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April 25, 2017, 11:11 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

Gabfest, explainer, local, The Daily: A taxonomy of news podcasts

Plus: Edison offers up more podcast listener data, DeRay Mckesson teams up with Crooked Media, and Bill O’Reilly clings to his podcast.

Editor’s note: Hot Pod is a weekly newsletter on the podcasting industry written by Nick Quah; we happily share it with Nieman Lab readers each Tuesday.

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 117, published April 25, 2017.

Notes on the podcast consumer. Last week, Edison Research released its Podcast Consumer 2017 survey findings, which is a supplementary breakout study from its annual Infinite Dial report. Turns out that nothing has fundamentally changed about how we think about the podcast listener as a media consumer demographic. This is both a positive and a negative thing, depending on how you look at it and what your priorities are. Major takeaways:

  • Podcast consumers remain distinctly young, affluent, and educated.
  • Within surveyed monthly podcast consumers, 56 percent report as male and 44 percent report as female.
  • Podcast listeners tend to really love podcasts, and they tend to favor them over other forms of media.

Other details that stood out to me:

  • It’s really interesting to see that the primary user behavior sees consumers opting to click and listen immediately as opposed to downloading first and listening much later. The study further found that 47 percent of monthly podcast consumers listen to podcasts within 24 hours of downloading them, which is probably useful to know for publishers with dynamic advertising insertion capabilities.

  • Monthly podcast consumers subscribe to an average of six podcasts, so that’s the number you’re trying to squeeze into if you’re designing to fit into the average listener’s rotation.
  • The data illustrating smart speaker correlation is fascinating: podcast consumers tend to be more aware of smart speakers than the general US population, and monthly podcast listeners are more likely to own an Amazon Echo than the general population (9 percent of monthly podcast listeners, against 5 percent of the U.S. population over age 12.) Interestingly, podcast listeners are equally as likely to own a Google Home as the general population, both at 2 percent.

There’s some additional interesting data in there about public radio awareness among monthly podcast consumers, and I’ll leave that up to you to appraise that.

So, what’s the big idea here? I’m trying to think through what it means for the Podcast Consumer to largely be defined and broadly thought of in these terms — young, affluent, educated — and the extent to which advertising rates are tethered to that understanding. Depending on who is arguing (and how), you could frame the value of the podcast listener as something that’s intrinsic to who they demographically are — they have years of brand loyalty to give, they have the disposable income to spend, and they are discerning consumers — just as easily as you could argue for podcasting’s value to be intrinsic to the current traits of the medium and its structural relationship to its listeners: those who love podcasts really love podcasts because it’s still relatively tricky to listen to them, podcast advertising experiences are still novel and relatively thoughtful compared to most other media ad units, and the podcast listener is generally a person who really knows how to control their consumption environment.

The industry and community around podcasting will surely evolve out of these steady conceptualizations, in some ways because we must — like the ways in which we need to program for more diverse audiences — and in other ways because we choose to, like how the industry will attempt to scale up advertising inventory and volume of transactions. In either evolutionary direction, and in all directions in between, that value narrative will require its own evolution, and I’m curious to see how various parties in the industry will cultivate, interact with, and react to those changes.

DeRay Mckesson to launch a new podcast with Crooked Media. The show by the Black Lives Matter activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate will be called Pod Save The People and will focus on activism and social justice. There doesn’t seem to be a clear roll-out date just yet, and it will be the fifth podcast in the Crooked Media portfolio after flagship Pod Save America, Pod Save the World, the Ana Marie Cox-led interview show With Friends Like These, and the live conversational showcase Lovett or Leave It.

BuzzFeed News has the first beefy write-up on the new show, framing it as a part of Crooked Media’s strategy to dedicate a show “exclusively to activism, organizing and what steps people could take to make a difference.” This notion was the central hook in the liberal-leaning media network’s original pitch for itself; when Crooked Media was first unveiled back in January, a big part of its messaging revolved around a greater emphasis on activism and political participation. Four months in, it doesn’t seem as if that emphasis has explicitly manifested itself very much, at least within the company’s existing podcast and live show operations that appear to be its most vibrant platforms up until this point. Instead, much of Crooked Media’s work seems to further deepen its identity as some mirror image to conservative talk radio — a space heavy on internal discourse that creates a near hermetically-sealed emotional space to process news within a singular political paradigm.

Which is good business, I suppose, and inarguably a great experience for those who resonate with that political paradigm. But at this point, it certainly doesn’t feel as if the company — founded by former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor — has lived up to its original promise, or innovated very much within that curious nexus between digital media and political participation. Indeed, it mostly just feels like Air America: Degrassi: Next Class.

Does Pod Save The People portend a shift back to realizing that original gambit? Friends of the pod will find that out soon enough.

Related, sorta: Bill O’Reilly, the former primetime Fox News anchor who was forced out last week after an extensive sexual harassment scandal (I guess I didn’t need to provide a description, given that it led virtually all national news outlets, but what the hell), returned to the public eye through his premium subscription-only podcast, No Spin News, last night.

