The Week Unwrapped team (Olly Mann, central)

Credit: Laurence Bogle and Publisher Podcast Awards

From more than 120 entries and 77 shortlisted applicants, 12 podcasts collected awards in recognition of their work last week (4 March 2020) at the Publisher Podcast Awards.

Speaking after collecting the award of best news & current affairs podcast, Journalism.co.uk spoke to Olly Mann, a freelance podcaster and host of The Week Unwrapped, by Dennis Publishing.

The podcast faced off stiff competition from the likes of The Telegraph, The Economist, Archant, Evening Standard and the Financial Times in its category. How did it come out on top? Mann explained some of the thinking behind the timelessness of their news podcast.

Congratulations on your award, what do you think made the difference between you and the others in the running?

The trend in news podcasting over the last year or so has been to try and copy The Daily (by The New York Times). The problem with that, I suppose, is on British budgets, it is very difficult to compete with a show that has about 30 producers working across the world.

A 'look at the news' or 'summary' does not work in podcast terms because the moment it comes out, it is out of date. The secret of a long-running podcast is to make it habit-forming and make it something that people will listen want to the back catalogue of.

So, executive director Matt Hill and the producers, Arion McNicoll and Holden Frith, together came up with a format that we can roll out week after week that that does not date, weirdly.

It is a news show, but it is not a news show. We do not talk about the headlines everyone else is talking about. The format is: here are the stories you missed, and because you missed them this time, you will still have missed them in three months’ time.

How do you do that? What is the secret to forming habits and getting audiences to come back for more?

Editing. Just listen back to what you have made and listen to it as a listener. Think to yourself rhythmically, is this dragging? Should this bit be moved here? Did that person need to say that?

Podcasting has been around since 2004, so it is not a new technology, but the fundamentals of engaging audiences are the same as they have always been. It comes down to a sense of respecting audiences and not wasting their time.

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How has The Week Unwrapped evolved and been tweaked over time?

The staff writers on The Week's digital team, which is the department that makes the show rather than the magazine, had very little broadcast experience [in the beginning]. They did not have the casual, relaxed approach to broadcasting that ideally you would want right from the get-go when you start a new show.

What we did right from the beginning was to try and create an atmosphere that they felt comfortable in, that they almost forgot that they were on mic when they were talking to us. When we first started setting up the studio, as you might generously call it, it was the room where photocopies go to die in the basement.

It was all about making it feel unthreatening to them so that they were not in a big shiny new studio. They did not feel like they were broadcasting the news, but just having a chat. This is what has changed over time, so that now they are all quite accomplished broadcasters knocking out 20 shows a year with us as a rotating panel. Even the ones who were self-doubting at the beginning or were talked over now really know what they are doing.

What is the secret to a news & current affairs podcast?

There is nothing specific about a current affairs show. I think generally what makes a podcast sticky for an audience is the level of intimacy and [having the awareness] that you are talking to them in their headphones directly into their ears.

They have chosen to be with you. They are spending time with you. You treat them with respect. You do not patronise them. You give them in-jokes. You are allowed to be informal. Maybe this is something that podcasting has learned from broadcast radio; it has a format and that feels familiar. Audiences know what they are going to get every week.

What does the future hold for The Week Unwrapped?

This show is an example of how lots of different titles can come together under one banner. Our guests that we feature are from the magazine. They are from the US website; they are from The Week Junior, the children's title; they are from MoneyWeek, which is the financial title. So across five or six different outlets owned by the publishing company, we are bringing them all together under one show.

For Dennis Publishing, [I think the future holds] more shows like that. So, for example, they own maybe 10 car titles. Instead of having the Ford podcast separate from the Ferrari podcast, I think they will look at a [single] motoring title, bringing all the journalists together from across the different titles. That is the template we have laid down successfully.

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