In the run-up to the Digital Identities workshops in India, George reflects on what makes a good podcast and the value of running experiments. He will also be speaking at the Chennai session. Click here to find out more about the workshop series powered by Google News Initiative.
Hi George, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m the Deputy Internet Editor for The Hindu, responsible for website content and social media. I work with other The Hindu journalists to ensure that their stories are shared with the online audience using suitable formats. I also work closely with our Product Development team to identify platforms and tools that support our core journalistic values. We avoid click-baiting and do not rely on celebrity news as traffic drivers. Staying true to our values has served us quite well. Nationally, we are among the top 10 news websites.
How do you avoid clickbait?
We’re not in the business of selling non-stories with catchy headlines. We are in the much tougher business of selling critical stories to the temperamental online reader, which takes more creativity and a better understanding of the news. This is what we seek to cultivate in our team. We don’t compromise quality for quantity or speed. We always verify, even when other outlets are breaking the news. In such cases, I step in and coordinate our teams nationally or get a reporter on the ground. However, this does not mean we go completely against the grain online. We use interactives, videos, listicles and Q&As when they allow us to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner.
What led you to explore podcasts?
We tried podcasting around six years ago – creating local language versions of our editorials in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Back then, we didn’t really have an audience. It’s still a nascent medium in India, but with the rise of podcasting in the US and other Western markets, we think it’s time to make another attempt. My view is that podcasts work much better as a learning product than as a purely news product. Educational content is a big opportunity for us as a significant portion of our readership includes civil service aspirants and students.
What kind of educational content are you developing?
At the moment, we’re not creating bespoke content. Our initial plan is based on one of our long-running print columns – Know Your English. This column, now written by a professor from Hyderabad, has been going for many years and has a huge following. While it is available on our website as text, we haven’t really found the right online identity for it. I feel the conversational tone of the column is conducive to a podcast.
How does a print column translate into a podcast?
We’re looking at the tone, formats and platforms. For instance, this column is an opportunity for us to create a podcast with episodic content and distinctive seasons. Also, at the end of the day, reading a conversation is very different from listening to it. The podcast has to offer an enjoyable experience to our audience.
How easy was it to get this project off the ground?
Content is not a problem as we have a huge archive to work with. However, this medium is an experiment. Maybe nothing works or maybe it is a huge success. This has an impact on the resources available to us. Most of our production, including the voice actors, is in-house. Our biggest expense will be marketing – print and online ads. As for ROI, if we do get it right, podcasts have some of the best response to advertising, so there is a potential for product placement. There is no pressure to monetize right away. We need to learn how to make our content accessible without trivialising it.
You were at the Delhi edition of our workshop, what was that experience like?
The Delhi workshop was a great experience, especially the opportunity to meet with international journalists who shared their experience of converting ideas into real projects. This is what inspired me to go ahead with our own idea. The free follow-up support after the session was also useful as it helped us refine our approach. For example, creating episodic content and seasons is something we’ve never done before.
Thank you George! See you at the Chennai workshop.