Photo by neil godding on Unsplash

How we started a daily news podcast and what we learned

In Slovakia (central Europe) a daily news podcast is being produced and slowly gains momentum. Here is what we learned.

How do you launch a daily news podcast in a country where most of the population doesn't understand what a podcast is?

Well, you do it and wait what happens. At least that is what we did in October in Slovakia at SME.sk when we launched a daily news podcast — Dobré ráno (Good morning would be the English translation).

Podcast logos (from the left) — The Daily by The New York Times, Up First by NPR, Reporting to you by BuzzFeed News.

If others can do a daily podcast, so can we

At first there was an idea — if The New York Times, Buzzfeed News and others can do a daily news podcast, so can we. Or at least we could try and always blame it on the undeveloped podcast industry in Europe, if we fail and have to shut it down.

In central and eastern Europe there is a proud history of “getting inspired” by big global publishers and digital companies. That's how blogs were started in Slovakia in 2004, the first data journalism unit started operating in Czech republic in 2012, or later longforms took off in 2013 or interactive visual stories in 2016.

The idea for a daily news podcast actually came as a regular “what should we do next year and get funding for from the management”.

Pitched as a daily conversation between a host and a reporter working on a story seemed simple enough not to wait till next year.

The “what is a daily news podcast” phase followed. This meant I made a list of existing daily podcasts for the rest of the team and they started listening and taking notes.

Screenshot from editing the first test episode.

Prototype, test, get feedback, adapt & launch

After researching and listening to other daily podcasts we sat down, compared notes and set up a structure simple enough and very close to the one The Daily and others have — an interview with one reporter (or more) about a current news topic and a radio-like news segment with the biggest news of the past day.

We went to the video studio (we do not have an audio studio yet) to record the first conversation, recorded a news segment, edited it, uploaded to SoundCloud the next morning and asked the whole newsroom to listen in, comment and give us feedback.

This test phase went on like this for two weeks. We have been experimenting with different microphones, sound backgrounds, testing several hosts and preparing reporters for the launch.

Of course, we were most of all curious if we could pull it of daily in a test phase. That was actually the biggest unknown. Fortunately, we could, which meant we had an MVP (minimum viable product).

At the end of the second week we recorded an episode we really really liked and decided to run with it as the first official podcast episode (it remains the best performing episode until today).

At this point we had the final structure, sound backgrounds, production in place, podcast name and graphics for the logo. But we didn't know if there was a real audience. And most of all, we did not know how many people understand the term podcast.

Picture taken from Happy English.

Always include an explainer ‘what is a podcast’

First, you have to understand the podcast industry in Slovakia. Before we launched there were a couple of guys who put out niche podcasts without national reach. The public radio gave up on podcasts years ago when the new website practically killed the audio archive and RSS feeds.

Some public stations say they produce podcasts, but they only upload radio stream segments to MixCloud which has no RSS options, so you cannot subscribe to it in your podcast app.

For some reason the rest of the radio stations would rather have an active YouTube or Facebook presence than promoting a podcast. Many people, even younger ones, still do not understand what a podcast is (I have recently asked 50 journalism students and only 5 raised their hands).

So, before we launched our daily podcast we had to write a series of explainers: What is a podcast? How can you subscribe to a podcast? How to listen to podcasts on Android? How to listen to podcasts on iOS? What apps should you use?

Our What is a podcast? explainer is now number one in Google search results in Slovakia and is being read daily.

Since the beginning we always include a link to the explainers in every article which has the podcast in it. We forgot i once and there were several comments in the article asking for explanation — people did not understand the word podcast.

Photo from the FB blog announcing a standalone Groups app, that is no longer active.

Building a community

Together with the launch of the podcast we founded a Facebook group for podcast lovers and people listening to our podcast. There are currently more than 250 members.

We have established a daily conversation with the members — it starts with asking for feedback for every single episode.

The community has been a huge help so far. The members are the first to point out bugs (like when an episode doesn't get uploaded correctly or wrong metadata makes a new episode appear like a month old). Also the members give us honest feedback and keep us going.

Stats for the podcast. Some people told us they listen to all of the episodes during the weekend. The majority is during weekdays.

First numbers after a month

After a month of doing the podcast we decided to publish the stats. Almost 100.000 listens (or downloads if you prefer this metric).

Half of the 100.000 listens were people listening to the podcast on our website through the embedded SoundCloud player (we publish a daily article which people can find every morning on our website). And half of it were people listening via RSS. Of those almost two thirds were iOS devices.

Even though Android smartphones are the preferred devices in Slovakia, the simplicity of subscribing to a podcast on an iPhone is much easier than Android. Android phones do not have a native podcasting app, iPhones have. (Google could easily make the podcast part in its Google Play Music app available in Europe and would have this native feature, but who knows why they don’t.)

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

What’s next for Slovak podcasting

So far we have stuck to a weekday production with two exceptions — we made a special weekend episode (an in-depth conversation with a bi-gender DJ & music producer) and a special breaking news weekday episode.

Both extra episodes did well and we learned there is demand for more on the top of what we are already doing.

For two years now we had published a technology and science podcast together with one station from the Slovak public radio. Now we have been publishing a daily news podcast for almost two months. And we see the podcasts as a growing industry.

Obviously we want to expand and I do not know at the moment what will happen. Our ad team is working on getting sponsors or advertisers for the podcast.

In terms of podcasting in Slovakia, we believe we have done the first step and now are waiting that perhaps more publishers will follow, because competition is always good. And the more podcasts there are, the more people will be listening to them and hearing the word podcast much more frequently.

In this regard Sweden is an inspiration — monthly 3,3 millions of people listen to podcasts.

Mr. Meeseeks from the Rick and Morty TV Show.

The final lesson — if we could do it, you can do it too

One of the most surprising findings for me was that a small central European publisher can publish a daily news podcast (small compared to EU publishers in big countries such as Germany, France or Italy; in Slovakia our publishing house is considered one of the biggest).

So with a newsroom of around couple dozens of reporters and editors we are able to do the podcast daily in a fairly decent quality. There are many people involved in the day to day operation, but there is no single person whose only responsibility is to do the podcast.

Because the burden of the production is spread across several people, everyone does just enough to contribute and get the podcast going (two audio producers, four hosts and a newsroom full of reporters working on daily and weekly topics — if there is no hard news topic, we can always pick a technology/science/future/health… topic).

Of course we will probably never have the high-quality production of The Daily or Up First, but if we could do it in a small central European country, that means almost anywhere in Europe there could be a daily news podcast.

Here is an conversation about all of it for Check Your Facts podcast

Interview for Check Your Facts podcast — subscribe: Apple Podcasts (iTunes) | RSS

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Dávid Tvrdoň

Dávid Tvrdoň

Journalist / newsletter writer / podcast producer • 📩 weekly tech & media newsletter: https://fwiw.substack.com/welcome • 🌐 info: https://davidtvrdon.com