This winter, we started expanding our definition of voice with the help of podcasts, an emerging storytelling tool.
The results have been rewarding and eye-opening.(tncms-asset)4e36f31e-47de-11e7-a4c7-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
If you’re not familiar with podcasts, think of them as talk radio programs, available online, when you want them, and playable from your computer, mobile device or your car.
Their popularity is growing rapidly — more than 150 million Americans 12 or older listened to one in the last month, according the Edison Group, a national research company that recently published data on Americans’ views of podcasts in an annual study.
Podcasts’ appeal for creative types is obvious. “Podcast” is a term coined in 2004 that blends the words “broadcast” with the iPod, one of the original tools of the trade. They’re easy to produce. You don’t need a studio or a system or license to broadcast. You just need a voice, a cell phone and a good idea and you’re in the door.
This simplicity has drawn broadcasters — professionals and amateurs alike — to create more than a quarter million unique podcast programs. And the audience for those shows is still growing. The number of downloads nearly tripled from 1.2 billion in 2013 to 3.3 billion in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.
The topics range from the broad and traditional, from NPR’s “This American Life,” which started as a radio show, to smaller programs appealing to every conceivable hobby and fandom, from working out to reading books to knitting to mediation. Have a topic you’re passionate about? There’s probably a podcast about it. And if there isn’t, maybe that’s your sign to start your own.
When we started podcasting last winter at The Press, we began with segments on high school sports and culture. Sports Editor Mark Melhorn and writers Dave Weinberg and Michael McGarry, always among the first in the newsroom to adopt new technology trends, quickly mastered the art of sitting down and spinning interesting stories about the high school and professional teams they cover.
In our Living department, reporter Max Reil started developing shows on music and culture, including one on his favorite program, “The Bachelor.” In one of the more interesting cross-sections of culture and sports, casino writer Nicholas Huba and sportswriter John Russo spun weekly rants for “The Booking Sheet” on the highs and lows of professional wrestling.
At our news desk, we decided that the ongoing rebirth of Atlantic City was worth a weekly series.
“The Atlantic City Story” focuses on the rebirth of Atlantic City, and delves into the city’s successes and failures as it tries to rebound from a decade of disaster, both manmade and natural.
Huba and Atlantic City reporter Christian Hetrick, who helped me launch the pod in February (we’re just calling it a “pod’ now — see how much you’ve learned already?) offer good insight into the city’s progress each week.
I mentioned at the beginning that we found some positive results when we started these programs.
For starters, the audience response has been overwhelmingly positive. It has come from all corners of the state, from politicians to educational leaders to lifeguards and union officials. All of them are interested in joining the conversation.
“Voices make audio journalism feel intimate,” writes New Yorker culture critic Sarah Larson. “Listeners can feel that they actually know the people speaking and the subjects involved.”
And that’s important, because in developing the podcasts, we found ourselves having deeper conversations about the topics we cover than we might have otherwise. Forming the shows has made us think differently about coverage, all while forging a deeper connection with our audience.
Podcasts allow us to use our voices and have those conversations, and we’re finding there’s an audience for that.
These are all connections we want to strengthen in the coming months. We hope you join the conversation.
W.F. Keough is managing editor. For more on The Press of Atlantic City’s podcasts, including “The Atlantic City Story,” go to www.pressofac.com/podcast. If you want to make a suggestion for a future program, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.