By Camilo Ramirez
“It’s not the medium people care about, it’s the show.” That was Tom Webster, senior vice president of Edison Research, delivering his keynote at the Podcast Movement conference in Philadelphia at the end of July. Five members of the Brookings Podcast Network (BPN) attended the conference—the world’s largest gathering of podcasters—to learn about the latest trends and techniques in podcasting, and to network with podcast professionals from around the globe. BPN staff attended 45 unique discussions or panels over the course of the conference. These sessions were aligned with one of six different tracks offered by the conference, including state of the industry, marketing, and technical matters. In this post, meet the team, read a little about what they learned about podcasting, and find out more about BPN’s shows.
What we learned
Fred Dews, host of the “Brookings Cafeteria” podcast, moderated a panel discussion at the conference titled, “Storytelling for Wonks: Podcasting the Facts.” The panel included hosts and producers from the Smithsonian Institution, the Nonprofit Optimist, the World Food Program USA, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Podcast audio is a powerful way for Brookings experts to connect themselves and their research with listeners,” Fred said. “Every year Podcast Movement gives us space to focus on our podcasting and come back to the office refreshed with new ideas to better serve our audiences.”
Fred’s interest in the government and nonprofit sector originated in a solo talk he gave at the 2017 conference. The four panelists this year—Tony Cohn (Smithsonian’s “Sidedoor”), Molly MacCready (“The Nonprofit Optimist”), Ash Kosiewicz (WFP’s “Hacking Hunger”), and Sultana Ali (Pew’s “After the Fact”)—shared their shows’ origin stories, some challenges and opportunities they have faced with getting buy-in from stakeholders, and advice on how to create compelling audio content that conveys the facts.
Fred has attended all five Podcast Movement conferences, and has now spoken at three of them.
Gaston Reboredo, our audio engineer, said that his favorite aspect of Podcast Movement was “learning more about the craft while being surrounded by other podcasters who are passionate about what they do.” In one of the technical track sessions that he attended, for example, Gaston learned a technique to remove “fuzz” from a recording by starting with at least 10 seconds of silence.
In another session on creating and setting up a mobile podcast recording rig, Gaston learned about the equipment needed to record “in the field,” including investment in items like a Zoom H6 portable recorder, a dynamic microphone with built-in headset, and an audio splitter. With this information, the Brookings Podcast Network intends to explore more recording opportunities outside of our studio in our offices in Washington, D.C.
Brennan Hoban is a producer for BPN and also directs the “5 on 45” show, which offers real-time commentary and analysis from Brookings experts on President Trump, his administration, and the 115th Congress. A key point Brennan gleaned from the conference was the importance of getting podcast shows on home devices and multiple streaming services. As Jarl Mohn, CEO of NPR, stated, “the smart speaker is the new radio in the house.”
In a session on the value of niche podcasting, Brennan discovered that people rate podcast episodes higher when the topics covered are what the listeners were expecting. In other words, stick to the subject!
Also, the growth and high market share of Android devices worldwide (as of July 2018, according to StatCounter, Android devices constituted 77 percent of mobile operating systems worldwide, compared to 19% for iOS) combined with the relative paucity of podcast consumption on those devices compared to iOS (downloads of podcasts on iOS are over 5 times that of Android devices, per Libsyn VP Rob Walch) mean a tremendous amount of growth will occur on the Android platform. The BPN team will be working to ensure Brookings podcasts are available on these devices and platforms.
BPN Producer Chris McKenna was also attending for the first time. “Podcast Movement introduced me to a grand cohort of people from diverse backgrounds all trying to do the same thing: connect with their specific audience in a meaningful way.”
One of the lessons that Chris brought back to Brookings podcasting was a very specific tip: when reading from a script, use an easel to prop up the paper. This allows the speaker to lift their face into the microphone, and frees up the hands to contribute to a more natural speaking style. The BPN team looks forward to trying this, especially on the “5 on 45” podcast, which features a scholar reading a monologue from a script.
Adrianna Pita is an event manager at Brookings—handling the production of over 200 public events each year—and also host of the “Intersections” podcast. She observed that “there’s always something that surprises you” at Podcast Movement, and added that “you learn from the other attendees as well as the presenters—often the questions open up some really interesting ideas you might not have thought of.” In one of the panel sessions that Adrianna attended, the Harvard Business Review team noted that its primary podcast has a highly-male listenership, so it created a women-specific show to help reach a more female audience. Brookings values inclusion and diversity, and the podcast team here looks forward to creating more content that appeals to a broad range of listeners.
In another session with Libsyn’s Rob Walch, Adrianna learned that Spotify is the second most-used platform for podcast listening (of Libsyn-hosted shows) after Apple Podcasts, and Spotify users are more likely to be Android users, rather than iOS users. Thus, considering the predominance of Android devices mentioned earlier, it’s urgent that podcasters get their shows on Spotify, and the BPN team is working toward that goal.
The Brookings Podcast Network team also includes Bill Finan, director of the Brookings Institution Press, who conducts monthly interviews with authors of BI Press books. These have included Madiha Afzal on overcoming extremism in Pakistan, and Darrell West, Brookings VP of Governance Studies, on how artificial intelligence will change the future of work.
About our podcasts
The Brookings Cafeteria podcast recently surpassed 200 episodes and observes its fifth anniversary of production at the end of August. The weekly show has been recognized by the Academy of Podcasters three times—winning Best News & Politics show (2015), Best Education show (2017), and earning a nomination as Best Education show (2016). The podcast also was recognized in June by the Communicator Awards and Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts with an Award of Excellence in Podcasting.
Intersections podcast features two experts discussing a policy issue from different perspectives, or policy disciplines. Recent topics include U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, transforming public spaces with learning landscapes, and how to make infrastructure work for people. The show was launched in March 2016 and comes out every other week.
In just 18 months since it launched at the start of the Trump presidency, the 5 on 45 podcast has published 200 episodes on topics ranging from Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary, to President Trump’s tax plan, threats from and negotiations with North Korea, and whether the U.S. needs a Space Force. The format is a monologue by a Brookings expert.
Finally, the Brookings Podcast Network includes audio recordings of all of the Brookings events, numbering over 200 every year. Brookings hosts world leaders, top government officials, academics, and other experts in wide-ranging discussions on scores of policy topics.
You can follow the Brookings Podcast Network on Twitter @policypodcasts and learn more about us on the Brookings website at brookings.edu/podcasts.