Does ITV’s Partygate podcast prove the party’s over for broadcast news?

Established publishers are now breaking stories via podcasts - and that’s good news for everyone

When’s the last time you sat down to watch the news on TV? For most of us, it’s probably when something of historic importance occurred, like the death of the Queen. Age is also a factor, too - according to Ofcom statistics, younger people are far less likely to use TV as a primary source of news. 

Little wonder, then, that news podcasts are such a hot topic at the moment. Indeed, news is one of the top three genres in the US, based on Edison Research’s last two quarterly surveys, and it’s one that an increasing number of established organisations are paying attention to. Just this week, a new paper from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism showed that almost three quarters of news leaders are planning to invest more in podcasts for 2023.

The effects of this are already being seen. Earlier this week, fresh allegations emerged as part of the long-running ‘partygate’ scandal that tanked Boris Johnson’s career as Prime Minister, uncovered by ITV News. What’s interesting, however, is that ITV chose to break the story not with a special on its nightly primetime news programme, but with a dedicated podcast.

Contrast this with the original coverage of partygate when it first broke; it provided a unique look at omnichannel media reporting across multiple publications, including The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, The Financial Times and BBC News. New details were uncovered on a daily basis, but while they were published across a variety of channels - including print editions, TV broadcasts and publishers’ websites - I can’t recall a single one being delivered via podcast.

ITV’s new seven-episode miniseries, Partygate: The Inside Story, is presented by ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand, who has led the way on much of the partygate reporting, and covers a number of new claims. The fact that the broadcaster chose a podcast as the best method for delivering these revelations, however, indicates the significance which podcasts now have for news publishers. 

In fact, this is the second time in as many weeks that a major news story has been broken by a podcast before more established formats, following The News Agents’ major scoop on the rollback of Channel 4’s privatisation. The News Agents, along with friendly rivals The Rest Is Politics, have quickly become chart heavyweights in terms of their popularity, but they’re now starting to leverage their popularity and connections to supplant traditional outlets as news creators, rather than commentators. 

Major broadcasters are now starting to prioritise podcasts for breaking news, and ITV likely won’t be the last to turn to podcasting as a way to give key investigations a greater share of the spotlight. Not only are podcasts more easily shareable than individual segments of wider news broadcasts, they also give organisations more space to deep-dive into nuanced subjects, and allow listeners to engage more deeply. With a recession on the horizon, the fact that they’re also significantly easier and cheaper to produce than video content probably doesn’t hurt either. 

So what does this mean for the role of traditional broadcast news reporting? Is this the end for major stories breaking via TV? Well, probably not; TV news still holds sway with a huge portion of older audiences, and podcasts have yet to attain the prestige still carried by a traditional news broadcaster. 

What we may see, however, is a greater diversification in how investigative stories are delivered. Rather than creating a special TV report to break a story, broadcasters may very well choose to build it into a Partygate-style short-run podcast series, which contains all the depth and complexity of the story, and then summarise the key highlights as part of TV broadcasts, pointing viewers towards the podcast for more information.

Far from killing off broadcast news, this has the power to strengthen the quality of its reporting, allowing greater freedom to dig into the meat of challenging stories without being bound by the shackles of tightly-constrained time limits. It also makes stories more accessible beyond their original broadcast date. 

Podcasts are now unquestionably being taken seriously by the media industry, but broadcast organisations shouldn’t see them as a threat. They’re merely another weapon in the arsenal that publishers can use to inform and educate their audiences in different ways - and that’s good news for everyone.