There a quite a few Hugo Award categories set aside for professionals, but there are also several designed to honor those in the fan community. As an avid podcaster listener, I’m very intrigued by the category of Best Fancast, which is “awarded for any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.”
I currently listen to eight SFF podcasts and I think they would all be considered “non-professional” although I’m not entirely sure what that means. I think all eight of them have Patreon pages now and essentially take donations from their fans. Some of them also have sponsorships of some kind. Does making a profit mean they are “professional” or do the hosts have to be authors, illustrators, etc. to earn that distinction?
I have no idea, but does it really matter? Podcasting is something that anyone can do. You don’t need expensive equipment or expert technical knowledge. I did a podcast for five years and we were able to make it sound pretty good using a $20 microphone and free audio software.
And why are we excluding “professional” podcasts from awards anyway? There is no “professional” equivalent given out so why are we distinguishing in the first place? That seems like we’re cutting out a segment of podcasts for no good reason.
But it’s also worth noting that some podcasts might actually be better suited for some of the other award categories. For example, there are some podcasts that could probably fall into the category of “Best Dramatic Presentation,” like Welcome to Night Vale, which is essentially a serialized story in the tradition of the old radio dramas. Perhaps others could fall under “Best Fanzine” or “Best Semiprozine” (best what?), like Escape Pod or Podcastle, which provide audio narrations of short fiction stories.
Overall, I like that there’s a “Best Fancast” category, but I wish the category was a little more clearly defined (or that I understood it better). I’ll definitely be nominating several of my favorites, including Tea & Jeopardy, Geeks Guide to the Galaxy, and Sword & Laser. I would probably use my other two nominations for The Coode Street Podcast and Rocket Talk, but I also enjoy The SF Signal Podcast, The Once and Future Podcast, and Speculate! If you like author interviews and conversations about all things genre, you can’t go wrong with any of them.