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May 3, 2016, 11:21 a.m.
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A new growth area for foreign reporting: podcasts? With reporters in-country, GroundTruth hopes so

“There’s pretty much nothing, as far as I can tell, in terms of real, international, on-the-ground reporting in the world of podcasting.”

How do you listen to international news, if you listen to it at all? You might catch a segment on NPR or stream the BBC World Service. But you probably don’t get much international news from podcasts.

The GroundTruth Project is hoping to change that. The Boston-based nonprofit, which aims to train and support foreign correspondents through a variety of fellowships of varying lengths, launched a podcast last year and is teaching its fellows about audio reporting. Podcasting certainly isn’t the central mission of GroundTruth — it’s more focused on text reporting, photography, and film, presented across a variety of digital platforms — but the fact that the fellows’ travel is already covered makes it a lot more cost-effective to produce podcasts from international locations.

“GroundTruth is already devoting resources to putting people in another country, and the budgets that we have for the podcasts don’t have to reflect that,” said Nathan Tobey, the executive producer of the GroundTruth podcast and former online engagement coordinator at Frontline. (Tobey also produced the super-successful Downton Abbey podcast for Masterpiece.)

GroundTruth was founded by Charles Sennott, the former cofounder of GlobalPost (and a former Nieman fellow). He spun off the project as a separate nonprofit entity in 2012 and the company moved its base to Boston’s WGBH in 2014. (GlobalPost was sold to WGBH’s Public Radio International last year and its other cofounder, Philip Balboni, has gone on to launch an email newsletter focused on international news.)

“The podcast feels like coming home to audio reporting,” said Sennott, who began his career at an NPR affiliate.

“The way most international news is done is so boring,” Tobey said. “But international news — not just news, but taking Americans to the rest of the world — is an important thing, and so ripe for podcasts.” With many news organizations cutting back or eliminating their foreign bureaus, though, it can be difficult to undertake this type of reporting. “There’s pretty much nothing, as far as I can tell, in terms of real, international, on-the-ground reporting in the world of podcasting.” GroundTruth hopes to fill that gap.
(BBC World Service does have a popular global news podcast, but it’s just compiled clips from BBC broadcasts. Monocle’s foreign affairs podcast, The Foreign Desk, is released weekly.)

Tobey and Sennott work together on each episode of the podcast — there’ve been five full-length episodes so far — along with an associate producer, sound designer, and the reporter in the field. They look at the different projects that GroundTruth’s fellows are involved with and try to find stories “where there’s a real opportunity for sound-rich storytelling and characters, something that could be immersive,” Tobey said. GroundTruth’s fellows have often never done audio reporting before, and Tobey guides them through the process. Among the episodes so far: a series on the legacy of the war in Afghanistan; “From Syria with Baklava,” a tale of Syrian refugees told through the lens of a bakery; “Razia’s Way: One School’s Fight for Afghanistan’s Girls”; and “War Reporting: A Love Story,” which won a regional Edward R. Murrow award this year.

GroundTruth is about to undertake a large initiative to cover the human consequences of climate change — climate change is affecting, for instance, sex trafficking and urban design — and, as part of that, they’ll launch a climate change podcast series, with episodes released in close succession. WGBH and GroundTruth will also host a live event version of “From Syria with Baklava” on June 2, open to the public and featuring a listening session, discussion with the producers, and food.

While Tobey hopes to expand GroundTruth’s podcast program, he doesn’t think that one of its goals would ever be to provide daily international news. “I want to make things that have some real lasting value,” he said. “What we can do that will have the most impact is immersive, journey-based pieces that are different from what anyone else is doing.”

Photo of a globe by Luke Price used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (laura_owen@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     May 3, 2016, 11:21 a.m.
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