Clubhouse for Digital Publishers

How to Launch a Local News Podcast

Even as daily newspapers struggle, podcasts are thriving. While the format requires little more than a microphone, a server, and some basic audio software, small publishers still have endless questions over how to launch a local news podcast.

There’s no doubt that the audience is there. According to Pew Research, 64% of Americans ages 12 and older listened to podcasts in the past month, and 57% listened in the past week.

Here are some of the top questions we at Web Publisher PRO are hearing from independent publishers who say they want to launch a local news podcast, along with our best tips and strategies for making any podcast launch a success.

Q. What topics should local publishers cover?
A. A local news podcast is the perfect place to recap a publisher’s own stories. Similar to a daily email newsletter, a straightforward local news podcast should include recaps of important articles from the publisher’s own website, along with in-depth analysis and behind-the-scenes reporting details that might not have made it into print. A publisher’s local news podcast might also include interviews with reporters to give listeners a better understanding of the events taking place in their own communities.

A successful local news podcast opens the door to even more creative storytelling setups, as well. Local publishers can invite reporters and editors to host their own storytelling or investigative podcasts, a la Serial. One example of a publication that’s done this is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which launched a podcast called Breakdown about a Georgia man who was convicted of murder.

Q. How does it benefit a publisher to launch a local news podcast?
A. Aside from having another product to sell advertising against, podcasts also serve as promotional vehicles for a publisher’s outside endeavors. For example, publishers can use their podcasts to encourage listeners to visit their websites, sign up for their email newsletters, or subscribe to their publications.

Podcasts tend to attract young, affluent audiences — just the type of audience local publishers need if they want to survive and thrive over the long term. With the proper promotional channels in place, publishers can convert listeners to readers and grow their audiences incrementally over time.

Q. What sort of investment is required to launch a local news podcast?
A. The good news about podcasting is that it can be done on a shoestring budget. The only real tools that are necessary are a microphone, a computer, and some type of audio editing software. Licenses for professional-quality software can run between $300 and $900.

Then there’s the human investment. Most local publishers will want to hire a staffer to manage their podcasts. For example, the nonprofit local news organization VTDigger has nine full-time reporters, but just one person responsible for its weekly podcast, The Deeper Dig. That editor taps subject matter experts from the newsroom as interviewees and knowledgeable resources.

Like many other local news podcasts, VTDigger’s podcast started with the help of multiple grants from nonprofit foundations. Local publishers should seek out these resources to help curb some of the cost of launching their shows.

Q. How can publishers monetize their local podcasts?
A. Publishers are in a great position to monetize their local news podcasts right from the start, thanks to their familiarity with online advertising strategies and their relationships with businesses in their local communities. Asking those businesses to sponsor a local podcast—either an individual episode or an entire series—can result in a big payoff. Although businesses are usually hesitant to sponsor brand new podcasts, local publishers have the advantage of already having built-in audiences and an established track record of professionalism.

Other ways to monetize a local news podcast are by promoting products and including affiliate links in the show notes (with complete transparency, of course), asking listeners to donate through a platform like Patreon, or by signing up for a podcasting-focused advertising network like Midroll, AdvertiseCast, PodGrid, or ArcherAvenue.

Q. Do the traditional metrics of success apply to local news podcasts?
A. The short answer here is no. When you’re reaching out to a limited audience, your podcast isn’t going to be downloaded as many times as when you’re reaching out to the whole world. How many people are interested in small town news? The number might not be large, but the demographics are tightly focused.

Local publishers shouldn’t feel like they have to justify a small audience size when they pitch their podcasts to potential advertisers in their communities. Rather than focus on size, publishers should focus on the quality of their audiences. Local businesses don’t care about reaching customers two states away. They want a way to connect with people in their own communities, and local news podcasts can deliver those audiences.

We may still be in the early days of local news podcasting, but the medium is growing in popularity. Local publishers have an innate advantage in the space, making podcasting a viable form of ancillary revenue for publishers looking at new monetization strategies.