It is two years next month since Wired.co.uk began podcasting from a Conde Nast store cupboard. Ninety-five episodes later and the weekly round-table discussion-style podcast gets between 20,000 and 30,000 downloads per week. And it has all been done on a budget of £350.
"It's been amazing," Nate Lanxon, editor of Wired.co.uk and one of the podcast's presenters, told Journalism.co.uk.
"We know we have listeners across all ages; we know we have people in government that listen; we know that it's a global listenership, with lot of people listening in America."
It is hard to put an exact figure on listeners as the only way to currently measure the analytics is by looking at the server logs and checking how many times an mp3 file is copied, Lanxon explained.We know we have listeners across all ages; we know we have people in government that listen; we know that it's a global listenership, with lot of people listening in AmericaNate Lanxon
"It's something that we've found quite difficult to measure ourselves, so we derive all of our traffic figures from server logs, which has proven to be incredibly inefficient," Lanxon said. "There's a fair amount of estimation in terms of how many people are downloading and listening all the way through, for example.
"It's quite difficult to know exactly how many of those people are downloading and listening every week, how many are downloading and listening to, say, four episodes in one go, there's a lot of guess work there. But in terms of the raw times that the files are downloaded, the listenership is great."
Wired.co.uk is moving its podcasting infrastructure over to SoundCloud when the site re-launches, which will "hopefully be later this year", Lanxon said. "That should give us some better figures" as analytics can be accurately measured.
The show, which is currently presented by Lanxon, associate editor Olivia Solon, and either junior staff writer Ian Steadman, or reporter Liat Clark, has received some great feedback, particularly on how the show is structured, Lanxon said.
"The way that I like to think of it is that in the same way a lot of people will watch Top Gear, and be entertained even though they don't have that much interest in cars; at the same time there are car fans that watch Top Gear and are entertained but for a different reason.
"It appeals to both of those two types of audience and I try to aim the show to have that kind of balance. You may not be the kind of person who would watch a show about science, but a podcast that entertains you with science news and discussion and banter, that becomes entertaining to that person."
The show is not scripted and Lanxon and his co-presenters do not go through the topics beforehand. They prepare by making notes in a Google Doc on individual stories covered on Wired.co.uk that week.
"We don't do dry runs or anything like that, we just go in and record and talk."It flows a lot better now, and that's actually a result of scripting it lessNate Lanxon
And they talk standing up. "We find when we stand up we're a lot more animated, and that actually comes across in the show itself and how we speak to each other."
The preparation is quite different from when the podcast began. "The show has gone through a few revisions since we started and if you listen to some of the early episodes, apart from the difference in sound quality and production, the biggest difference is just how the show flows. It flows a lot better now, and that's actually a result of scripting it less," Lanxon said.
"When you hear surprise or a shock or a question on the show, that's a genuine bit of surprise you are hearing; it's not a script, whereas in the very early days we would have talked through all of those stories and asked the questions ahead of time so we knew what the other person was actually going to answer with, and that made things feel a little bit more artificial and not quite spontaneous and so we changed that dramatically."
Lanxon added: "If you listen to the second episode then listen to this week's, the difference between those two, they are like different podcasts. They sound different, we are different, the stories are different, the way we discuss them is different. There have been so many steps along that evolutionary path that really you can build up quite a picture of how much the show has evolved just by listening to it."
Starting at number two
Going back through the Wired.co.uk podcasts to test how the show has evolved will reveal the notable absence of episode one.
"There's a reason that the first episode was never published," Lanxon explained. "There is an episode one and I do have a copy of it. We decided after we recorded it that it needed to go in a bin and be tied up with some string and burnt and be ritualistically thrown out of our memories - but we learnt an awful lot from it.
Time and resources
Lanxon takes care of all the production. He does the pre-production, deciding what stories are going to go in the final running order, as well as the editing and the post-production.
"That probably takes me about three hours a week in total."
