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If you've ever searched the web to determine the proper use of a semicolon, or to figure out the difference between "affect" and "effect," then you've likely encountered Ms. Mignon Fogarty, who is better known as Grammar Girl. What's become a media empire started out as a humble, five-minute grammar podcast. One individual with a microphone, an internet connection and a dream. B&H Insights caught up with Mignon to find out how she got her start, how she developed her network, and what she envisions for the future.
When did you first become aware of podcasting?
I started listening to podcasts back in 2005, when they first became available through iTunes.
Did you have any reservations or fears when you decided to create your first podcast?
Not really. I was interested in experimenting with the new technology, and simply rushed in headlong.
Do you remember what equipment you used to record your first shows, and did you have any technical assistance?
At the time, I was using Dragon Naturally Speaking because of a wrist injury, so I used the same headset microphone I had been using for voice dictation. I don’t believe I had technical assistance for the first few shows, but I quickly found a community of podcasters at PodcastPickle.com, and got advice.
Before you started Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, you had a podcast called Absolute Science; however, you ultimately abandoned it. You’ve said that creating the show was time consuming, and that recording multiple people was technically difficult. Would you mind elaborating on the technical difficulties?
Skype was available at the time, but in my hands, Skype recording software was unreliable. Further, I was interviewing scientists who didn’t use Skype and typically didn’t have a microphone, so I was left with needing to find a way to record from the telephone, and do a conference call to bring in my co-host. I eventually found a recording device I could use, but it was a clunky set-up. I vaguely remember that it involved clamping something onto my phone. Even then, the audio quality wasn’t very good because instead of a microphone recording, it was an audio recording of a phone call.
Your second podcast managed to attract a large audience quickly. What factors contributed to making this happen, and how can others replicate it?
I honestly don’t know. I did much more to promote Absolute Science than I did to promote Grammar Girl. At the time, it seemed as if word-of-mouth was the main factor that helped it grow. In the first few weeks, as it rocketed up the iTunes charts, I got a lot of e-mail messages from people who said they had just discovered my podcast and told all their friends. Once it got visibility in the iTunes rankings, word-of-mouth and positive ratings continued to grow. I believe I was simply in the right place at the right time with a show that filled a niche that was waiting to be filled.
My iPhone recently tried to auto-correct the word "podcasters" with "pod casters." When you started sharing podcast-related nouns in text publicly, were you comfortable and confident in doing so?
I always knew it as podcasting and a podcast, so I never had any reservations about using the words. Some people tried to champion “netcast” to dispel the common myth that you could only listen on an iPod, but the term didn’t seem right to me, and it never widely caught on. I think it was already too late when they tried to introduce “netcast.” “Podcast” was established.
Grammar Girl got popular incredibly quickly. Even though it was obvious that people loved your show the way it was, did you upgrade any equipment?
Yes, definitely. Sometime in the first few months, I got a Sennheiser microphone, a mixer, and a pop filter. With so many people listening, I wanted to do the best job that I could. I continued to change my equipment over the years—in part for convenience, and in part for better quality. After the Sennheiser, I used a Snowball mic and a Mikey mic, and today I use a Spark Digital. I no longer use a mixer; it seemed like overkill, and was difficult to bring along when I was on the road.
At any point did you consider transitioning Grammar Girl to a video podcast?
I did consider transitioning to a video podcast, but it’s just not my thing. I still occasionally do short videos or videos to go with my audio episodes, but I don’t see myself ever doing weekly video like I do audio.
What was the impetus that drove you to grow your podcast into a network that included other writers, shows and topics?
I used to work at startups, so when Grammar Girl became successful so quickly, I recognized that it was an opportunity to do something bigger. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so turning this into a bigger business seemed obvious.
Podcasting networks like Quick and Dirty Tips are much more prominent today than they were years ago. Do you think that podcasters are stronger as a whole when they work together in a network?
Absolutely! I was an early strong believer in podcast networks. When run properly, everyone in the network benefits. For example, I recently launched a new iPad game called Grammar Pop, and during the launch, every podcaster in the network helped promote the game. Listeners to one podcast often discover other podcasts in the network they end up liking too. Also, particularly on the Web side, having more traffic helps you attract larger advertisers, so by pooling the traffic, we do better.
Do you think podcasting as a medium is going to change very much over the next ten years?
When I started more than seven years ago, I believed podcasting would be completely different or gone within three or four years, but it’s actually much the same as it was. Bigger names have gotten involved, but for the most part, the distribution and formats are quite similar. Still, ten years seems like an eternity in technology. I can’t believe that it won’t change a lot in that amount of time.
Have you ever tweeted a typo?
Sure, I probably tweet a typo at least once a month. It’s embarrassing, but I’m human like everyone else, and typos happen.