With more and more audiences listening to podcasts, audio is becoming increasingly popular with news organisations looking engage audiences on-the-go. 

After all, it is cheaper than ever before to make and publish them, giving even bloggers and smaller publishers the ability to get started. 

But with such a vast selection of audio content out there, how can you make yours stand out from the crowd, and how can you make news topics engaging if your audience are already up to speed? 

“Trial and error is important with news podcasts,” said Nate Lanxon, Bloomberg tech editor and host of the Tech’s Message podcast, speaking at London Podcast Festival on 15 September.

Over the last 13 years experimenting with a numerous amount of projects, he has learned that there is no magic formula for the perfect format, presenter style or length. 

Instead, hosts and producers must know their audience inside out - their listener habits, knowledge base and what they want to hear.

So, what do you need to think about when starting a news show?

Content is king

Knowing what to speak about can be difficult with news shows; Reading off the day's top stories just is not good enough, as it is more than likely that audiences will have heard the news before coming to your podcast, and even if you have breaking news to share, RSS feeds do not update as soon as you publish a piece of audio. 

Instead, Lanxon advises producers to do in-depth dives of news topics: What will it mean to the public? How will it affect their lives?

For example, Vox's 'Today, Explained' use songs, interviews, audio clips and commentary to give people an entertaining yet informative overview of some of the most important stories of the day.

“A really good news podcast is similar to a really good news article,” said Lanxon.

“It has to be timely, concise, not upside-down, and of course take into consideration your audience’s attention span.

“They want context, information and understanding — cut out the rubbish and cut to the chase.”

Lanxon explained that feature and entertainment shows are fundamentally different to news shows, not just in their content but how they should be produced.

“It is very unlikely that people sit down on a news podcast, fold their arms and enjoy it - they want to be informed while fitting it into their day, doing the dishes or during the commute, for example,” he said. 

“When you know your audience, you can pick topics for the show that specifically appeal to them - you don’t necessarily have to pick the biggest topics every week.”

Lose the waffle

Filling your podcast with concise information and less waffle is just as crucial for keeping the listener engaged as it is to grab them in the first place.

By default, Lanxon explained, listeners will only get to preview your news podcast from the beginning, so it is important to ensure the first five to ten seconds grab their attention.

“A lot of podcasts start with rambling at the beginning of the show, but unless you have an established audience that likes that, it can be tricky,” he said.

“With news shows, it is likely that a brand-new listener would be interested in getting the facts – not what you did last weekend."

Know your listener habits

Find out where and when your listener tunes in to your news podcast whether this is through emails, surveys or social media.

This, Lanxon explains, will be fundamental to determining the tone and structure you should be aiming for. 

“20-30 minutes is a nice time span for news podcast because it can be fit into their day, without having to listen to it in two halves,” he said.

“There’s such a wealth of choice in the podcasting world, that you risk the ‘unfinished’ half not being listened to.”

Some news organisations may choose to do shorter podcasts, but Lanxon noted that this would cost more money, with a higher about of production work – so ensure you are able to deliver your ideas in relation to the time and finance pressures you are working under.

Push the boundaries

Over the years, there has been this increasing desire for people to do their shows live, through platforms like Discord, but what value can a live chat room bring to news podcasting?

“We have found that it enables our audience to type in, like in an open chat room, their opinions, thoughts, whether we got something wrong, any links that might be useful and more — it’s a great way to get their feedback in real time,” he said.

“It’s useful in news podcasting, because news changes so quickly that a lot could have happened while you’re recording or you may have missed an angle, so it is a great way to enhance your work and build community engagement.”

Connect with your audience

He explained that it is amazing how simply reading out comments on a show will encourage listeners to send more in future, and if other fans hear other people contacting you, they’ll be more likely to.

Producers can kick this off by getting ‘listeners’ from their office to start the ball rolling, he explained, as they may not be from outside the publication, but as long as they are authentic and true, you will get more audience interaction. 

It is equally important to connect with your audience outside the studio. For example, the team behind Serial, season 2, carefully manage the podcast’s social media presence and following as the podcast developed each week.

They used Vine, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat to monitor conversations and interact with the podcast’s fans, looking for trends across the different platforms in what the audience liked, disliked or wanted to know more about.

Is your news organisation running a news podcast worthy to shout about? Let us know @journalismnews. You can improve your podcasting skills at our popular podcasting course in November, where you will learn the latest in how to tell stories through audio. Grab your ticket here.

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