Innovation Ecosystem

To podcast, or not to podcast? Reaching your audience where they are

Halfway through a pilot initiative of six podcasts, ecoRI News shared what they have learned as a result of an effort to broaden their brand and market reach

Photo by Richard Asinof

Joanna Detz, left, and Frank Carini, of ecoRI News, in an interview talking about the launch of a series of pilot podcasts.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/4/17
The expansion of the ecoRI News digital platform to include podcasts is an exploration of reaching out to find the audience where they are. The trend toward podcasts reflects a desire to create engagement with the audience.
In a time of great environmental threats, both from the Trump administration and from the increasing potent storms that seem to be tied to climate change, how can coverage of environmental issues become a part of a more holistic approach to long-term planning and resource management? What would happen, as Frank Carini posed the question, if there were four feet of flood waters in downtown Providence? What is the connection between toxic contamination and public health? As numerous digital media platforms grow their footprint in Rhode Island, how will that impact the shrinking local news coverage? How will podcasts change the nature of radio ownership and listeners in Rhode Island?
The move by advertisers to track engagement and not just the number of hits as a form of measuring brand loyalty offers some insights into the changing media market. It gets back to the basic question: what does the audience want? To some extent, there will always be an element of outrage – outrage that can be shared across numerous social media platforms, with the question: did you see this? There will also be a kind of attraction to disaster, murder and mayhem and violence, as if we are all prone to rubberneck across the road at an accident.
But, deep down, readers want news and information about what matters to them on a personal level: how to make better decisions, better choices, and find better opportunities – including the opportunity to be part of a conversation with friends and neighbors as part of an engaged community. That kind of news coverage will always resonate.

PROVIDENCE – The Social Enterprise Greenhouse has created its own series of podcasts; Rhode Island Kids Count has not done so, as of yet. The latest growth spurt platform in social media is still an evolving work in progress for many in the emerging innovation ecosystem in Rhode Island, despite the success of “Crimetown.”

EcoRI News, a digital newsletter focused on the topic of “the environment” in Rhode Island, has recently launched its own podcast, a pilot initiative that will feature six episodes, funded through a $5,000 grant from Dan Levinson at Main Street Resources.

The third podcast, “The Environmental Impact of Naval Training Exercises,” was released on Aug. 31. [See link to podcast below.]

Exactly how the podcast will help build the brand or increase the number of subscribers, now at some 13,600 after eight years of operation, is still not clear, according to Joanna Detz, executive director of ecoRI News.

“The thing about a podcast is that it is so intimate, because it is a voice in your ear, rather than words on a screen,” Detz told ConvergenceRI in a recent interview. “So people have more of a connection when they hear a voice, and that’s powerful.”

The analytics to measure the reach of podcasts are still being developed, according to Detz. While organizations can easily track the number of people who click the page on a website through Google Analytics, she continued, “There are no analytics yet to see how [the podcast] is doing on all the different platforms, such as on iTunes, Overcast or Soundcast,” Detz explained. “Different people get their podcasts from different providers.”

For Frank Carini, the editor at ecoRI News, he admitted to being somewhat of a Luddite regarding podcasts and videos.

“I’m a journalist, and I consume a lot of news,” Carini said. “I never listen to podcasts, I never watch videos; I read stories. Give me the good, well-written, well-researched, well-thought-out story, and I will read that any day over watching a video or listening to a podcast.”

Still, Carini, who serves as a co-host on the podcast, said he recognized the value of videos and podcasts in the social media mix. Much of the focus is now on improving the quality of the podcast, creating a sense of drama to the story telling, rather than talking interviews. “We are still working out the kinks. We think each one has gotten better.”

Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Frank Carini, the editor of ecoRI News, and with Joanna Detz, the executive director of ecoRI News, sharing their experiences in the creation of an initial six podcasts, in a honest, direct and informative manner, something that their readers have come to appreciate in their news coverage of the environment in Rhode Island.

ConvergenceRI: What led to your decision at ecoRI News to start a podcast?
DETZ:
I think we’re seeing a surge in the number of podcasts that are out there.

And, it’s definitely a trend. I think we need to reach our [audience] where they are. And many of them listen to podcasts, whatever platform they use to listen to podcasts.

It’s just another way for us to get the information out in a different format, using a digital platform that has sort of a low overhead.

We did receive a grant, a small start up grant from Dan Levinson at Main Street Resources – a $5,000 grant that helped us to get started.

ConvergenceRI: How are you producing the podcast? Do you go into a radio studio?
DETZ:
We are producing it at AS220. They have a recording studio in their basement. It’s all kitted out with everything you need – the mikes, the sound mixer. Their sound engineer helps us with the recording, so it’s not as if our staff has to learn any new skills.

AS220 does the post-production and editing for us. It’s great. We pay them for that service, and it’s a great partnership. The grant pays for that.

Essentially, it’s a sponsorship to get going on the first six episodes as a pilot, learn some things as we go, and make some tweaks, and hopefully, keep it going.

ConvergenceRI: What has been the response so far?
DETZ:
Well, that’s the thing. It’s hard to track. So, we can track the people who click the page on our website. We can promote it in our newsletter, on the website and on social media.

But, where people might be reaching the podcast, say, on iTunes, there are no analytics yet to see all how [the podcast] is doing on those different platforms.

ConvergenceRI: Different platforms? Can you explain?
DETZ:
On iTunes or Overcast or SoundCloud. The podcast resides on each of those platforms. Different people get their podcasts from different providers, essentially.

