CAMP 2017: 6 questions to ask before podcasting (plus 7 you should be listening to)

Story by Amanda Woytus, 2017 JAWS Fellow | Photo by Erica Yoon, CAMP photographer

One question is on the mind of every journalist in 2017: Should I make a podcast?

“I bet you know what I’m going to tell you,” said Tara Anderson, producer and host of the podcast Five Things, from Louisville Public Media in Louisville, Ky.

Speaking at the October 27 Conference and Mentoring Project (CAMP) workshop “Podcasting: Standing Out in a Crowded Market,” Tara delivered the news every aspiring podcaster wants to hear: “Podcasts are the new blogs.”

There are more than 300,000 podcasts listed on iTunes and, as brand extensions, they have real staying power: an Edison Research survey found that 24 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month, and those who listen weekly devote five hours a week doing so. Eighty-five percent of listeners hear all or most of a podcast.

Podcasts are also super easy to start; all you need is a microphone and audio-editing software. There’s no need to appeal to a general audience, so podcasts can have a specific focus. And because of the low barrier to entry, there are fewer gatekeepers and more diverse voices. For journalists who feel like they don’t have the audio-editing skills necessary to get started, Tara offered reassurance. “Your instincts and experience as a journalist are more important than your experience as an audio producer,” she said.

Before you even pick up a microphone or download a free trial of Hindenburg, the audio-editing software she recommends, here are some questions to help shape your podcast’s focus:

1. What’s your one-line elevator pitch?

In 10 words or less, describe what your podcast is about. Be hyper-focused about how you want your show to be perceived and remember that every word must serve the idea, or it doesn’t belong.

2. Who is the intended audience?

Think about your ideal listener—their age, gender, location, likes and dislikes, anything and everything, and do a Google image search for a person who looks like you imagine them. Print out the photo, and give them a name. “Then every show you make is for Shelly,” Tara said.

3. What are the main features, elements or segments of the show?

Will you do narrative reporting, like Serial? Or interviews, like Fresh Air?

4. What does the show sound and feel like?

“This is the time to be idealistic,” Tara said. “You can scale it back later based on your resources.”

5. Are there similar shows out there now?

If so, how is your show different?

6. What experience and skills will you bring to the project?

What experience or skills do you need from others?

Tara credits the WNYC Podcast Accelerator Project, first held in 2015, and Eric Nuzum’s presentation at 2016’s Third Coast Festival (“The Only Ten Words That Matter”) with providing questions and strategies to focus and define podcast concepts.

If you’re looking for podcasts to help inspire you, Tara suggested subscribing to:

1. NPR Politics Podcast, for expert analysis and roundtable discussion.

2. The Daily, a deep dive on a single topic, hosted by the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro.

3. Strange Fruit, stories of black gay life from Louisville, Ky.

4. We Live Here, a St. Louis–based podcast about race and class.

5. Gravy, sound-rich stories about changing Southern foodways, hosted by John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

6. Making Oprah, WBEZ Chicago’s limited-run series, a good example of how you can still make a podcast even if your idea isn’t ongoing.

7. Radio Ambulante, NPR’s first Spanish-language podcast, which accepts pitches from reporters.