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How can podcasting help independent publishers to grow their audiences?

This is what we brought two expert journalist together to discuss. Isabelle Roughol, entreprenurial journalist, former international editor for LinkedIn and host of the podcast Borderline (plus our very own PINF trustee); and Bernard Achampong, Founder and Director of Unedited Stories (plus PINF grantee), joined a group of UK-based independent news publishers to discuss the merits and opportunities of podcasting.

Here we share some of their top tips and highlights from the discussion.

This blog reflects some of the key takeaways from the community engagement session of the summer 2020 PINF professional development programme. 


Podcasting is more accessible and low-cost than you might think

  • By using out of the box tools and podcasting platforms, podcasting can be a super accessible and cost-effective medium.

  • There’s many podcasting solutions out there that don’t require much technical know-how to help create a great end product. Using free sites such as Anchor to edit, host and distribute your podcast is great for beginners.

  • The best thing to do is to start off making a podcast for free, using the microphone in your phone to record and a free editing software, especially if you are not sure if you are going to stick to this editorial format and you want to test the waters. If you like the end result and there’s an appetite for your content, it’s easy to build things from there and invest in your set-up.

"I’ve been listening to podcasts for 15 years, I love them. [Producing] them

used to be very cumbersome (...) it was pretty much just radio stations doing it. 

Now, even with free software, you really can do great things." 

Isabelle Roughol, Borderline

Podcasts can help build a real community

  • While podcasting and audio provides an intimacy that other mediums cannot convey, it’s important to understand that growth with podcasting can be very slow, in large part because audio is not adapted to the social media world. So it can be difficult to share podcast clips on social to gain traction.

  • It can take time to build an audience, but this is because you are building something quality, a real community. Podcasters tend to find that their listeners are very loyal, never miss an episode and really revel in getting access to podcasters themselves.

"That’s what I love about podcasting: there is an intimacy to it, so the people

that do listen will never miss an episode and they will reach out over email and support on Patreon;

so it’s more of a niche audience, but it’s a community and that’s what I love about it."

Isabelle Roughol, Borderline

  • Visibility sharing is a free way of achieving growth for your podcast. Simply by getting other podcasters to promote your podcast on social media through a like or share, or by recording a short ad and having it play at the start of another creator’s podcast and doing vice versa can help expand the curated community you are building.

Exploring the gaps of knowledge from news stories makes for good podcasting

  • Bernard recommends: 'Think about podcasts as a way to plug gaps of knowledge on the stories you are trying to tell or are going untold in your area.'

  • So, how does podcast content compare to other news content?: 'There are gaps of knowledge missing from stories, similar to what happens with local or public interest stories that are more niche or more community-based. The headline on the News at 10 will be: "after a four-year battle...". But what they don't tell you is what happened withing those four years. And those four years are encapsulated in very local stories.'

  • Think about your medium: some stories are better for print, whereas others suit the intimacy and depth a podcast allows for.

  • Offering an audio digest of your written news items doesn’t tend to work as a podcast format, simply because people want to dig deeper into the story, rather than wanting brief snippets. This said, digests can work well for some things, such as creating an Alexa or Google home flash briefing for your news outlet and local area.

"People want to hear everything; every detail and

aspect of a story. Make the listener an expert by the time you finish." 

Bernard Achampong, Unedited Stories

  • The ideal length of a podcast depends on the content and subject matter and many podcasters try to base the length of their episodes on the average commuter journey. Think about what your story can bear and if your audience will be willing to commit time to that topic before anything else. That being said, shorter segments of 20-30 minutes tend to be most popular.  

Start by looking at your best perfoming stories

  • In terms of content, start by looking at your best performing stories. There’s something in those stories that is engaging your audience and probably would engage a lot more if they could access it via a podcast.

  • Think about shareability: will people say to others, ‘did you hear that story about X on Y podcast? I’ll send it to you.’ Those are the stories you are after and the effect you want to have to grow.

Monetisation & professionalisation: making your podcast work for you

  • There are various ways to monetise a podcast, starting with the most obvious way; accepting adverts. However, with small audiences’ podcasts aren’t always popular with advertisers and so sponsorships, utilising membership models or using a subscription service like Patreon can be better alternatives.

  • People love having access to creators; consider doing livestreams and Q&A sessions with your audience to boost engagement, subscriptions and growth.

  • Bernard suggests thinking of your podcast like releasing an album, in terms of all the potential tours, merchandise and spin-offs that come with it. Selling t-shirts, attending local events and festivals and doing a live tour for your podcast are all ways to build on your success if your podcast takes off.

  • If you are looking to professionalise, it might be worth investing in a quality microphone, software to record on multi-tracks to cut out unwanted coughs and noise or better editing software such as Descript (automatically transcribes sound into text). You could also invest in a professional recording system, such as a Rodecaster pro.

Questions? Comments? Contributions? If you'd like to share your views or experience on this topic with the PINF team, get in touch.

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