How to launch and grow your first news podcast

Conversation with Dávid Tvrdoň, podcast producer and product manager for online news at SME.sk.

Linda Vecvagare
Nov 20, 2018 · 7 min read
Dávid and his colleague Ondrej Podstupka while recording one of the eight podcasts SME produces. Photo: Matej Ohrablo

The well-known investigative journalism podcast Serial became the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads in iTunes history. And it is only one among many examples that show that all you need is a microphone, a host and an ambitious team to create effective and engaging journalism.

Through podcasting, journalists can tell their stories in an audience-engaging format and potentially reach a new world of listeners. At the same time, many newsrooms in Europe are just now starting to experiment with podcasts and there’s a lot to learn about the ways to produce, promote, distribute and monetise them.

Where to start when it comes to using audio as a storytelling medium in your newsroom? And how can you establish and increase your audience? We asked someone who has done it with great success — Dávid Tvrdoň, podcast producer at SME.sk and member of our News Impact Network.

Previously you’ve written that your team “accidentally started a podcast revolution and hit one million downloads”. Tell us — how did you make it happen?

Dávid Tvrdoň at News Impact Summit in Budapest.

There is a catch though — almost no one knew what a podcast is or how you should listen to it. We saw these huge numbers of podcast listenership growing in the US tracked by Edison. But in Europe, especially Central and Eastern, there was no one tracking it, because the listenership was almost non-existent. That is until now.

We went from zero to tens of thousands of podcast listeners in just a few months. Of course, we needed first to explain and show how to listen to podcasts. And most of all, we had to have a good reason for our audience to listen — the daily news podcast.

What are the main reasons newsrooms should consider doing podcasts?

So, I would say the main reasons are the quick adoption, getting your journalism to young audiences and the fact that podcast listeners are a highly engaged audience. We see a 90% consumption rate on average. Of course, you cannot just take something and transform it into a podcast and expect it to work.

What are the secrets to create a successful podcast?

This is accidental, we didn’t really plan for it, but it’s the feedback we constantly get from the audience. Also, another feedback we get is that we explain the news, go deeper and really take it slowly from the very beginning. Not just with the daily news podcast, but with all our podcasts, this is something we have deliberately decided and keep in mind.

What equipment and tools are necessary to create a news podcast?

We started recording our daily news podcasts in the corner of our video studio. As we built up and generated income by selling ads, we invested in a podcast studio, where six podcasts are being recorded weekly.

Deputy editor of SME.sk Tomáš Prokopčák and reporter Lucia Krbatová recording the daily news podcast. Photo: Jozef Jakubčo

What are other resources needed?

Because all that was needed were 15 to 20 minutes of a different reporter daily to chat about the article he or she was working on, they basically had to skip one cigarette break and we had a podcast. Also, we turned one of our cameramen into an audio editor and now he has become so excited about podcasting that he does it full time.

How can you establish and increase your podcast audience?

As with any new format, we keep it regular. There are daily news podcasts. You can find the podcast article on the same spot on the homepage (still our biggest traffic driver), and we have weekly spots for weekly podcasts.

As podcasts are big among the tech-savvy, we have launched tech and science podcasts too. That’s how you can get to such audiences — with something they like and later you can introduce them to your other podcasts.

The secret is, once you get a person hooked on one podcast, it is really easy to sell them on others. I always say podcasts are addictive, in the best way possible.

What should journalists keep in mind when using a podcast as a storytelling medium?

In this regard, I like the 11 commandments of podcasting the BBC has published recently when commissioning podcasts for their Sound app. I like all of them, but in this case, number 4 tells it all: “Podcasts are built for the headphone generation, be respectful, warm and gentle inside their heads.” Such a nice way of putting it, very British, and very true.

How to convince the newsroom of the value that podcasts can add?

Another reason for us was that we are gaining new audiences with podcasts and we started to ask people to support us with buying digital subscriptions for SME.sk. We get emails and mentions on Facebook that they bought a yearly recurring subscription because they like the shows. That really makes a difference, in the eyes of the newsroom management and also among our reporters.

You produce a product people love, are thankful for and even keep telling you how to make it better.

What are your observations regarding the engagement of the audience that consumes your podcasts?

We created a Facebook group, a podcast club when we started doing podcasts and the group has become a big help. People react, comment, give us feedback on specific episodes of the different shows we produce.

One thing is to have good analytics, but when you couple it with quality feedback from listeners, that is priceless.

What are your three main podcasting tips for journalists?

Which news podcasts are you listening to these days?

How does the future look like for podcasts in journalism?


Do you have more questions? You can meet Dávid at our upcoming News Impact Summit in Berlin on 3 December.


European Journalism Centre

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