The Biggest Story In The World

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I’ve been on the hunt for a newspaper-produced podcast that’s good, that’s solid. What I’ve found has been, for the most part, mediocre. Lots of “two dudes with a microphone” and interview programs. They’re not particularly engaging, I’m sorry to say.

My sense is there are a handful of reasons why these podcasts tend to be average in terms of production values and narrative. First, the producers are typically print journalists, not radio journalists. As any print-turned-radio reporter will tell you, telling stories in sound requires a different set of skills even though it’s still journalism.

Second, the producers probably work only part-time on the podcast. It’s likely they have other responsibilities at the paper so they choose content that’s easier to produce – not easy to produce, but easier than, say, features.

Third, the decision to podcast may have been made because of a desire to stay relevant in the digital era. Not a bad impulse, but I wonder if more emphasis is placed on podcasting itself rather than story.

I can think of two exceptions. One is a podcast about the Boston Marathon bombing trial called “Finish Line”. It’s an excellent account of the trial while it was in session from two reporters who covered it. WBUR produced it with The Boston Globe. Perhaps the collaboration with a public radio station explains why the podcast is better than most.

The other is “The Biggest Story In The World,” produced by The Guardian. It sets the bar high – really high – for newspaper podcasts. Excellent sound design, narrative (though it’s a bit melodramatic), high production values, a compelling purpose… There’s nothing like it.

“The Biggest Story In The World” is rather curious. It documents, from the inside, The Guardian’s climate change campaign. In other words, it’s the newspaper reporting on itself.

Francesca Panetta is my guest on this episode of HowSound. She produced “The Biggest Story In The World” and our discussion ranges across newspaper campaigns, download numbers, conflicts of interest, and much more.

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