Format is very important in the media and can ultimately be the reason whether your brand is successful or not. Podcasting is still a relatively new medium for the media to utilise with no standard format yet. However, one that has been successful for the likes of The Telegraph, The Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism is that of long-form and narrative podcasts.
At the Publisher Podcast Summit earlier this month, a panel of journalists and podcast producers discussed what you need to consider when exploring this format.
What Makes a Good Story
Storytelling is key when it comes to any longer form of content that the audience is engaging with, whether that be in print or in audio. When it comes to podcasting, Matthew Chapman, lead reporter at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, believes they work best when they are character-driven. Being able to understand a character’s personality, their motivations and their hopes and desires enables us as listeners to engage and sympathise with them more and form a connection.
This character-driven reporting can be done in print too but in a podcast, there is more breathing space and you are able to explore different areas of the story that would perhaps have to be excluded in print. Will Roe, podcast producer across The Times and Sunday Times, stressed the need for twists and turns within your story and to consider the wider theme. This may have impacted your character in a certain way but what does this story mean to your listener or for society in general? If you can get this wider issue across and have a strong character, then it should make for a good story.
Trust and Anonymity
Long-form and narrative podcasting will often focus on an investigation, and these can often tackle very sensitive subjects, which people may not feel completely comfortable talking about or associating with. It is therefore imperative to build up trust with your sources and Katherine Rushton, deputy investigations editor at The Telegraph, believes the best way to do that is by really understanding the subject thoroughly and therefore the implications of what they are telling you. If you use the right terminology or demonstrate knowledge of their organisation or background, then they will feel more at ease talking to you.
Sources will vary and some will want very little to do with the story and will just give the information they want or need to and won’t want to be troubled anymore. Whereas others will want more control and will want to meet multiple times and constantly be kept in the loop. You need to respect both approaches and ultimately keep your sources anonymity protected, either through using different names or using voice actors.
Structure and Planning
A story may have a great character and an important message, but it needs to be structured in the right way to really resonate with the audience. Will Roe’s advice is to keep it as simple as possible. Storyboard the podcast and work out where the main beats are and only introduce one character per episode. Despite thirty minutes sounding like a lot of time, it’s best to keep it simple and just have one character per episode rather than trying to introduce several which might mean the listener doesn’t feel as much of a connection with the character or story.
Both Katherine Rushton and Matthew Chapman agreed for the need of a cliffhanger or suspense at the end of each episode. This will keep the audience engaged and hopefully make them want to listen to the next episode to see what happens. Finally, if it is more of an investigative podcast, making sure every episode is legally compliant is important.