Nic Newman: Why news podcasts are on the rise

Media researcher explains the truth behind the headlines

The podcast landscape seems to be increasingly dominated by news and current affairs podcasts, with shows like The News Agents, The Daily and Today In Focus becoming a regular staple of their audience’s routines. But what's behind this rise, how are podcasts changing the media landscape, and how are they affecting truth, impartiality and nuance in our news diet?

This week, PodPod’s Rhianna Dhillon and Reem Makari speak to Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, about the trends he's observed in the audience for news podcasts, how brands and networks are reacting to the shifts, and why there's still significant room for growth, as well as how it may evolve in the future. 

Key takeaways

News podcasting is a relatively new trend

“When we started tracking this, I think that we could only find 17 daily news podcasts in 2017, when The Daily launched, January 2017, and that basically had increased by sixfold by 2020. So we saw this real explosion driven by faster connectivity, investment, commercial opportunities coming in - and The Daily was really a great stimulus for that. And obviously, there's lots of copy versions of that around the world, which are still really, really successful.” 

“So I think that that was the second phase. We saw a lot of explanatory podcasts at that point and native podcasts really starting to come into their own, and advertising supporting those. Now we're into a very different world. A lot of innovation around formats, a lot of extended chat podcasts, a lot of political podcasts, a huge number of niche podcasts - like PodPod, for example - really finding an audience.”

Publishers need to diversify their hosts to reach new audiences

“We found it was something like in the UK, 75% of the hosts of news podcasts that people most frequently mentioned were male, and 25% women. And I think there's been a lot of criticism of podcasts in the UK, and political podcasts in particular, for being very male-dominated, very opinion-based. I think when Amol Rajan and Nick Robinson were appointed as the Today programme hosts, for example, there was a lot of criticism and talk about that.”

“I think publishers are becoming much more aware of this, and not least because the audience is also skewed towards male rather than female. So if you're looking for more female audience members for these podcasts, then probably you need to do something about the gender balance too.”

Remember to look outside the bubble

“I live in a podcast bubble; I'm sure you do. I listen to a lot of podcasts every week, but the majority of people in the UK don't. According to our Digital News Report data, about a third in the UK say they've consumed a podcast of any kind in the last month, and only about 1 in 10 say that they've consumed a news podcast in the last month - so 90% haven't.”

“That in one sense is a huge challenge, because we've got this huge increase in the supply and the percentage of people they're chasing hasn't really changed very much. It's grown a bit, but it's not changed that much. So the competition for attention is really huge. On the other hand, you could argue that if only 10% or so are consuming news podcasts today, there's a huge room for growth, and I do think it will grow over time, as more talent [and] more interest from advertisers comes into the market as well.”


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