So you want to start a podcast?

September 8, 2015

For media organizations, launching a successful podcast often takes more than two witty hosts, a microphone, and an iTunes feed. Unless an outlet already has the expertise and resources, creating great audio journalism can be daunting.

Podcasting is still a nascent medium, without standardized ways to advertise, track listeners, or make money. Modes of production, promotion, distribution, and hosting are continually in flux.

“The game is not to win existing podcast audiences,” says Nick Quah, who does audience development at Panoply, Slate’s podcast network, and is the author of Hot Pod, a weekly podcast newsletter. “It’s to get more people listening to podcasts.”

For news organizations looking to enter the fray, here are some options:

Join a podcast network

Podcast networks like Radiotopia from PRX or Panoply from Slate are hubs that take on the business side of podcasting so the news outlet can focus on reporting and producing. They’re sort of like Netflix, but for audio.

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The upside? Cross-promotion, collective bargaining power, visibility, credibility.

The downside? You have to be good enough to get in.

Example: Unorthodox from Tablet

“It definitely helps a show get discovered, instead of just being in the complete boil of iTunes.” —Nick Quah, audience development at Panoply

Partner with public radio

Joining a podcast network is the right move if your audio is great and you want to expand your reach. But if producing audio isn’t your strength, you can join forces with a public radio network, or if that’s not an option, poach a public radio alum.

The upside? It’s efficient. They know audio; you know your concept and material.

The downside? It’s a relationship. It could be complicated.

Example: Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

“One of the great things about our partnerships with Marketplace is the knowledge [they] bring in terms of storytelling in the audio medium and sound engineering and production.” —Tim Fernholz, Quartz reporter and Actuality host

Go it alone

If your organization wants to dabble, there’s always the option of going the bootstrap route. Sometimes all a good podcast needs is two hosts with good chemistry, or one guy in a garage. Maybe start your own Serial. (We had to put that in somewhere.) Or try something completely new.

The upside? It could work, and if it fails, you learned something.

The downside? Often requires dedication and a lot of staying after hours.

Example:TribCast from the Texas Tribune

“[Podcasting] is a terrible hobby but a great job.” —Kerri Hoffman, COO at PRX

Leverage in-house resources

Some companies, like Slate and ESPN, already have a dedicated podcast arm. If you work for one, you start with in-house equipment, experience, an audience, and brand recognition.

The upside? You’ve got a big head start.

The downside? The pressure’s on.

Example:Jalen and Jacoby from Grantland, at ESPN

“It really helps to have a good home base.” —Jody Avirgan, podcast producer and host at FiveThirtyEight

Chava Gourarie is a freelance writer based in New York and a former CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow her on Twitter at @ChavaRisa