In the lead up to the episode, various O’Reilly-related podcasts — like this and this — bubbled their way up the iTunes/Apple Podcast charts. Subscribers were presumably looking for this feed, which, in a development that’s somewhat timely for Hot Pod readers, is currently employing what we now call a ~windowing~ strategy: It will be free until May 1, after which it will cost O’Reilly devotees about $5 a month to access. In last night’s 19-minute episode, O’Reilly indicated that this premium subscription model would serve as the foundation of his future efforts.

There’s probably a piece to be written someday that digs deep into the way liberal podcasts tends to pair well with the open podcast ecosystem and the way conservative podcasts pairs with over-the-top premium subscription models (see also: Glenn Beck and his activities with The Blaze), but this is not that day.

As we get closer to the end of Trump administration’s first 100 days…

  • WNYC president Laura Walker wrote a CJR op-ed arguing for the preservation of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “Local public radio is one of the only places where many ordinary Americans hear local news and are exposed to people living outside their immediate bubbles,” Walker wrote. “Public radio is what connects Kansas to Seattle, New York to Oklahoma.”
  • Shannon Bond’s latest at the Financial Times, “U.S. media outlets look to bridge partisan bridges,” includes a look at WNYC, Minnesota Public Radio, and The Economist’s Indivisible radio project, which wraps up after the 100-day mark.

Your weekly NPR jibber jabber:

  • They’re giving legendary ‘90s hip-hop radio DJs Stretch and Bobbito a new home. The podcast comes out sometime in July. “We anticipate collaborations between this podcast and NPR’s Alt.Latino and Code Switch, as well as segments on All Songs Considered, World Cafe and NPR’s newsmagazines,” I’m told by an NPR spokesperson.
  • The organization has been named the 2017 Harris Poll EquiTrend News Service Brand of the Year. The Harris Poll EquiTrend study measures brand perception based on survey methodology.
  • But NPR hasn’t seen much improvement in creating a more diverse organization. “In 2016, NPR made virtually no progress in changing the makeup of its staff,” writes NPR public editor Elizabeth Jensen. “There’s simply no way around it: If the goal is to increase diversity in the newsroom, last year’s was a disappointing showing.” A damning appraisal, indeed. When I asked about the issue, I was offered additional information specific to podcasting that was apparently not included in the column. “There is quite a lot of diversity in the producers who do an incredibly important job in some of our most successful podcasts like TED Radio Hour and How I Built This,” wrote a spokesperson, who also referred to how the organization has been using podcasts and the Story Lab to discover and develop new voices. “This did not come up in the ombudsman’s piece because she was doing an overview of the newsroom, but many of the ideas and points of views in our shows come from the editorial staff.” I suppose, but it doesn’t really address the heart of the matter: the numbers are what they are, and further, as NPR’s own Lulu Garcia-Navarro noted on Twitter, the most glaring omission in the article is any formal response from senior management on these numbers.

Speaking of which…

Third Coast Festival is raising $$$ for its Residency Fund, which works to provide training, mentorship, and time for budding producers whose voices and perspectives are underrepresented within public media. The fundraising target is $10,000 by May 2, and if you’re interested in helping out, here you go.

The episodic serialized narrative, reinvigorated. I’m fascinated by this Nieman Storyboard article by Ricki Morell that illustrates how a few recent efforts in print and podcasting have come to showcase the way a serialized storytelling structure can introduce a certain verve into journalistic products. It also contains some tasty podcast-specific nuggets, like the three-part Making Oprah podcast series being WBEZ’s “most successful podcast launch” (though no specific download numbers were given) and how that show was structurally inspired by House of Cards. (Yep.)

Anyway, the thing that this article is really making me think about is this notion that a piece of journalism delivered as a storytelling experience plays a very different civic or service function than, say, a breaking news post. And it necessarily follows from this notion, I think, that there are clear and productizable structural differences between intelligence, information, news, and content of various kinds — and narrative journalism should be produced, distributed, and sold as an experience separate and apart from these other categories.

Notes from ISOJ. I was fortunate enough to be included on a panel about podcasts at the International Symposium for Online Journalists in Austin this past weekend, and tons of juicy stuff was disclosed during the panel presentations.

You can check out the whole hour-long-ish panel on the YouTube recording, but here are the big takeaways from my co-panelists that I scribbled down on my notebook:

(1) Lisa Tobin, the New York Times’ executive producer of audio, had a fascinating presentation on The Daily which provided some stats and a window into the audio team’s thinking. The Daily has brought in about 20 million listens in the first two months — “which far surpassed expectations for the show,” Tobin said, and yes, listens aren’t necessarily the same as downloads, and a quick reminder that Art19 hosts the Times’ podcasts — and the team is finding that they’re bringing in the youngest ever audience for the Times’ news products. What also stood out to me: the way in which Tobin talked about The Daily being designed in terms of building out an “architecture” to deliver the organization’s news through the audio format.

Much of this is reflected in Ben Mullin’s write-up over at Poynter about the podcast that came out yesterday, which also references plans to “launch ‘a number of narrative series’ over the next year and a couple of conversational shows,” along with some extra plans to staff up. (Also, uh, Barbaro-mania…?)

