If traditional radio held the office of president, streaming would be the vice president, and podcasting would be the speaker of the house. Over the past decade we’ve started to move from a digital democracy to a more direct democracy. Content was once funneled mostly through film, television, and radio. Today the options are more plentiful, and the audience is exploring them more deeply each day. We find that more people, and not just broadcasters, can represent and express themselves through audio and video right from their own homes. You don’t need a license from the FCC to broadcast your message to the world anymore. You just need a microphone, a computer, and something to say.
Companies like Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu are investing more and more money into creating original programming exclusive to their platforms, and they’re attracting people to their services — and hoping to take them away from their competitors. Television companies are struggling to figure out how to keep their audience from leaving altogether. Meanwhile, radio continues to be the most used broadcast medium, but we have our fragmenting threats as well, as streaming audio and podcasting grow. Luckily for us, radio has the opportunity to rule the podcasting medium, but, NPR excluded, for some reason we’ve been reluctant to embrace its potential.
Lillian Cunningham is the host of the Washington Post’s Presidential podcast. Her background is in print, but her passion for storytelling led her to create a 45 episode podcast series exploring the character and legacy of each United States president. Starting the series with George Washington, she speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning historians and journalists for her creation each and every week. “It was basically around early August when we 100 percent committed to moving forward with it,” she says. From there she laid out her strategy for each president, recording interviews and mapping out themes. Roughly four months of preproduction and research led to the podcast’s launch in early January.
A few things are key to the success of podcasts like this:
- The identity of the podcast is up front and clear.
- The content is focused and stays on track.
- The content is easy to discover; in Presidential‘s case, it’s particularly timely in an election year.
- But the content itself is timeless; it won’t become outdated.
Cunningham had an idea and found support from her colleagues (and management) to make it a reality. And her show has had a spillover effect and inspired others to find their own voices for digital content. As she says, “This has been a good ‘testing the waters’ tool for other people here who maybe wouldn’t say they could start their own podcast.” She’s included her co-workers along the way, and they find it fun to be a part of it. Now they’ll look at audio as an option in their own storytelling toolkits.
Of course, the Post is a newspaper first. “It’s really neat to flex different muscles,” Cunningham says as she describes the learning curve of recording, producing, and editing audio. It’s another way to express herself in a project that, she says, allows her to “not just think through the editorial content but also really roll up my sleeves and be the person who’s editing that.”
As a talent, why wait until your manager asks you to accomplish a task? Why not do what Lillian Cunningham did and be proactive? Come up with a local idea where you can be the creator of the great content, something your manager would love to take out to the community to sell. For example, a weekly podcast with your local high school football coaches, or interviews with the best chefs from local restaurants. Pick a topic that’s popular in your community, and make it happen.
On the flip side, managers, you know there are talented people down the hall looking to express themselves. Talk to them about podcasting. It can be as simple as asking them, “If you were to do your own podcast, what would it be about?” Find out what they want to discover, and give them the support to follow it through.