What we learned from debuting a local sports podcast
Katie Taranto is a 2023 RJI Student Innovation Fellow partnered with the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Missouri. The RJI Student Fellows will be sharing their innovative work through Innovation in Focus.
Locally driven podcasts offer listeners a distinct and personalized experience that nationally recognized podcasts cannot deliver. Podcasting can also help newsrooms meet new audiences where they’re at, while inviting the current audience to engage with a familiar medium. It’s an opportunity for both the newsroom and the community to try something new.
At the Springfield News-Leader, crafting a local sports podcast was a dream of reporter Wyatt Wheeler, whose coverage mostly centers high schools and Missouri State University. With some former sports radio experience—and a loyal audience in Springfield from his radio days—the idea was promising. We set out to learn all we could from what it’s like to launch a hyperlocal podcast.
Here are some tips for newsrooms and audio newbies hoping to start a local podcast:
1. Define your style
There are a lot of style and production questions to consider in podcasting, and it’s also important to keep the audience in mind. Do you want to publish polished audio, with predictable transitions and a scripted story? Or do you prefer a more informal, conversationally candid podcast with minimal edits, reminiscent of live radio? Will episodes be one-off segments, or is there a serialized story to tell with episodes that are woven together? Going into planning and production with a clear idea of your new podcast’s identity will set it up for success.
As Wheeler created Wyatt’s World, it was important to consider his former radio audience of Springfield sports fans — including how he interacts with these listeners on Twitter. With this in mind, he opted for an informal, comical style that not only comes natural to him but is also appreciated in the Springfield sports community. Episodes will be fun, conversational and mostly unscripted to satisfy his former radio audience and also cater to his strengths.
Production elements can also help set the tone. For Wheeler, this means episode introduction audio with kazoo music and podcast artwork that is equal parts colorful and explosive.
2. Start your research with similar podcasts that inspire you
In the planning stages, we scoped out the USA Today Network for inspiration and guidance, looking specifically for newsrooms that had branched out into podcasting. We looked at the long list of network newsrooms, documenting which ones featured podcasts on their websites then narrowing it down further to sports podcasts.
We selected our favorite sports podcasts and reached out to those publications via email. Our favorites were relatable to our situation: they covered college sports and regional teams, providing content for loyal fanbases in major and midsize Midwestern cities, like Indianapolis.
We inquired if the publications had any advice or tips on equipment, publishing, promotion, scheduling, content, revenue or audience engagement. This led us to connection with an audio specialist from Gannett who met with us and proved helpful as planning and production continued. He suggested that each episode be about 20 to 30 minutes long, recommended utilizing Omny Studio to create promotional audiograms for social media and encouraged Wheeler to create a 30-second long “Episode Zero” podcast preview to stir excitement for the future audience.
3. Experiment with tools for editing audio
The Wyatt’s World podcast will rely on Sony software and Omny Studio through Gannett support, but there are plenty of options at your fingertips to fit a variety of skill levels and budgets.
Our Innovation in Focus team previously tested Adobe Podcast and found that it can be an effective AI tool for cleaning and editing audio with ease. Still in beta, curious users can request access online.
Two Adobe Podcast tools are currently available for free. These tools — Enhance Speech and Mic Check — utilize AI to assist with recording and audio editing. Enhance Speech removes background noises and clarifies voices for a professional sound, while Mic Check provides feedback to users as they complete a mic check. We tested Enhance Speech on some raw audio and were impressed by the results.
Test audio before enhancement with Adobe Podcast Beta
Test audio after enhancement with Adobe Podcast Beta
4. Set a reasonable schedule
While Wheeler initially aimed to produce four shows per week — on top of covering Springfield sports — he ultimately scaled it down to one show per week after talking with a journalism scholar and colleague of the News-Leader.
The reporter(s) who want to start a podcast should be motivated but wary of the new responsibility. Burnout is already so prevalent in journalism and adding a new task — and potentially an unfamiliar medium, audio—obviously increases the potential for added stress and anxiety. Reporters should allow themselves adequate time to become familiar with new software, think through their ideas and plan out episodes before diving into the podcast pool.