More than 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, increasing in danger and wind speed like an imposing turbine in the skies and flooding New Orleans.
The hurricane killed an estimated 1,835 people, destroyed about 300,000 homes and racked up more than $96 billion in damages.
In 2015, when the historic 10-year anniversary approached, Eve Troeh, the news director for the New Orleans NPR affiliate WWNO, decided it was time for a podcast to reflect on how the catastrophe had changed and shaped her community.
In an 11-part series, Troeh, along with producers and reporters in her newsroom, recapped how the community dealt with emotional trauma, reconstruction, new safety measures and other changes brought on by the hurricane. The series featured rap music from school children who saw their homes and everything they associated with daily life sucked into a gargling void.
“There’s still a lot of stuff to deal with — debris,” Troeh narrated in the pilot. “So we’re picking up some of it.”
On Sunday, Troeh hosted, “Will it podcast? Audio content development for all,” one of the first breakout sessions in the Excellence in Journalism 2016 conference.
Not every town has a Hurricane Katrina. But every regional news outlet, whether radio, newspaper, TV or multimedia, responds to unique concerns and challenges, Troeh said.
“This is a change to express what might not be relevant in a traditional news story,” Troeh said.
Among the tips:
- Start with at least six if not 12 formed ideas of successions to the pilot episode, before rolling out the podcast. If a newsroom is planning a podcast, it should be something with ongoing leads or relevance. Otherwise, after the initial roll-out, the production might fall flat.
- Provide an outlet to be real and human to those consuming the news, and in the process, explain newsgathering. The latest data from the Pew Research Center shows that, while it may be part of a larger trend, faith in the media is at an all-time low. Podcasting offers a news consumer a glimpse at the ideas and process behind the people creating the news. How extensive was the research for an investigative story? How do the people creating the news communicate in an impersonal atmosphere? “People feel involved,” Troeh said. “We don’t make our perfect diamond and deliver it to the audience anymore.”
- Know what you hope to achieve. “My biggest question is — why did you want to make a podcast?” Troeh said. Podcasts have different tones. Investigative, lighthearted, story-driven — take time before you develop your offering, Troeh said. It’s your brand.
- Avoid the one-person show. Many professional news-based podcasts are cohosted or include multiple audio clips from interviews, sometimes with reporters chipping in to discuss stories or report on the theme. Regardless of who hosts, long podcasts take hours to produce, and experience from sound engineers. “I’ve seen relationships fail because of the one-person podcast,” Troeh said.
The breakout session was a reflection of a larger shift, as podcasts continue to expand into traditional newsrooms. In 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that 21 percent of Americans 12 or older listened to a podcast in the last month, versus 12 percent in 2013.
Large newspaper outlets like the Wall Street Journal already offer podcasts. This August, the New York Times rolled out their own political podcast, The Run-Up, to cover the election season.
As national outlets begin to set new goals in the digital landscape, small newsrooms like WWNO, which produced “Katrina: The Debris,” have gained confidence from podcast trials and are continuing to develop their brand of audio.
A collaborator with their public radio station, Eve Abrams, recently produced a podcast on the community’s large incarceration rate, and how it affected the community, in “Unprisoned: Stories from the System.”
Troeh said as a result of the storytelling, the newsroom has begun to take a harder look at the surrounding prison system, taking stock of Louisiana’s reputation as the incarceration capital of the world.
“It’s part of our mission to tell New Orleans stories to the world,” Troeh said. “[Podcasting] is helping us do that.”
Eve Troeh is the news director for NPR affiliate WWNO, in New Orleans. Her podcast series on the residual effects of Hurricane Katrina can be found here.