Creator Spotlight: How host Erica Mandy cultivated the perfect voice at The NewsWorthy
Erica Mandy is an award-winning broadcast journalist who is building a new kind of media network, starting with her daily news podcast, The NewsWorthy. It provides all the day’s news in less than 10 minutes in a convenient, unbiased, and less depressing way — as she describes it, her show is “fast, fair and fun.”
Erica has been named one of “50 Women Changing the World in Media & Entertainment” and is one of the first podcasters to partner with Podfund, a company that invests in extraordinary, emerging podcasters. We chatted with Erica about why she started her show, what her process looks like, and how she thinks about language, structure, and tone.
What’s the origin story of The NewsWorthy?
I spent more than a decade as a broadcast journalist and TV news reporter before leaving to start The NewsWorthy. I worked my way up in TV from a small Missouri town to Los Angeles — the second largest news market in the country.
I most recently reported for CBS in LA, but as I watched the industry change, news consumption habits evolve and heard from so many friends who were tuning out news completely because they felt it was too “depressing” and “overwhelming,” I knew I had a choice: continue on the traditional path or take a risk and start something new. I chose the latter to provide an alternative that addresses important issues without arguing pundits and nonstop bickering, while also injecting positivity and hope into daily news consumption. This, along with a quick, convenient format, keeps people coming back. I’m proud to say that listeners have told me they feel less anxiety about news and have better conversations because of the show. Some have even told me they finally feel informed enough to vote for the first time.
What’s different about the way you reported the news on TV versus on the podcast?
As a broadcast journalist, there are plenty of similarities between reporting for TV and podcasts, and I’m grateful for the years of experience I now have doing both. Each requires clear, concise writing and delivery that’s meant to be heard, not read.
That said, there are many differences. For one, I chose to bring a very different tone to The NewsWorthy. TV news tends to be a bit more urgent and serious, and I think a lot of reporters’ voices reflect that. I wanted to bring a more casual, relatable vibe to The NewsWorthy that really lets me connect with listeners as a trusted friend who helps makes news more approachable. This means caring less about being first on the scene with all the latest and breaking details, and more about becoming a friendly, reliable source of digestible news each morning, working to make listeners’ lives a little easier on their time.
In fact, how the audiences consume the news on each platform is a big difference, too. I love that podcast listeners can more easily multi-task while getting informed on-demand, taking the podcast with them while they get ready, drive to work or go for a walk during lunch. This is reflected in the way I choose to report each story. My pace, tone and energy need to work together to keep listeners engaged (no monotone voices please), while my words and sentences need to be so clear and concise that listeners ‘get it’ the first time. Even though they may be multitasking, and can’t see my lips moving or my facial expressions, I’ve still failed if they need to rewind a story to understand it.
Of course, the most obvious difference is the need for visuals in television. In TV, I worked with a videographer for every story, and we were always thinking about how to tell a visual story. We “write to video,” or in other words, our writing should complement the video. With podcasting, the words come first. I must always write and deliver stories in a way that paints a clear picture in listeners’ minds.
What does your research and writing process look like for creating an episode of The NewsWorthy?
A simple way we ensure we’re staying unbiased in our coverage, while also mixing in stories that aren’t just doom-and-gloom, is focusing on variety. A small team of news writers and I do this by spending hours looking at the news of the day across multiple platforms and sources. This means we’ll look at dozens of news stories each day and choose about 8 to 12 of them to include in the show. As we choose those stories, we always make sure each episode covers a wide-variety of topics, including politics, business, science, tech and entertainment — all in less than 10 minutes each weekday.
We even look at multiple news sources for the same story. This helps ensure we don’t allow our own biases, or that of the other reporters we reference, to overly influence the script. We may reference Vox, FOX News, MSNBC and the WSJ — for just one story.
Also, I never make assumptions that listeners understand industry or government lingo or already know about past news stories. Even if it’s just a sentence or two, I make sure every listener feels caught up and every concept is broken down. For example, I won’t simply say someone was held in “contempt of Congress.” What the heck does that mean? If you don’t know, you’ll tune out, and you certainly can’t join a conversation about it later in the day.
In other words, it takes us a lot longer than 10 minutes to produce a 10 minute show!
Most episodes of The NewsWorthy clock in at under 10 minutes yet pack several news items into each episode. How do you select, order, and write each day’s stories for an episode?
We look at three main things, in this order, when deciding which stories will make it into The NewsWorthy each day:
1. What’s the most important and/or most talked about news of the day? We want listeners to stay engaged in the national conversation.
2. What truly impacts our listeners’ lives the most? This isn’t just about politics. Our lives are varied, and therefore impacted by everything from Supreme Court decisions to advances in medicine to even Amazon’s new delivery systems. We like to make sure our daily news show reflects that!
3. Do we have a wide-variety of stories in each episode? We are careful not to include too many political or overly depressing stories in one day. Yes, we may talk about some sad stories, but we always make sure to counterbalance that with some (just as relevant) positive, interesting and lighter news stories. This also means we aren’t going to repeat the same news story for three days straight just because of a few minor new details. This is actually another difference from TV news, which often has hours of time to fill. I find that listeners don’t want to hear the same thing over and over unless there’s a significant reason.
Each story we include must individually offer the listener value (see numbers 1–3), while also fitting into the bigger picture of that particular episode.
To that point, we consider which stories need to be talked about right away, and which stories are ongoing or more evergreen. This allows us to meet our time and tone requirements in each episode, while still getting to everything we want to cover within a certain week or month. We keep a calendar of upcoming news events so we only talk about each story at the most relevant time.
How do you bring a script to life when you’re recording?
I believe this is 50 percent great writing and 50 percent great delivery. You need both halves to make a script sound natural and engaging.
So, it starts with the research and writing. As any quality writer or speaker would probably tell you, it’s often harder to write less and in a more simplified way. As both a TV news reporter and a podcaster now, one of my main jobs is to take a lot of complex information and break it all down into a concise and casual format that is easy to follow and understand.
It’s also important to write like you speak. Use plain language. How would you tell a friend the same information? Don’t say “pedestrian.” Say “the person crossing the street.” Don’t say, “purchase” or “approximately.” Say, “buy” or “about.” Phrases and words we would actually say in real life help to make listeners feel like you’re talking directly to them, instead of reading a script.
Delivery is the second half, and as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. It has taken me years of training and experience to become more natural on-air and to find my own voice and style. I look back at old reporting videos and cringe! Awkward breathing, a high-pitched voice and talking too quickly are all common mistakes when you’re first starting out.
Also, have you ever noticed how some broadcasters will say every sentence with the same cadence and inflection? Start high and end low — four times in a row. I like to leave the Ron Burgundy voice behind and let my delivery be as varied as the stories themselves.
One way to do that is to actually think about what you’re saying and imagine you’re talking to someone in your audience. Don’t let your mind wander off to the laundry you need to do tomorrow while you’re reading a story about the economy or North Korea. You must first be focused and engaged with the topic if you expect your listener to pay attention to it.
Another tactic for great delivery is to respect punctuation. Paying attention to periods and commas, for example, will help you pause, breathe, and deliver naturally. You wouldn’t try to take a breath in the middle of a sentence when talking to a friend. You shouldn’t do that when reading a script either.
It’s also about tone, pace and personality. Again, this takes time to perfect. Knowing your own voice comes with knowing yourself and your audience. When I started The NewsWorthy, I knew I didn’t want to come across overly serious, urgent or alarming. I didn’t want to have that odd-sounding “reporter voice” or scare people just to get their attention. I did want to sound like a trusted friend. Both writing and delivery must reflect what you want to project to your audience.