Podcasting goes local

I’m fortunate to have a front row seat to the remarkable daily work of public media organizations across the country. Hundreds of stations are making important daily choices, across programming, content, and format. Such strategic choices can be consequential and, if made carefully, help to shape how audiences experience their communities and the world.

If you’re steeped in the media industry, you might absorb headlines about the decline of print newspapers. But there are also signs of bright spots. According to a recent study from Gallup and the Knight Foundation, trust in local news remains high compared to other news types, and public radio and local radio is a top source of where audiences turn. Notably, public media is local, yet serves the whole country in communities of all sizes. In “Funding Democracy: Public Media and Democratic Health in 33 Countries”, Victor Pickard and Timothy Neff note that “public media has myriad social benefits, including more diverse news coverage, increased public knowledge about politics and public affairs, and lower levels of extremist views.” They go on to say that “countries with independent and well-funded public broadcasting systems also consistently have stronger democracies.”

Across media, we’re also seeing digital startups evaluating and tackling the needs of communities. In some communities, an active “vacuum” strategy is underway — finding ways to fill a gap once held by local papers. In others, there are public-private partnerships emerging. While vehicles of information are evolving, organizations of all stripes can choose to explore audio — podcasting — as a medium. (Many public radio stations themselves have branched out into podcasting, and have done so successfully.) In 2023, organizations that do will benefit. Podcasting will grow as an essential source of news, storytelling, and opportunity within local communities.

There are several examples to draw from our experience at PRX to underscore podcasting’s value: a research and community-building project we undertook highlighted its empowering aspects. We manage in-person community spaces in Boston and in San Francisco — Podcast Garages — where people who call each area home can meet their peers, pursue learning opportunities, network, and record. Our training team works with journalists and storytellers across both digital and print to help build sustainable podcasts informed by defined points of view. We’re lucky to distribute podcasts from many talented producers across different engaging content areas. A lesson we’ve learned again and again: podcasts open up opportunities to connect with engaged listeners around shared interests, culture, storytelling, and language, and a rich opportunity to deliver stories, news, and information.

Audio consumption is on the rise. While radio stations are distinct in their hard infrastructure, podcasting opens up opportunities for organizations to think beyond those limitations. In the year ahead, those who choose to explore podcasting will further empower their audiences and themselves.

Kerri Hoffman is the CEO of PRX.

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