Reach plc is the UK’s largest news publisher with national and regional brands as well as hyperlocal brands, some of which are either digital-only or have limited staffing.
Reach launched Laudable, a Google-funded podcast project, in 2019 with a 500,000 euro grant to put audio journalism and audiences at the heart of local news storytelling. An aim of Laudable was also for it to serve as a collaboration between local news publishers to develop sustainable business models for audio. For this project, Reach teamed up with JPI Media, another local news group in the UK.
Laudable has three podcast producers, two of whom work for Reach in Manchester and the Midlands, and one who works for JPI Media in Scotland.
An audio opportunity for local news
Although Reach has its own successful strand of podcasting business – around Liverpool, Manchester and Chelsea football clubs, the Royal Family, gaming, etc, the company believed there was an unfulfilled space for lacing local news with audio.
“With Laudable, our journalists in smaller newsrooms across the UK were equipped to create audio just like someone in our larger newsrooms would,” said Gow.
She noted some of the reasons why Reach decided to launch Laudable:
Engagement: Audio has proven to be an excellent way to deepen publishers’ engagement with audiences. Podcast audiences can be fiercely loyal and hugely passionate ambassadors for the news brand.
“Trust in journalism is getting eroded by the day and for us to have an audience that really trusts us for information is hugely important,” said Gow.
Diversity: Podcasting is a great avenue for bringing in diverse voices, age groups and perspectives in your content.
New audience potential: Podcasts also equip publishers with the ability to rope in diverse audiences who have potentially not been involved with their content before, which can bring in new revenue streams.
New revenue strands: Publishers experimenting with audio must understand that rich, new revenue strands need time to take root; Reach took two years. Gow suggests starting with experimenting, finding new audiences and putting commercial aspirations further down the line.
Live events: Live events around podcasts are a great way to give content creators, reporters and journalists who are more familiar with text, new opportunities to stretch themselves and learn new skills.
Podcasts build loyal audiences: The audiences publishers build around their podcasts can spin into their other brands.
For Reach, the podcasts also complement their newsletter strategy. For example, The Northern Agenda, a fairly new newsletter, about politics in the North, is published in tandem with the podcast.
A few of the many podcasts Reach has produced include:
MenoPod: This podcast focuses on advice and support around menopause. It was nominated by Spotify as one of the best mental health and well-being podcasts.
Alone Together: Launched with the aim of offsetting the fear and loneliness people were feeling during the first COVID-19 lockdown, this podcast didn’t have a long-term plan, but it was also nominated by Spotify as one of the best mental health and well-being podcasts.
The Out Crowd: A new LGBTQ podcast
Testimony: Reach wanted to approach true crime podcasting from a different perspective, by respecting the victim and moving the audience into the story, instead of focussing on death and damage, where the victim’s life tends to get lost.
Testimony examined a 30-year-old crime where a 14-year-old school girl was killed in an alleyway.
“The reporter, Neil Kealing, who had been tracking the case since day one did not have podcasting experience, and was taught how to use audio over virtual meetings,” said Gow. “He ended up turning his bedroom into a recording studio during the pandemic. This goes to show how one can innovate and economically put together a successful podcast.”
What to think about before starting
However, rather than just diving in and starting to do podcasts, Gow recommends publishers ask themselves the following questions before starting their podcasting journey, particularly newsrooms that are light on resources – finances or staffing. She also offers a number of tips for getting started.
Dos and don’ts
As with any new venture, podcasting comes with its rules. Here are a few that Gow said have worked for Reach:
Do recruit wisely: A journalist with experience of audio recording (or radio) and a sound engineer are two very different beasts
Do invest in a studio – whether you build or hire, it will make all the difference
Do budget for the time podcasters will need, as well as the kit you will buy
Don’t expect immediate success
Don’t disappoint your audience or leave them wondering where you went
Don’t panic buy tech: Test, assess, buy more if it’s right for you
Don’t try to be NPR, BBC or Spotify, be you: Authentic and unique.
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