Five key ways in which podcasting may benefit your news operation

A man listens to audio over headphones on a street in Santiago, Chile. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A man uses headphones outside in downtown Santiago, Chile, September 1, 2015. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

29th November 2022

Digital news innovation has, for years, centred around the mobile phone screen. Now, the act of endless scrolling on glass screens in search of company or entertainment may have found either a rival or a counterpart thanks to headphones, earpods, and speakers. 

Between 2006 and 2019, awareness of the term “podcast” jumped from 22% to 70%, according to Edison Research in the U.S.. And, despite the disruption caused by COVID-19 restrictions (which affected, for example, audio listening while commuting), podcast consumption in 2022 resumed its growth.

Among 20 countries included in the Digital News Report 2022, on average 34% of respondents had consumed one or more podcasts in the last month, and 12% had accessed a news podcast.

Today, on its first centennial, radio has an opportunity to undertake a comparative analysis of its practices and unique features against podcasting, rethink its identity, and expand its revenue sources by seizing opportunities in the new audio landscape. 

It may be best described by D. Llinares et al in their 2018 work, Podcasting: New Aural Cultures and Digital Media: 

“Perhaps our attitude to working in the medium is somewhat quixotic and idealised, but podcasting seems to possess the advantages of the internet while expelling some of the pitfalls. The podcast ‘space’ engenders a forum for discussion that is not defined by the culture of instantaneous reaction, soundbite reductionism and anonymous mudslinging.”

It’s not just radio that stands to benefit: podcasting brings to all of journalism new opportunities for skills enrichment, to rethink the boundaries and meaning of our work, to find new ways to engage our public. At a time of professional and financial disruption, experimenting with podcasting may bring opportunities in the form of innovation, audience reach and sustainability.

But there is an important caveat here: publishers have been betting on the “next definitive format” for several years now – video, live streaming, virtual reality, and the list keeps growing. Those bets require material and human resources from publishers. In a context of scarcity, that requirement begs some valid first questions: when is it really worth investing in a podcast strategy and why

1. Podcasts can diversify the content of a news operation 

As a digital, pre-recorded product – permanently available for listening through different modes and platforms – podcasting is free from the time and space constrictions that apply, in different extents, to traditional media outlets. 

For radio companies, podcasting breaks your content free from the time limits of synchronous programming and live broadcasting. For other news media (radio included) podcasts separate content creation from informative urgency, and open a space where new content and perspectives can breathe if the necessary resources for its development (time, tech and talent) are identified and provided. 

2. Podcasts present an opportunity to deepen the coverage of complex and dynamic issues

Podcasts work as a more intimate space to share experiences such as first-person narratives. They can be a more suitable format to collect and document diverse experiences and perspectives, or to explain and follow complex and extensive news stories.

Podcasts also represent a chance to cover issues often postponed by the urgency of the news cycle. Moreover, it offers the chance to include more and more diverse voices in our coverage.

3. Podcasting may increase creativity and flexibility in newsrooms

Unanchored from the informative urgency of daily news coverage, news podcasts allow the design and production of journalistic content in short-, medium- and long-term horizons, adding flexibility and creative opportunity around tasks such as production, crafting, writing, recording and audio editing. 

Podcasting allows the exploration of different “narrative languages” through the recording, editing, mix and addition of audio resources such as testimonies, documentary sounds, historical records, archive material, music, and ambient sound. 

News podcasts can also enrich and evolve the original palette of journalistic genres (debate, interview, chronicle, news bulletin) to reveal different formats that reach a wider and more diverse audience. 

Podcasts also offer a new way to speak to younger audiences fluent in media languages and platforms outside the traditional journalistic scope, such as participatory media, interactive media or mobile-first media.

Furthermore, podcasts offer “a new life” to traditional media sections, such as crime or cultural topics. And they unlock the hidden value of our ever-growing archives of daily news coverage, that can serve as inspiration and material for new podcasts.

