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Yellowstone, Sadly, Goes Electronic


    Earlier this month I passed on the word that Valley Forge National Historical Park had entered the electronic age with the addition of podcasts to its interpretive programs.
    Alas, now I must relay that Yellowstone, too, has decided it has to go high-tech to attract visitors; the world's largest collection of geysers evidently isn't enough of a lure.
    Or, perhaps, the Park Service is simply trying to reduce overhead by replacing interpretive rangers with interpretive podcasts. I don't know what the answer is, although in heralding the arrival of these podcasts park officials refer to them as "roving rangers," so I'll let you draw your own conclusion.
    And, like the Valley Forge podcasts, those from Yellowstone allow you to stay at home and enjoy the park from far, far, away.
    The premiere includes 30 videos that span a range of topics. Many more videos are currently in production. Both the park web site and iTunes podcast pages will be updated on a regular basis. Links to additional information for those who want to explore a topic in greater depth will provide opportunities for long-term engagement with the park, its resources, and the people who study this extraordinary place, says the news release trumpeting this interpretive breakthrough.
    Ah, but will these canned shows encourage more folks to visit Yellowstone? And how will this impact the ranks of interpretive rangers? I'd really be curious to hear what those rangers out in the field think of this electronic addition.


This could be done well, or it could be done poorly. Like anything else in technology, it can be effective or ineffective. To be effective, in my opinion, it would have to leave a lot of mystery in the audience's mind. It would have to be something that piques their curiosity for information or experieences they can only get by exploring the park on their own. If it tries to give them a feeling of being there, of "I've seen it, now I don't have to do it," then it will fail. In this way, audio-only programs can be ideal for leaving much of the experience to the imagination, and leaving you with more questions than answers. I think it's harder to make a video with these qualities. And video is considerably more expensive to produce.

The next best thing to plastic! How does this test the human spirit and soul by not being there in the National enjoy, feel and touch? Podcasting is another way of scouring out the interpretive rangers off the the Bush administration would like!

It's rangers in the field who are introducing the podcasts in the first place. We'll tell our story any way people will listen. Brochures, podcasts, car tours, interpretive signs, films, exhibits, informal interp, formal interp, commercial guides, roving contacts, junior ranger workbooks. The question is, will 'podcasts,' which are just audio tours, help people make their own connections to the parks? The answer, like always, is "sometimes yes, and sometimes no." Podcasts are just another tool in the box.

As a park professional who is working on podcasts and vodcasts, I have to say that the Yellowstone casts are excellent. I think it is wrong to think this is a way to get rid of interpretive rangers, on the contrary, this will allow rangers to develop writing skills (for media) and new methods of interpretation (presenting to a camera is very different than being taped for Interp compentancies). Another skill will develop for writing, editing and production of the podcast, further enhancing rangers skills and abilities. I don't know how long the Yellowstone project was in the works, but by viewing the seasonal change, I'd say it took several months. No quick work there(I think your comment about "canned" presentation is meanspirited), my hats off to Ranger Taylor. Keep in mind, like all interpretive media, it will have a shelf life. I do not believe management, as well as the ranger stafff should make these productions, post them and that be that. Like site bulletins (and to a lesser extent, unigrids, which don't get reprinted too often) that get revised frequently, podcasts should be redone every year or so. Just think of some of the collections that have now seen the light of day, which may still have been locked up, only know to those who have the luxery of visiting Yellowstones archives. Modern computers and consumer grade DV camers are now part of (or will be soon) a rangers tool kit. Add some good training and you'll see great things from present and future rangers. As a resident of the east coast who has not had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone, I've seen things on these podcasts beyond what I ever expected of Yellowstone. I would probably never seen it all if I did get there anyway, but now I want to get there more then ever. By viewing these podcasts, I would feel a little better informed when I do get out there. Always leave your audience wanting more.

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