Audio stories have become a huge part of the news and storytelling ecosystem. Podcasts – the original 21st century audio storytelling method – are booming, and everyone seems to have a new show. In 2018, we saw the premiere of a slew of original podcasts, from regular news shows to short miniseries focused on a single newsworthy topic. We’ve seen podcasts tackling everything from breaking daily news to in-depth dialogue concerning historic issues to light and fresh takes on newsworthy topics. But no one can keep up with every new podcast that pops up.
I’ve rounded up some of the best listens to help inspire you as you create your own podcasts in your newsrooms. Below are some of my favorite new listens and tips for how you can make that format work for your audience, even if you’ve never recorded a podcast.
Quick and Dirty Daily News
The Indicator (NPR)
Staying on top of economic and financial news is no easy task, especially for those of us who don’t always understand what the numbers all mean. With The Indicator, NPR’s Planet Money spinoff, those numbers become not just easy to grasp, but interesting! Each episode is less than 10 minutes, and you’ll learn about the economy from things like the monthly jobs report and trade news, as well as things like the cost of MoviePass and how a string quartet explains healthcare.
What to steal for your newsroom: Explaining your community by the numbers is a great way to inform your readers and listeners in a fresh new way. Maybe your town has a pothole that hasn’t been fixed in a while, or a town hall that’s not utilized much. Get your audience interested by exploring the cost of filling that pothole, or how much of each resident’s tax payment goes toward paying to keep town hall open.
Presidential Daily Brief (OZY)
OZY may be known as the favorite news outlet for progressive millennials, but everyone can benefit from their daily news podcast. The show treats the listener like he or she is the president, getting the morning briefing of all the most important news events. You’ll get a handful of headlines in a seven-minute package, with a short and fast breakdown of each story as well as a quick analysis so you know why the story matters in the bigger picture.
What to steal for your newsroom: Your readers don’t always have time to read every story you publish in a given day, so on the days they’re swamped, make it easy for them to still get their news from you. Do a rundown of your headlines and big stories in a few short minutes so your audience can get everything they need to know, without turning to social media.
The Dream (Stitcher) / Broken: Jeffrey Epstein (Three Uncanny Four) / Ear Hustle (Radiotopia)
These deep dive podcasts take one issue — multi-level marketing (MLM), a famous sexual assault case and the growing prison population, respectively — and explore it from every angle, making sure they not only hit the headline-worthy topics, but the lesser-known players, too. Each story is told from the very beginning and broken down into easily digestible parts, so even if you’ve never read the headline, you’ll be able to catch up in no time.
What to steal for your newsroom: Big stories impact even the smallest of towns. When you hear a deep-dive like this, think about the members of your community who may be affected. Whether you’re talking to people in your hometown who have fallen victim to an MLM, interviewing neighbors whose loved ones are behind bars, or have something more local to explore (e.g. getting to know the people who keep your city clean, or talking to local teachers and students about what school is like now), there are so many ways to dig deep in your community and find new people to center your stories on.
Mobituaries (Mo Rocca)
As you know, obituaries are big revenue drivers for news publishers, but they’re also fascinating bits of reporting. It’s why The New York Times launched “Overlooked” in 2018 to add obituaries for “remarkable people” who were left out of their pages in the past, and it’s why author Mo Rocca hosts Mobituaries. Rocca creates audio obituaries for anyone and everyone who catches his fancy, from a former JFK impersonator to some of the most interesting sitcom characters. There are only eight episodes so far, but with season two coming this fall, you’ll want to catch up now.
What to steal for your newsroom: Maybe no one famous ever lived in your town (no one did in the small town where I grew up), but it is guaranteed that more than a few interesting people have lived there. Learn about their life and introduce them to your audience. It can be anyone, too, living or dead. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who has lived in town all their life and has seen all the changes, or perhaps there’s a really kind mailman or police officer. We so often overlook the people in our daily lives because we see or hear about them often, but what do we really know about the members of our communities?
99% Invisible (Radiotopia)
Focused on the design of the world, 99% Invisible explains things like how cell phone ringtones came to be, the impact of sand on the world we see, and even how the colors we see every day originated. Host and creator Roman Mars is passionate about the topics he discusses, even when they seem out there to the casual listener, and his passion to better understand the “why?” of the world’s most basic things will keep you coming back for more.
What to steal for your newsroom: Why did you do that story? How did you choose who to interview about city council’s budget, or the teacher strike, or a recent climate march in your town? Most of the decisions we make as journalists are, well, “99% invisible.” So, use Mars’s format to explain those decisions to your readers. Pick a story every week and talk your audience through the process of getting that story published. Walk them through how you found people to interview, how much time it took, how it was edited, what the photographer had to do to get the photos. By helping your readers learn about your process, you’re building trust — and giving them insight into your journalism they would otherwise never know.
Every Little Thing (Gimlet Media)
In a recent episode, ELT host Flora Lichtman joked that most people who call the show because of “factual emergencies” do so around 4:20 p.m., but the truth is that she answers questions we’ve all likely pondered at one time or another. Questions like, “Who invented pants?” and “What happens to the items I forfeit at airport security?” and “Where do fruit flies come from?” Once a week, Lichtman spends a half-hour talking with experts and callers to get to the bottom of these quirky quandaries and invites listeners to experience the discovery along with her through shared Instagram photos and question-related puns.
What to steal for your newsroom: Each town has some mysteries. Where I grew up, there was a haunted bridge, and even now I have friends I grew up with who have never heard about the mystery. What are those things in your town? Is there a street name that people always wonder about? A school mascot that maybe doesn’t make sense to you? If you’ve ever wondered about it, chances are your readers have, too. Dig into those little mysteries and help your neighbors enjoy the mystique of their community.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.