The immense popularity of Serial and other podcasts has contributed to a radio renaissance.
Larger organizations, such as NPR, along with member stations are experimenting with podcasting as a new avenue for telling stories. Awareness of podcasts among Americans has more than doubled since 2006, according to 2015 data from the Pew Research Center.
At PRNDI’s annual conference in St. Louis, two sessions were dedicated to podcasting. The first was a larger main session where people could ask questions to representatives of three shows of varying topics and scope.
The panelists included Kelly McEvers, host of All Things Considered and the Embedded podcast; Kameel Stanley, one of the producers of St. Louis Public Radio’s We Live Here podcast; and Andrew Leland, host of KCRW and McSweeney’s The Organist radio show and podcast.
The second session focused on strategies for starting a podcast. Panelists offered insight into digital-first storytelling and the process of starting and maintaining a podcast.
Here are five takeaways from Friday’s breakout session, “Let’s Start a Podcast! Bring Your Newsroom Ideas to Life.”
1. Figure out an approach.
Eve Troeh, news director at WWNO in New Orleans, created, edited and hosted the weekly podcast and radio feature Katrina: The Debris. Given the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Troeh aimed to pick up where the story left off, exploring the storm’s impact on the present and future.
In planning her coverage, Troeh said she wanted to avoid roundtable discussions and “go for something signature.” She also wanted to reach out to the new influx of people that have been coming to New Orleans since 2008.
Heather Brandon, the digital content editor at WNPR in Connecticut, launched The Radius Project using geographic constraints. Each episode looks at a well-known landmark in Hartford and tells the stories a half-mile radius around it.
2. Establish a brand.
Tim Lloyd, a reporter for We Live Here podcast at St. Louis Public Radio, said that podcasts should establish a brand. While planning season one, he said he wanted the journalism to come first.
We Live Here came in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri. The show, which is already on its second season, has branded itself as serious journalism that digs deep into issues involving race, class and power.
3. Don’t forget digital.
The Radius Project also includes a heavy photo component. The podcast’s trailer includes images that serve to reach audiences online.
This is crucial considering the thousands of podcasts available on iTunes and Libsyn.
Brandon also created a Facebook page just for the podcast. This allowed her to post special “goodies” only on Facebook and promote the show with excerpts on Sound Cloud.
Both Ashton Marra from West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Lloyd also suggested using the NPR One app and posting excerpts on social media.
4. Podcasts aren’t the end of dailies.
Panelists agreed that podcasting shouldn’t prevent feeding the station content. Podcasts can serve their purpose while generating potential newscasts.
In the earlier main session, Stanley of We Live Here referred to podcasts as an “entree” or “nuggets of news” that can be made into spot news.
5. Encourage a creative environment … with limits.
At Friday’s breakout session, an audience member asked about young people eager to work on podcasts.
Marra from WVPB said that podcasts can help attract young talent. However, this may lead to a distracted staff. She suggested that “ideas percolate” but reach the point of “illusions of grandeur.”
WVPB produces eight podcasts on topics ranging from the Blankenship trial to poetry.