was interviewing Jim Drisko about reactive attachment disorder and we were in a hotel room and they were -- somebody vacuuming outside the door and when they would stop, construction workers outside the window would start and they would stop and then the vacuums would start and then the construction workers and it was, it was a stop-start interview, really very challenging.
But really the guests have been so wonderful and really giving of their time and expertise. It's just been -- I don't know, for me it's been great and I think that people have really appreciated it and so it's, it's like a win-win. That's the great thing. This is a win-win endeavor.
Danielle Parrish: So, once you finish the interview for the podcast, how do you put everything together and make the final product?
Jonathan Singer: The final product, it starts even before the interview because I'm always thinking about how can I make sure that this is no more than 45 minutes. You know, if you listen to professional like NPR or, like, I don't know - Terry Gross or someone like that like - interviews don't last an hour. Really nobody can like sit through that I mean unless you're like Bill Moyers, you know, and you're interviewing Joseph Campbell, like you can't do that.
So I always come up with a list of questions in advance with my guest. I make sure that they're comfortable with the questions. - that the questions are going to get after what we want. It's not like (the CBS show) 60 Minutes. I'm not trying to catch somebody in a lie. I'm just trying to get some useful information. So, then we do the interview and I always let people know that if they answer a question and they want to do over, we can totally do over. It's all on tape. We can edit it out. That's fine.
So, once I have that then I'll, I'll edit it. I use Sony Sound Forge to do the audio editing. I've got the intro and the outro music. It's already prerecorded. I write an introduction where I talk about the guest. I give a summary of what the listeners will hear and then they hear what they hear and then it's an outro. So, I put all those together.
I save it as an MP3 file and I use the same settings as NPR does for their podcast because I figure if NPR does it it's, it's good enough for me. Then I upload it to the server and I create something for the Social Work Podcast website. I update the RSS feed and I ping iTunes and then it's off and running.
Danielle Parrish: Wow. It sounds like quite a process but one that you've really been able to fine tune and obviously I've noticed that the sound quality is really good [Laughs] when I listen to the website which is, is amazing now that I'm realizing that you do these interviews in hotel rooms and when there could be vacuuming outside and, you know, a variety of noises in the background so.
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, I know and I -- that's where the editing comes in. You know, I really try hard to minimize those distracters but sometimes they happen, and if they do I try and give a disclaimer upfront. Like there was a series of interviews I did at Society for Social Work and Research in 2010 and there were pigeons on the balcony outside the room and you could hear them in the background. And so, in the beginning of those episodes I, I said and "by the way, if you hear pigeons in the background, it's the recording, it's not, not you." [Laughter]
Danielle Parrish: I guess you never know what you're going to hear.
Jonathan Singer: That -- that's right.
Danielle Parrish: And in any given place. [Laughs] So, how do you get a sense of what your, your audience is -- what is most popular with your audience, what they're liking that's being posted and how many of a particular podcast is being downloaded? How do you measure that?
Jonathan Singer: You know that's a great question and there's this term "web metrics" which is a sort of measuring what happens on the internet. There's no standard these days for figuring out what are the, the best web metrics. It's like in academia you can look at citation counts for articles. You know, how many times has your article been cited or you can look at an impact factor for a journal and there's, you know, there's, there's a formula for that.
I use Google Analytics, which is a free program, and I also use Webalizer which is on the server. And those are two programs that give me data on whose listening -- on what podcasts are being downloaded and how many visitors and where they're from and all that sort of stuff.
To the best that I can tell each episode is being downloaded -- when it's first posted it's downloaded between 3500 and 7500 times and then it goes down each month and I think that's because there are a lot people who subscribe on iTunes. And so when so when there's a new episode, iTunes automatically downloads it to your computer. And in fact that's the definition of a podcast. A podcast is a combination of an audio file or a video file and the technology called Real Simple Syndication or RSS that allows people to subscribe. And when you subscribe that means it comes to you -- you don't have to look for it. And that's what distinguishes podcast from the technology that was around in the 1990s in the internet where you could listen to audio on the web. And all that started around 2004.
So I know the interview on cognitive behavioral therapy has been downloaded 30,000+ times. I don't know if people have listened to it 30,000+ times. I don't know if it was 30,000 individual unique downloads. It could be that somebody downloaded it and then their computer crashed, they downloaded it again. It's the same thing with visitors.
I know that there have been about 100,000 unique visitors that have come to the site. So, each visitor counts one time. I count only once in that number. But I know that there have been over 300,000 page hits or page views and so I get that information. I also know that there have been visitors from 178 countries and I know that most of them are from the United States but there are a lot from the other English speaking countries. But there are also listeners in Iran and India and a bunch of countries in Africa and, and I find that really interesting, too. I wonder who those people are.
Danielle Parrish: Mm-hmm.
Jonathan Singer: But that's not the kind of information I can get off of the internet. And so that's why when people contact me, I ask them how did you find the podcast? What episodes do you listen to? And so then I just get, you know, basic -- what's that called?
Danielle Parrish: Anecdotal.
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, I get anecdotal. [Laughter] I get anecdotal feedback so, yeah.
Danielle Parrish: So, it does sound like a very hard thing to measure. I'm intrigued by the fact that you're getting folks that are viewing the podcast from all around the world. Do you get requests for different types of topics from other countries and what those kind of look like?
Jonathan Singer: Yeah, I got a request from somebody in Iran on a group work with people with addictions in Iran and I had no idea how to do that podcast. I've been in touch with some folks in Australia. There are some concepts in social work that they teach there that we don't teach in the United States and they've asked for me to do episodes on those concepts and I've had to look them up. So, I've had discussions with folk -- and off the top of my head I can't remember the names of them like the concepts -- but that's interesting. And I've really actually wanted to do an episode where I have social workers from different countries talk about what social work is like in that country or what the role of social workers is. I think that will be really interesting sort of international podcast.
Danielle Parrish: Yeah, that sounds like it could be fascinating. Well, thank you so much for your time today. It's been very interesting for me to learn more about, you know, the background and history and, you know, ongoing process with, with the social work podcast and I look forward to being an ongoing subscriber.
Jonathan Singer: [Laughs] Well thank you Danielle. Thanks for interviewing me. It's fun to talk about it. Thanks for giving me the opportunity. I'm glad you suggested that.
APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast:
Singer, J. B. (Host). (2011, January 18). Behind the scenes at the Social Work Podcast: Interview with Jonathan Singer [Episode 64]. Social Work Podcast. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://socialworkpodcast.com/2011/01/behind-scenes-at-social-work-podcast.html