I’ve got a new addiction.
Along with my morning coffee, there are wireless headphones in my ears and a smartphone streaming The Daily, which is what it sounds like—a daily podcast from the New York Times on a top story of the day. I’m not alone. According to Samantha Henig, editorial director for audio at the Times, there are 700,000 of us downloading or streaming The Daily each day. You can subscribe for free at nytimes.com/podcasts.
What makes The Daily so addictive is the quality of the broadcast and something else that is in plentiful supply at every newsroom in America— journalists who understand their community and the news that they cover, but do not have enough space in the print edition to tell what they know. To deepen our connection with readers, we all ought to be making plans to do a podcast on our community.
The numbers tell the story. Print circulation has been in decline for decades, but newspaper audience is growing. We have more readers than ever, despite our late arrival in the digital world that many newspaper leaders eschewed for too long. But just as our former readers turned from their newsprint edition to the screen on their PC, they are now moving past their PCs and tablets to their phones. And they want news on their drive to work or while they exercise.
The number of Americans who say they have listened to a podcast in the past month has doubled from 12 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2017. And—in a story that is hauntingly familiar—others are getting ahead of newspapers as consumers adapt to new technology. Two million unique users downloaded National Public Radio podcasts per week in 2014. The number is up to 3.5 million this year.
Reasons are simple. Young and old, we are attached to our headphones and smart phones. And the quality of the podcasts has developed. Yes, there still are some that sound like two guys talking endlessly in a tin-walled warehouses with Radio Shack microphones from 1987. But it takes a little effort (and some different hires) to make a quality podcast.
The arc of The Daily podcast compels you to stay with the narrative from start to finish. Henig said that’s because the staff is largely composed of people with broadcast and podcast experience—from NPR’s All Things Considered, WBUR and the BBC. The Times is building a staff of seven and only one—host Michael Barbaro—came from the Times’ newsroom.
The Daily embellishes what you read in the Times. Henig imagines someone discussing the Times while at their office with co-workers and The Daily listener knows just a little bit more about the story, a new angle that the print-only Times reader does not have. Henig said, “We feel like there was a much more narrative approach to the news. We wanted to be more intimate and make people feel really informed and enriched.”
Rather than replace the Times readership, The Daily has enhanced it. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that the customers feel more connected to the Times. Listening to Barbaro question and banter with Times’ veterans such as Carl Hulse, Maggie Haberman and Michael D. Shear, you feel as if you are listening to a conversation between reporter and editor.
Technology allows readers to get closer to the story and to those who cover it. Witness the back-and-forth on Twitter with many reporters and readers. To cement the bond between reader and news organization, we must build podcasts.
There is an audience for advertising on podcasts from potential advertising customers who find print does not deliver the audience they want. The podcast audience is smart, younger and engaged in the news—an ideal audience for an advertiser you do not have.
Of course, the Times is not the only newspaper doing successful podcasts. E&P covered the issues extensively in a January 2016 story.
The number of dailies devoting resources to this is, however, still minuscule. We ought to change that. We cannot let this opportunity slip away as so many have before.
Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.