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Primary of podcasts: Alternative media's influence in 2020 race

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Last Thursday, 10 Democratic hopefuls took to the stage and made their cases to win the party’s nomination. But were their efforts actually constructive to Americans in deciding the best candidate?

The candidates attacked President Donald J. Trump. Some tried to attack Joe Biden. Biden praised former President Barack Obama. They argued about healthcare for a bit. And in the wake of recent mass shootings, gun control was called for yet again. 

Most of the candidates gave systematically rehearsed answers to dance around questions, and occasionally called out each other about their past. The field of candidates doesn't seem to be getting any narrower.

Meanwhile, the internet has been democratizing media and opening new avenues for information to flow for years. Most of the candidates have attempted to capitalize on this fact by appearing on podcasts. 

Popular examples include Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Andrew Yang and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) all having their own appearances on the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE), or Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) with appearances on The Breakfast Club. 

These podcasts have the ability to reach different demographics of viewers than network TV and the platform offers the chance for lengthy, uninterrupted discussions as opposed to the shorter responses on the debate stage.

For example, the JRE is currently the fourth most-downloaded podcast on Apple and its episodes frequently receive millions of views. The show is popular for its wide diversity of topics and perspectives. Guests from all political backgrounds appear on the show such as Yang, Gabbard, Sanders, Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, to name a few. Even the controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has appeared on the show.

The most popular JRE episode with Elon Musk currently sits at 25 million views, and everyone remembers Musk tentatively smoking marijuana on air. The result was the Tesla stock plummeting by 10%, according to Deutsche Welle

This illustrates that podcasts have widespread influence over the world economically, politically and socially. If this incident on this platform can cause such a stir in the world, a politician can use this same platform to benefit their campaign.  

These independent podcasts have the potential to change the world, and they are currently challenging more traditional outlets that have been in power for decades. A lot of this can be attributed to the informal style of podcasts versus the formal nature of network debates.  

Discussing politics in formal debates has been the norm for decades, but that doesn't mean there aren’t problems with this platform. Networks have a major influence in shaping factors like a candidate’s speaking time, topics addressed and the wording of questions. 

In addition, the candidates are forced to cut down the length of their responses, so trite promises and ad hominem attacks take precedence over real discussion in an effort to appease the crowd.

A concrete example of a network influencing a debate occurred back in June of this year when during a Democratic debate, Yang claimed that his mic was shut off by the network unless he was explicitly called upon to answer a question. Therefore, his speaking time was unfairly limited by the network. This further illustrates the point that major media networks have a huge hand in influencing which candidates appear appealing to audiences. 

Less formal platforms like podcasts allow candidates to have enough time to fully flesh out problems, plans and policies. There is also something much more genuine about a regular discussion because responses are not as scripted. It's easier to see what a candidate is really about and assess their intelligence from a long discussion because they cannot easily deflect questions. They’re in the hot seat.

But podcasts still have their weaknesses. One argument against podcasts is that they bring in less viewers than traditional debates. Also, since they are more informal, many hosts are not as well-versed in the topics discussed, and there are no other candidates around to challenge the ideas spoken and present alternatives.

Of course, the question of authenticity inevitably arises with media and it’s a question that remains unanswered. With a seemingly infinite flow of information today, sources exist to justify so many viewpoints. 

It's difficult to ascertain which outlets or organizations are trustworthy. The problem of trust is a large component of many populist campaigns that have swept around the world recently, including in our own country with Trump’s administration.

The most effective format for the future of political discussions and news may be uncertain right now, but what's certain is that it will profoundly affect the nation, especially with the 2020 presidential election rapidly approaching and furthermore the world at large.