4. Podcasts can expand content distribution 

Podcasts have become a new medium for the distribution of journalistic content, reaching beyond the audience of traditional media through platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts and others. It is reasonable to think that these platforms reach not only a broader audience, but a different one. Due to the digital and mobile nature of smartphones, podcasts deploy the legacy of journalistic content to a space where younger audiences are.

Because this new medium is still evolving and consolidating in different language markets, legacy media in some countries are poised to establish market share dominance early on: in audience, formats and among advertisers.  

5. Podcasts may offer a new source of revenues 

With careful strategic oversight and allocation of resources, podcasting has the potential to create new sources of income at a time of budgetary pressure. There are different avenues to explore to make this sort of experiment have a return on investment: 

Direct response ads (read by the podcast host and including a specific call to action, such as visiting a web page), have traditionally been used in podcasting. 

Over time, this has given way to brand recognition advertising. These hits can be included in the baked-in format, meaning they live in the podcast episode forever, or can be recorded and placed dynamically as part of a programmatic campaign. 

Both advertising options rely on access to comparable, comprehensive and segmented podcast listening metrics. 

In developing podcast markets, experiments would benefit from an open approach from advertisers to the unfolding specific dynamics of podcast consumption, as performance tends to build exponentially over time. 

In all cases, when it comes to journalistic initiative, there’s a need for a clear distinction (for the brand, the medium, and the audience) between what is commercial information and what is journalistic content.

For those exploring subscription or membership models, podcasting and its inherent audience intimacy may offer an opportunity to differentiate your product offering, or an opportunity for your audience to directly finance future episodes. 

This differentiation can take the form of added value podcast-access in a premium subscription offer, or granting early access to premiere episodes, ad-free listening, or access to behind-the-scenes audio newsletters. 

There is also an opportunity to identify and meet new audience needs, as Radio Ambulante did with its Spanish language learning app. 

Due to the conversational dynamic of some podcasts, and tendency to unpack niche topics, podcasting also favours the development of live events, in which the audience can be part of the recording of special episodes or meet the experts behind the microphones in panel discussions or workshops. 

A small but viable opportunity exists to monetize audience loyalty and sense of belonging through a merchandising strategy. 

Funding from digital platforms
This is a developing panorama, with questions to be answered regarding the intellectual property of the financed work, but having a podcasting strategy may position you to collaborate on content production through platform-financed projects. Editorial control is a key requirement in negotiating these deals. 

Funds for journalism innovation
Media houses with podcasting strategies may be able to access various innovation incubator funds, such as Google’s journalistic innovation fund, or funds associated with specific themes (such as Gabo Foundation’s fund for coverage of migratory reality and drug).

Institutional coverage partnerships
Where your editorial skills and audience access intersect with institutional expertise and talking points, opportunities may exist for partnerships that produce editorially independent content that is in the public interest. As with advertising, the source of funding should be made transparently clear to your audience. 

These partnerships might include, for example, competitive funding programmes, where media companies act as publishers, developers and distributors in association with, for example, academic institutions. Consider academics looking to disseminate their scientific or academic research to the public in an accessible way.

It should go without saying, but it always bears repeating: every new source of revenue must first pass the test of not compromising your editorial independence, or the quality of journalistic content you produce.

Any media innovation is a challenge, but legacy media companies – particularly radio – have a distinct advantage in that they can begin experimenting with existing resources, talents and technology. 

The process of internal resources mobilisation to conduct your experiments presents its own challenges and opportunities: it may be perceived as an unwelcome additional burden on top of existing daily tasks of technicians, support staff and journalists in your newsroom. But if your vision is well-conceived, communicated and carried through, the development of a new podcast area has the potential to inject new energy into the organisation, boost creativity, and discover and develop new talents and teamwork within the company. 

And finally, the development of podcasts to journalism’s ethical and professional standards can help us not only to complement our existing work, but enrich it, by growing the space we have to create and distribute quality journalism.

Download the PDF for Paula's full findings, including case studies of Radio Ambulante and Prisa Audio.