Lanxon gets his co-presenters to suggest any stories that have been on the website in the previous week that they particularly want to talk about. "I will take those suggestions, add them to my own and then we come up with a final formula, and that only takes a few minutes."
The three then collaborate on the show notes and decide who will talk about each story.
That then goes into a Google Doc with any other information and whoever is responsible for discussing that story will add a few bullet points, facts and figures "so we know that when we are discussing that we are hitting all the key points".
"It also means that someone else on the panel can ask a question to whoever is discussing that story and knows that that person is going to know the answer, and that's been quite helpful to."
The show is recorded and Lanxon then edits. "There's very, very little editing. These days you pretty much hear one take straight through. We might cut out the odd bit here and there but it's by and large no more than about one minute a week that gets chopped."
The whole process takes about five hours a week, from coming up with the running order, recording, editing and publication. "It used to be a lot more," Lanxon said.
The podcast 'studio'
"This is the smoke and mirrors part of our podcast," Lanxon said. "We joke on the show about recording in a trinket cupboard in a little storeroom - but that is literally what it is.
"It's a room that is operated by Easy Living, which is one of Conde Nast's other publications. It's got four walls of soft furnishings, carpet samples, paint, you name it, anything they have used for an issue about home improvements and kept on a shelf, it's in there.We have very little kit, very minimal resources - but what you get out of the other side turns out as a professional audio production - so it can be done on the cheapNate Lanxon
"It makes it acoustically brilliant because it's just a lot of great sound-absorbing material across the walls - you couldn't really ask for a better studio."
The equipment in the store cupboard studio cost about £350 and consists of a Behringer mixing desk, four condenser microphones on stands and a couple of cables. The programme is recorded and edited on on Lanxon's MacBook Pro.
"We have very little kit, very minimal resources - but what you get out of the other side turns out as a professional audio production - so it can be done on the cheap," Lanxon said.
The podcast is currently distributed via iTunes, on Wired.co.uk and via the free Apple, Android and Blackberry Wired.co.uk news app.
"We've talked about including the podcast in the Wired magazine app as well," Lanxon said. "But there are certain challenges there with it as it is a monthly feature-focused publication versus the website, which is an hourly and weekly news outlet. They are really quite different publications. We are thinking about doing that but it hasn't happened yet."
The podcast is soon to move to audio platform SoundCloud when the Wired.co.uk site relaunches. Asked whether Lanxon has any qualms about the dependency of using a third-party platform, he said "not at all".
"There comes a point that if someone else is doing something significantly better that you're doing, and able to do it much faster, then I think you can shoot yourself in the foot by trying to be precious about holding on to it if there are real advantages there.
"We had the choice of developing our own podcasting solution [for the new site] with tracking and apps, and maybe not do as well as someone whose sole focus and job as a company is to build those sort of tools for companies, so we didn't mind about moving over there."
Lanxon's podcasting advice
Asked what tips he would share with other journalists thinking of creating a podcast, Lanxon gave three pointers.
1. Experiment - and embrace failure
"You should experiment to begin with and don't necessarily think that your first idea for a podcast is going to be the best idea.
"Failure should be seen as a very positive thing, because not everyone is necessarily going to respond well to your first experiments and so taking that feedback on board and listening to criticism is incredibly important."
2. Don't take it personally
"When people start listening to you instead of just reading you it becomes a lot more personal when they are critical because they are really criticising you and your voice rather than just whatever you've written.
"People should be prepared for that and learn to deal with it."
3. Don't over spend.
"I've been in podcast studios that cost $1 million to produce. They are very radio station-like. We do what we do on zero budget apart form a £350 initial investment in technology.
"And although it's easy to make a podcast it's not that easy to make a good one, but money doesn't necessarily be the deciding factor there."
Nate Lanxon will be running an audio workshop at news:rewired, Journalism.co.uk's digital journalism conference, on 6 December. The agenda and ticket details are at this link.
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