PODCAST RECORDING  Bishop Kevin J. Sweeney is pictured with Scott Milliken, the CEO of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Paterson, left, and Jai Agnish, right, co-host of the podcast, during the recording of episode four of Beyond The Beacon in Clifton, N.J.

Why a podcast?

I hope that readers of this column are aware that we recently started a “Diocesan Podcast” called Beyond The Beacon. For readers who have already begun listening to or watching (on YouTube) the podcast, I hope that you can appreciate that a podcast is one more way in which we can share some of the “good news” about the Church in our Diocese. I also hope that you can see the podcast as a “format” that can potentially be a more “interactive” way to both share and discuss “news” that affects us as individuals, families, and communities of faith.

I also suspect that there may be some readers who ask the question, “What’s a podcast?” Instead of trying to answer that question “in my own words,” I found what I think is a good explanation:

A podcast is the streaming age’s answer to radio. The dictionary definition of a podcast is a digital audio file you can download or listen to over the Internet. Its interesting history explains why it is called a podcast to begin with.

Podcasts are a form of media content that was developed in 2004 when former MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer coded the “iPodder.” The iPodder was a program that let a user download internet radio broadcasts to their Apple iPod. This is where the term and meaning podcast was born, taking its name from a blend of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcasts.’

Today, podcasts are an extremely popular form of audio entertainment and have progressed beyond being downloadable radio shows. Each podcast is a series created by a host and then published episode-by-episode online, where subscribers can then download and listen to each episode when it’s released.

What is a Podcast?

Personally, the first time I can recall listening to a podcast was in the summer of 2018, when my brother encouraged me to listen to Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. I enjoyed the podcast right from the start and am still a fan of Revisionist History, which is now in its eighth season. Malcolm Gladwell, who was a writer for the New Yorker magazine and who has written many popular non-fiction books, founded, in 2018, along with co-founder Jacob Weisberg, a company called Pushkin Industries, which produces and publishes numerous podcasts and audiobooks. One of those additional Pushkin podcasts has become another personal favorite: Against the Rules with Michael Lewis. As we have heard the phrase, we should not “judge a book by its cover,” I would say that we should not (necessarily) “judge a podcast by its title or name.”

Even though I found my way to listening to and enjoying podcasts, I have previously shared that I would not consider myself a very “tech-savvy” person. Before I became bishop, I was not very interested in “social media” or many of the new forms of “social communication” that are made possible by the combination of the internet, computers, and smartphones. When I became bishop, I saw the need and importance of being able to communicate through what some would call the “new forms” of media. I was glad to learn that our Diocese has many priests and lay leaders who are “tech savvy” and who could help me to begin to get to know some of this “new territory.” In my first months as bishop, we formed a “Social Media Team.” That team has been and continues to be a great help to me and a blessing to our Diocese, especially as part of the “New Evangelization.” So, when some of the members of the Social Media Team suggested that we could have a “Diocesan Podcast” and/or multiple “Diocesan Podcasts,” I was “all ears.”

We did not rush into anything, and we had numerous conversations about the possibilities and options for a podcast (or podcasts). There are two main reasons why I decided that we should go ahead and “give it a try.” I have previously shared that I am a fan and “follower” of Bishop Robert Barron and his Word on Fire podcast, which is truly an “apostolate” in the ministry of the New Evangelization, and it has an international audience. In the past year, I began listening to (following) three other “Bishop Podcasts”: Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, Big City Catholics (with Bishop Robert Brennan of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and The Walk Humbly Podcast with Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. I could say a great deal about each of the podcasts, but one thing they have in common is that they give each bishop the opportunity to speak directly with the parishioners of his diocese.

If I could recommend that you listen to one episode, I would recommend the 100th episode of The Walk Humbly Podcast with Bishop Burbidge from Oct. 13, 2022. You can find it here. In that episode, Bishop Burbidge and his co-host look back on three years of doing the podcast, and Bishop Burbidge talks about the reasons for having the podcast and why he feels it is valuable. He talks about the way in which the podcast gives him an opportunity to listen and respond to members of the Diocese — they encourage parishioners to write in with questions and comments and then discuss them on the show. He also talks about the way in which the podcast allows him to “respond to news in real-time.”

As I write about podcasts in a column in our weekly diocesan newspaper, I am aware that many readers may prefer to get their “news” about the Diocese by “reading it in The Beacon.” In my time as bishop, I have come to appreciate the value of The Beacon and of this weekly column as an opportunity for me to share thoughts, reflections, and “news” with the faithful of the Diocese. This column can be similar to the podcast in that it can be (more) “interactive.” As I will invite listeners and viewers of the podcast to send in questions and comments, I also encourage readers of this column to do the same. You can send them by email to: beyond@paterstondiocese.org, or, for those who may prefer the more traditional way, you can mail them to The Beacon, 775 Valley Rd., Clifton, N.J. 07013

In addition to my appreciation for the way in which the other “Bishop Podcasts” gave the bishop an opportunity for further conversation with the people of his Diocese, the other main reason for going ahead with Beyond The Beacon is the assistance and encouragement of our Social Media Team. Brian Honsberger, who heads the team, and Caitlin Ferrari, who helped with choosing a name for the podcast, have been very encouraging and helpful. I am especially grateful to Jai Agnish, our Diocesan Communications Director, editor of The Beacon, and the co-host and producer of Beyond The Beacon, who has been the driving force to turn our conversations and ideas into an actual podcast/show. I hope that Beyond The Beacon will be an additional and helpful way for us to share the “good news” of our Diocese. I encourage you to “tune in” and give it a try.

Beyond The Beacon is available on all the major podcast platforms, like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Search “Beyond The Beacon” or visit beyond.beaconnj.org. A video version of the podcast is available on my YouTube channel.

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