Podcasting and Radio News Syllabus
I’m Professor Emily Johnson. I’m a multimedia journalist, and I’ve done quite a bit of radio as a freelancer: emilyjreports.com
I’ve also worked as a producer on the Tiny Spark podcast (booking guests, researching and recording interviews), and have just signed on to work as a reporter and producer for an upcoming podcast with Foreign Policy about climate change.
What podcasts do you listen to and why?
What is a podcast?
The origin of the word: iPod + Broadcast = Podcast
Most radio news these days is available as a podcast, but not all podcasts are radio.
A podcast, simply, is a piece of audio storytelling that you can stream or download and listen to on one of your devices. Often they come in a series of episodes that you can subscribe to. At first, podcasts tended to be simply the downloadable versions of radio programs so people could listen to them at their leisure if they missed them when they were on air. But in the last five years the format has really taken off and become a massive industry unto itself.
One of the pretty great things about podcasts is that there’s a low barrier to getting in on the podcasting game: anyone with a decent audio recorder and a laptop can make one and self-publish it pretty easily. But news publications and radio programs with more resources are also pouring money into podcasting right now, and the results are pretty inspiring: every now and then something comes out that sort of reinvents the form and show how much you can do with this kind of storytelling.
This also means that, despite the struggles that many traditional media publications have faced in recent years, there are a lot of jobs for audio producers and reporters these days.
Additional evidence for the growing popularity of podcasts is the fact that major legacy media organizations such as New York Times and Wall Street Journal and newer digital media organizations such as Slate and Buzzfeed are all heavily investing in podcasting.
From Business Insider:
But the format got a big boost in 2014 with the first season of Sarah Koenig’s show, “Serial,” which reached 5 million downloads faster than any other podcast before it. Now everyone from Snooki to Goldman Sachs has a podcast, and major media companies like HBO and the BBC are upping the game by bringing big budgets and talent to the format.
The number of podcast jobs in New York City rose 33% in 2017 from two years earlier, according to a report from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment out Monday.
Programs produced by the four largest NYC-based podcasting networks—WNYC, Gimlet, Slate/Panoply and Midroll—saw 1.3 billion downloads in 2016, the report said. That is up sharply from an annual average of 199 million downloads between 2013 and 2015. The top four NYC-based networks produce almost 200 podcasts, employ nearly 600, and occupy nearly 140,000 square feet of office space.
The report called the New York the “podcasting capital” of the U.S.
Though podcasts are provided free to the public, the industry has been successful in raking in earnings from advertising. According to research firm Bridge Ratings, podcast advertising grew 48% between 2015 and 2016, when podcast ad revenue was about $167 million. Bridge Ratings expects total podcast advertisements to bring in revenue of nearly $250 million by the end of 2017 and to hit $395 million by 2020.
Spotify recently acquired Gimlet Media for $230 million.
Some important podcasts to know:
A podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial unfolded one story – a true story – over the course of a whole season. The show followed the plot and characters wherever they led, through many surprising twists and turns.
“The successor to Serial: This nonfiction take on southern Gothic is an unambiguous achievement. Novelistic, ambitious, and breathtaking in its attempt to capture the sum of a single person’s life, S-Town represents a high watermark for an ecosystem already bustling with creativity. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, though. Since S-Town dropped in its entirety in March, a growing body of criticism has targeted the show’s absence of any substantial consideration of race and legacy and the shadows they cast over the community depicted in host Brian Reed’s reporting. The existence of this criticism serves to further elevate the show’s importance to the form: It’s a project that endeavors to grapple with big ideas, only to trigger equally big ones in its wake.”
Additionally, some argued that it was ethically ambiguous. (And yes, someone made a podcast episode about the podcast.)
This American Life:
“Including a piece from This American Life on a list of best podcast episodes is like including the Beatles on a list of the greatest rock bands of all time. It’s a little obvious, but you have to do it anyway. This American Life perfected the art of audio storytelling back before “podcast” was a word in the general conscious, and they remain the most consistent masters of the artform. Their unique sense of balance and fairness was on full display in this year’s “I Thought I Knew You”, which ended up being largely about the Trump phenomenon, and how his supporters don’t fit into anybody’s neat boxes. Not yours. Not ours. Not even their own.”
“This podcast by the New York Times is more than a solid morning-news digest — it’s a huge step forward for the packaging and delivery of news itself. The Daily is a revelation in form and ambition; not only do Michael Barbaro and his team execute emotionally intelligent pieces of audio-first journalism that seize a given moment, they also dare to pepper their dispatches with unforgettable constructions of tape. Two examples stand out in particular: the April 6, 2017 edition that offered unparalleled insight into a meeting between President Trump and Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, and the May 26, 2017 edition that closely followed one case of assisted suicide in Canada.”
So far, these are examples of journalistic podcasts with scripting, natural sound, and careful narrative structure. But there are many other kinds of podcasts. Kind of like how there’s an app for everything, these days there’s a podcast for everything, no matter how niche.
- There has been a wave of fiction podcasts. A couple good ones to know: Limetown, “from New York-based writers Skip Bronkie and Zack Akers, which has been billed as The X-Files-meets-Serial” and Welcome to Night Vale, a local news radio show for a fictional town where spooky things keep happening.
- TV podcasts: Podcasts about popular, long-completed TV series like The Gilmore Girls and The West Wing, as well as podcasts about reality TV shows. (There’s an entire, thriving subgenre of Bachelor-related podcasts.) These tend to be interview-based, unscripted, and minimally edited.
- Comedy podcasts like 2 Dope Queens:
The premise is simple: Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are friends who riff about their lives and host as several stand-ups deliver ten-minute sets. But this isn’t just a showcase for up-and-coming comics. Robinson and Williams’s hilarious conversations about their experiences as young black women living in New York City — which spans hair journeys, crushes on celebrities (“Yes” to the Rock, “Eh” to Lenny Kravitz), and opinions of Beyoncé and U2 concerts — is a refreshing departure from the white-male-dominated landscape of comedy. Their choice to mainly feature comics that happen to be women and people of color only solidifies their place as where to go to hear new, different, and, most important, uproariously funny voices.
- Everything else from a podcast that helps you fall asleep (Sleep With Me) to one for people who are stressed about Trump featuring four former Obama aides (Pod Save America) to one where each episode is dedicated to deconstructing a popular song (Song Exploder) to a documentary-style one about raising a transgender daughter (How To Be a Girl) to an audio game show (Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!) to a discussion of love, sex, and dating (Savage Lovecast). Some podcasts tend to be pretty long, like the Joe Rogan Experience,which sometimes goes on for hours, but there are quite a few that are on the shorter side: data suggests that the optimal length for a podcast these days is about 20 minutes, which is the length of the average American’s commute. An example of an even shorter one: Spark Live, where everyday people tell the story of the most astonishing day of their lives, live, at five minutes maximum. “The results have the intensity of crafted short stories.”
The Public Radio NYC Google group. Let me know if you would like to be added. (Be warned… you’ll get a LOT of emails, but you have the option to have them all bundled into one email a day.)
Find a podcast that you think is interesting and listen to at least two episodes. Write a short blog post introducing that podcast to the class: Who is this podcast intended for? What style/format is it in (scripted, host interview, a combination, etc.)? What kind of advertising does it feature, and how is it distributed? How popular is it? Has it made waves, either positive or negative? What would be a good episode to start with, and why?