Media lay-offs could be a silver lining for the podcast industry

Journalists make fantastic podcasters, and now’s the time to snap them up

It’s an unfortunate truth that in the world of media, layoffs are a regular fact of life. When budgets start to tighten, it seems like editorial staff are among the first in line for the chop, and almost every journalist I know has been through at least one redundancy process in their careers.

This week, journalists from Metro, Adweek, Vox Media, GameSpot, MSNBC and the Washington Post sadly fell victim to the axe - as part of a wider trend of cuts at organisations including Google, Spotify and more - and my thoughts are with all those affected by the layoffs. It’s always a traumatic time, and one that can come with a fair amount of uncertainty, stress and self-doubt. 

What makes it especially difficult is that, when layoffs start to come around, they usually affect multiple publishers within the same period, which makes finding a new job that much harder. Many journalists in this situation choose to go freelance or move into the world of PR, both of which can be highly lucrative. 

For those seeking an alternative that can be more stable and more creatively rewarding, however, the world of podcasting is well worth your time. Journalists love podcasting; most editorial brands have their own podcasts, and in a huge number of cases, they were launched by editorial teams as passion projects, rather than by an organisational mandate. Just look at the Empire podcast - the team behind both that and the Pilot TV Podcast are working two jobs to keep their respective podcasts running, purely out of love for them.

It’s easy to see why, too. The last several years (if not decades) have been an increasingly challenging period for digital publishers, and while many organisations - including Haymarket - have turned to paid subscriptions to mitigate this, in other cases it has led to extreme pressure on writers to generate ever-higher traffic figures, or to support alternative monetisation strategies such as affiliate marketing revenue. All of this means that thoughtful, in-depth reporting and commentary frequently falls by the wayside. 

Podcasting, by contrast, has provided a space for this kind of journalism to flourish. Organisations like Tortoise have shown that there’s an appetite for long-form investigative reporting in audio form, and magazine-format podcasts such as the Empire Film Podcast allow writers to showcase their creativity and expertise in their chosen area. Underlining the importance and vitality of podcasting as a journalistic medium, respected institution City University has just launched an MA course in podcasting, with widespread industry support.

With that having been said, there’s no such thing as a recession-proof industry, and podcasting is no exception. Spotify itself has laid off hundreds of workers this week, and Acast CEO Ross Adams told us on this week’s podcast that he believes we’re already in the midst of a recession, so while podcasting as a whole seems to be somewhat more stable than more traditional media environments, it’s by no means bulletproof. 

That shouldn’t rule it out as a potential option for writers seeking a change of career, though. For journalists, podcasting allows the freedom, flexibility and space to give subjects the time and consideration they deserve, and for podcasting companies, each newly-available journalist represents an invaluable potential asset to their business. Journalists are diligent, hardworking and passionate, with a proven talent for identifying, researching and crafting compelling narratives. These skills will be well-suited to research or creative development roles in production houses, where coming up with new show topics and concepts is essential for capturing the attention of an audience.

Of course, as Chanté Joseph notes, writing for audio is a different beast to working in a text-based medium, but journalists are nothing if not adaptable. They’re also - in my experience, at least - incredibly engaging and personable, and tend to make for excellent hosts. All in all, they’re a goldmine for any organisation that wants to supercharge its podcast creation capacity - and for journalists, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get back to what really matters: creating in-depth, high-quality content.