In another session at ISOJ, it was disclosed that there’s a team in the Times playing with the idea of making an interactive voice-bot of host Michael Barbaro, Alexa-style. A… Barbaro-bot, if you will.

(2) Why Oh Why producer Andrea Silenzi, who was also the founding producer of Slate’s The Gist, built an argument around the idea that formats and concepts carry over from radio fairly frequently and pretty well, couching her thinking within the somewhat provocative formulation of the notion that “there are no new ideas” and that, specifically, “The Gist is a radio show.” There’s some amount of semantic jujitsu in this framing, and though I’m inclined to intellectually disagree with the argument, I do think it’s a fascinating illustration of one of the ways you set up an internal strategy for the creation of a show in a new, young medium.

(3) Eric Nuzum, Audible’s VP of original programming, raised two major points in what was largely a critique of a large swathe of news podcasts in the market today: “news isn’t inherently interesting,” and “having a story isn’t as important as how you tell it.” Both are points that I generally agree with, and I think it’s further interesting to put that second point in context with the ideas put forth in that Nieman Storyboard article on serialized narratives I linked to earlier.

A taxonomy of news podcasts. My own presentation was an attempt to draw up a rough taxonomy of news podcasts, which ended up being a much more difficult enterprise than I had originally thought.

I’ve reformatted my prepared presentation text into a Google Doc for your perusal. Hopefully it’s useful to you if, say, you’re part of a news team thinking about developing a podcast project, or if you’re teaching a class about podcasts, or if you, like me, just really like making lists, categories, taxonomies, and/or power rankings.

But while you’re here, this is the taxonomy in the order they were presented:

  • The Conversational or “Gabfest” format
  • The Documentary format
  • The Interview format
  • The News Magazine format
  • The Explainer format
  • The Local Podcast
  • The Morning News or Daily News Podcast

A quick note on that last one: I’ve generally sorted The Daily into the Morning News category, for obvious reasons, but it should noted that Tobin has come to regard the format the team has developed as “Narrative News.” I really like that formulation, as it evokes a stylistic paradigm to the category. However, it is close to being a category of one, as using it would very much exclude NPR’s Up First, which is quite clearly not playing in the same experiential field. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m curious to see how this section of the ecosystem evolves and challenges itself over time.

Anyway, here are the two concluding notes from the presentation:

  • I’ve loosely based the ordering of the taxonomy according to a rough narrative about the trajectory of news podcasts. It should be noted that the news podcast is a concept that’s aggressively evolving; as we move forward in time, we’ve seen more intentionality in producing higher-quality experiences, in producing better and more thoughtful show designs, and in thinking more consciously about the user experience and the casual audience. I expect that trend to continue, and I expect only good things to come.
  • Let’s not forget that podcasting is a weird medium. It is to a considerable extent a forgotten child of Apple, and it’s not a particularly sexy media category — in fact, it’s a medium that’s unlikely to ever experience hockey-stick growth — and as has constantly been said, it’s still a technologically underdeveloped industry in many key ways. But because it’s unsexy and slowly but steadily growing, and because it’s still a space that’s allowed for really interesting and fantastic pieces of journalism and art and culture despite all of its quirks, I do believe the podcast medium is something of an opportunity to realize the original dream of digital publishing. We’ve got something good going with the podcasts; it’s still fresh, green open fields that we haven’t screwed up yet — and that’s no small thing.

Again, the Google Doc can be found here.


  • The Bill Simmons Podcast has apparently hit 100 million downloads over a 200-episode span, according to Simmons’ preamble on the 4/19 edition.
  • Mogul, the upcoming collaboration between Loud Speakers Network and Gimlet with distributional and marketing support from Spotify, debuts on Thursday. A reminder that episodes of the show will be released weekly on Spotify, before being distributed everywhere else eight weeks after. (Vulture) And in related Gimlet news: the company has hired James Green, co-founder of the Postloudness podcast collective and the producer on the Rookie Mag podcast, away from MTV to work on the upcoming Brittany Luse project.
  • Also: I’m hearing chatter on another podcast-to-film adaptation deal, probably out later today.
  • Panoply’s been running a pageant-slash-Amazon Prime Video-style pilot project over the past few weeks, and the votes are in: Family Ghosts, a Sam Dingman-led personal narrative show, and By The Book, a comedic conversational that reviews self-help books featuring comedian Jolenta Greenberg and WNYC alum Kristen Meinzer, will receive pick-ups. Dingman and Meinzer are both also internal Panoply producers, which means that the company might be shuffling internal producer arrangements if it’s going to really invest in these shows. Keep your eye on the personnel; changes ahead.
  • Separate from its machinations with the Gizmodo Media Group, Univision has launched its own pretty sizable slate of twelve Spanish-language audio programs. The shows are organized under the brand umbrella “Uforia Audio On-Demand,” and note the language in the press release that links its thinking around podcasts and re-packaged live streams. (Press Release)

Taxonomy by Rebecca Siegel used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 25, 2017, 11:11 a.m.
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