Story blogs

Telling the whole story: long and narrative podcasting

Format is very important in media and can ultimately be the reason for your brand’s success or failure. Podcasting is still a relatively new medium that media outlets can use without a standard format yet. However, the one that has succeeded for The Telegraph, The Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism is 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 essential when it comes to any longer form of content that audiences engage with, whether in print or audio. When it comes to podcasts, Matthew Chapman, senior reporter at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, thinks they work best when they’re character-driven. Being able to understand a character’s personality, motivations, hopes, and desires allows us, as listeners, to engage and empathize with them more and make a connection.

This character-driven reporting can also be done in print, but in a podcast there’s more breathing space and you can explore different areas of the story that perhaps should be left out of the print version. Will Roe, podcast producer for The Times and Sunday Times, stressed the need for twists in your story and considering the larger theme. It may have influenced your character in some way, but what does this story mean to your listener or society in general? If you can get that bigger issue across and have a strong character, it should make for a good story.

Trust and Anonymity

Long, narrative podcasts often focus on an investigation, and these can often tackle very sensitive topics, which people may not feel completely comfortable talking about or associating with. It is therefore imperative to establish a relationship of trust with your sources and Katherine Rushton, deputy editor of investigations at the Telegraph, thinks that the best way to do this is to fully understand the subject and therefore the implications of what they tell you. If you use the right terminology or demonstrate knowledge of their organization or background, they will feel more comfortable 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 and not want to be bothered anymore. While others will want more control and want to meet multiple times and be constantly updated. You should respect both approaches and ultimately protect the anonymity of your sources, either by using different names or by using voice actors.

Structure and planning

A story can have 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 figure out where the main beats are and only introduce one character per episode. Although thirty minutes seems like a lot of time, it’s better to keep it simple and have one character per episode rather than trying to introduce several, which could mean the listener doesn’t feel as much connection with character or story.

Katherine Rushton and Matthew Chapman agreed on the need for a cliffhanger or thriller 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’s more of an investigative podcast, it’s important to make sure that each episode complies with the law.