It’s a little hard to track. It’s probably a small segment of our audience at this point. We will need to work on marketing and…

CARINI: … producing it better. It’s a lot more work than people think it is. I’m just a writer. So, I’m kind of co-hosting with somebody, and you’ve got to learn.

[Carini laughs as Detz moves the ConvergenceRI recording device on the table at Olga’s Cup + Saucer closer to him.] That, too.

You start talking, and people are listening and wondering: who’s talking? I don’t know this guy’s voice. We are still working out the kinks. We think each one has gotten better. It is still a rough product.

We had started one earlier, you can find it on our website, called Blab Lab, and we were recording with basically something like you have here, around our dining room table in Providence.

DETZ: That was two years ago

CARINI: It was really rough.

ConvergenceRI: Sound quality, much like video editing quality, is everything.
CARINI:
The fire engine would come by and people would hear it, the dog would bark, and people would hear it.

ConvergenceRI: The production of a podcast is an ambitious endeavor, in many ways, to continue to grow your audience. How do you see your audience growing? Who’s your audience?
DETZ:
Right now, I would say that our readers predominantly live in Rhode Island. We have some audience in southern Massachusetts, Boston, and parts of Connecticut.

Our newsletter goes out to 13,600 subscribers at this point. So, that’s growing.

Obviously, we want to reach out and educate the general public, but I think our audience is always going to be people who care about the environment. Or, who have questions about an environmental issue and look to us to kind of parse what’s happening in that realm.

ConvergenceRI: Is part of the difficulty in reporting on the environment that so many things are siloed, in the news media and in government? One of the things that ecoRI News seems to be doing well is creating a way for connections to be made that cross those boundaries.
DETZ:
That’s our hope.

ConvergenceRI: Can you talk about what boundaries you see and strategies for overcoming them?
DETZ:
Boundaries in terms of coverage or in terms of audience?

ConvergenceRI: Both.
CARINI:
The boundaries that I see – we’ve been doing this for eight years. You talk about how the coverage is siloed; I think the individual environmental organizations, many of them are siloed.

I don’t mean this is a bad way; it’s just the way it is. [They have] small staffs, and they have barely any money. Often, we found people are duplicating efforts, especially when we first started; people didn’t know what was going on in other parts of this small state.

They are good people, people who are doing great stuff, but they often didn’t know what each other was doing. That [problem] still exists today, although it’s gotten a little bit better.

Whether it is the Conservation Law Foundation, Audubon, or Save The Bay, they have the work they are focused on. It’s not as if there is a unified front.

ConvergenceRI: What are the lessons that Rhode Island could learn from Houston and Hurricane Harvey? Is there a need for new plans or policy, from an environmental standpoint?
CARINI:
The Coastal Resources Management Council is very good; they have a plan. It doesn’t mean that anyone is listening.

At CRMC and at URI, there are plenty of tools and data and plans. It is just a matter of whether the State House is listening.

A good story to write would be: what would four feet of water mean for Providence? What would happen? Houston had 50 inches of rain; what would be done if it happened here?

DETZ: There are green infrastructure initiatives here; it is better than in Houston.

CARINI: I don’t know about Houston. I know that we have [plans]; it is just a matter if we have the political will. The CRMC is a national [leader], really. But it doesn’t mean that the State House or the Governor’s office, whether it is this governor and this State House or future ones, are going to listen to it. You need the political will to make the changes that are needed. We have the information.

ConvergenceRI: Getting back to podcasts, it seems that many folks are moving toward creating their own podcasts. Even the PBS program, “A Lively Experiment,” will be launching a podcast. The Social Enterprise Greenhouse has its own podcasts.
In the push to capture an audience, is there still a need to create drama in the story telling, a la Crimetown?
CARINI:
I agree. I don’t listen to podcasts myself. I like to read my news.

DETZ: I like podcasts.

ConvergenceRI: When do you listen to podcasts?
DETZ:
On the bus. When I am cooking. When I am walking. It is more than background music, because I am actively listening.

But, I also read. I think, in this day and age, you need to reach your audience where they are. If a portion of your audience is on a platform that is podcast rich, then you need to be there. If they are on Facebook, then you need to be there.

Obviously, you need to figure out where the best places are to invest your resources if you’re small?

ConvergenceRI: In a noisy media market, with numerous social media platforms, how difficult is it to compete against click bait?
DETZ:
People want to know what they are getting when they click on something, and when you don’t deliver on those sensational headlines that you’re putting out there, people get upset.

Maybe in the early days it was working, but I think people are smarter consumers of news at this point.

CARINI: Then why does everybody still do it?

DETZ: Not everybody.

CARINI: No, not everybody. But you still see it all over the place.

ConvergenceRI: Are advertisers getting smarter, too?
DETZ:
We are seeing a shift even there. Advertisers want to see engagement; they don’t care as much about clicks any more – because they’ve been educated.

ConvergenceRI: Can you talk about that?
DETZ:
I listen to a lot of media shows, I hear this is the trend: advertisers, rather than being interested in how many people click on your site, they want to know that you have a loyal base. Because that, in a sense, is more valuable to them than someone who has just clicked on a headline and then they get there and it’s not what they thought, and then they’re gone.

But, if they can have an opportunity to align themselves with a trusted brand, that is more valuable than just a site that gets a lot of clicks.

Engagement is the new metric. Google Analytics has added it, as a way to track engagement.

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