The Daily is perhaps the most successful news product at the country’s most successful newspaper. Each weekday morning, a new episode of the New York Times podcast appears on millions of phones. Host Michael Barbaro, a former Times politics reporter, might talk one day to the White House correspondent Maggie Haberman about the latest Trump palace intrigue, and the next to a reporter in the Moscow bureau about unrest in Belarus. The show is a wildly successful experiment that attracts a much larger audience than the front page of the print newspaper each day and brings in major ad revenue from the likes of BMW, Chanel, and Fidelity Insurance. At a time when the financial viability of the news industry is very much in doubt, The Daily is an encouraging counterexample.
The Times is at the forefront of a broader podcasting boom. Ad revenue for podcasts increased by nearly 50 percent last year, according to an estimate from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and is projected to top $800 million this year. Regional newspapers like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Texas Tribune, and the Des Moines Register have gotten into podcasting, as have many online magazines and public radio stations. Slate now makes about half of its revenue from its podcasts. Vox Media expanded from a handful of shows in 2017 to more than 200 shows in 2020. Revenue from podcasting is expected to double this year. “We went from it being a hobby, to a strategy, to a big pillar of the company,” says Marty Moe, president of Vox Media Studios.
Podcasting is also a sector where it’s relatively easy for new and independent voices to break in. The former radio reporter Amy Westervelt founded her own network, Critical Frequency, in 2017. Just two years later, it won AdWeek’s annual award for best podcast network of the year. Podcasting also provides space for in-depth reporting, something that has become increasingly difficult to fund in other media. Long investigative reports on technical subjects can be turned into explanatory miniseries, as BuzzFeed did in September with an exposé on big banks’ role in financing terror and drug operations. Challenging topics, like school segregation, can be excavated through compelling storytelling, as with Nice White Parents, a New York Times podcast tracing the history of one Brooklyn school. “The space for high-quality content, and quality journalism, has been contracting for economic reasons for many years now,” says Jacob Weisberg, CEO of Pushkin Industries, a podcast production company he started after years as the editor in chief of the Slate Group. “I see podcasts very much as a place to enlarge that space.”
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