Print subscriptions may be declining, and digital ad revenue may be troublesome, but podcasts provide a bright spot for many news publishers. Reuters Institute research found “overall usage has grown from just over a quarter of our sample to about a third (34%), but news podcasts have grown more slowly despite a significant increase in supply identified in multiple studies (Newman and Gallo 2019).” The podcast audience also skews young — offering news organizations an opportunity to reach a new demographic.
The boom in podcasts is part of a growth in interest in the audio channel in general. In their recent report Why Some Media Companies Are Betting Big on Audio,
INMA notes that "investment in audio is increasing amongst news media companies — adding dedicated audio roles and teams, embedding audio articles into Web sites and apps, and launching stand-alone audio apps for subscribers."
Podcasts, however, aren’t a cure-all for what ails news organizations. Pew Research found “one-in-five listeners say the podcasts they listen to are connected to a news organization, while almost three times that amount (59%) say they are not (21% aren’t sure).”
Add to that a crowded market and the difficulty of monetizing news content, and publishers still have some questions to answer before they can crack the code to podcasting success. But, with the right combination of format, frequency, and monetization strategy, podcasts can be an important part of newsroom output.
Finding the right news podcast format
According to Reuters, news podcasts fall into one of four categories:
- News round-ups such as NPR’s “Up First.”
- Deep dive/explanatory such as The New York Times’ “The Daily.”
- Talk/interview such as Vox’s “The Gray Area.”
- Documentary/narrative such as “Partygate: The Inside Story.”
However, a report from INMA, “The Engagement and Economic Promise of News Podcasts,” identifies a fifth option: Audio long reads, a native audio product in which a host reads a feature news story.
Each of these formats has its pros and cons. Deciding which approach to take depends on the resources an organization can devote to a podcast. For instance, narrative series often require a reporter dedicated to investigating one story over a long period of time. On the other hand, an audio long read is an easy way to reuse existing content and push it out to a new audience.
In addition to the resources an organization has available, teams must consider the overall goal of their podcast strategy. Reuters suggests that “personality-led ‘extended chat’ programmes” are among the most popular podcast types, right alongside deep dives. News round-ups tend to be a part of listeners’ morning routines. Interestingly, documentary podcasts are often less popular, even though Serial Production’s “Serial” put podcasting on the map for many people and essentially launched the genre.
That being said, different audiences have different desires. In the U.K., the top three podcasts are “politically focused extended chat shows.” In Australia, however, “deep dive, explanatory podcasts make up the bulk of the top-ten listings…” As is so often the case when developing a new strategy, getting to know your target audience is key to success.
Best practices for news podcasts
A few years ago, many organizations — from NPR to Spotify — saw potential in this emerging channel and made big investments. And those investments haven’t paid off. Back in 2019, Spotify paid $340 million for Gimlet and Anchor. But in early 2023, Spotify announced it laid off 6% of its workforce. NPR saw similar troubles and in March of 2023, announced it would cancel four podcasts. Meanwhile, Vox also invested heavily in podcasts and forecasts that its network will reach more than 500 million in 2023.
The question is why did two of these investments prove ill-advised while the other continues to grow? Well, Rebecca Lavoie, Director of On-Demand Audio at New Hampshire Public Radio, told Digital Content Next, “[Vox is] getting into the podcast business as an extension of their journalism.” In other words, Vox puts the content first and worries about monetization second. This happens to echo advice from INMA, which says, “Connecting with listeners must initially be a higher priority than monetisation.”
It’s also important to remember that podcasting is its own animal and that its listeners have certain expectations. Here are a few best practices news teams can employ to ensure they are on the same page as their podcast listeners:
- Make content as long or as short as it needs to be — The podcast format means you can take all the time you need to tell a story, but don’t overdo it.
- Hire podcast pros — Journalists and even legacy broadcasters don’t always “get” podcasts, so it’s important to have someone who understands the medium to help you achieve the right sound.
- Think about user context — Increasingly, audiences want to consume content on their terms. Sometimes that means allowing them to switch back and forth between print and audio with ease or ensuring that you mix the sound so that it sounds good in headphones as well as in car speakers.
Monetizing news podcasts
There are many ways to monetize podcasts — and news organizations may have even more than the average podcaster.
- Advertising — Selling ads against podcasts is the most common way to monetize content and is a natural fit for most publishers.
- Exclusive content for paying members/member support — Many podcasters offer bonus content to paying fans through platforms like Patreon. Alternatively, you can simply appeal to listeners for donations.
- Sponsorships — News organizations can solicit big donors or supporters for help funding specific projects.
- Grants — Non-profit news organizations, such as local NPR affiliate stations, can often apply for grants for specific podcast projects.
Different monetization models may work better for podcasts at different stages of maturity. For instance, exclusive content and member support can only be employed once there is a sizable, loyal audience. Sponsorships and grants, however, can help fund a podcast from the beginning.
Easing into podcasting with text-to-speech
For news teams that cannot dedicate months or years of an investigative journalist’s time to a narrative podcast or lots of money to invest in recording equipment, the audio long read is a good way to test your audience’s appetite for audio content.
Text-to-speech applications can make the job of turning written content into audio for podcast-hungry readers. Text-to-voice apps like that of Eidosmedia partner BeyondWords offer low-cost entry to the audio sector. These applications can help small news organizations level the playing field, as they look to understand how audio can fit into their editorial strategies.
BeyondWords AI-powered text-to-speech is integrated into Eidosmedia's editorial workspaces, allowing authors to generate and embed podcast versions into their stories with a couple of clicks.