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Podcasters Take Stock On Where Podcasting And Media Should Go In 2024.

Podcasting needs to “become bionic” in 2024 as it looks to adapt. That is one of the industry year-end assessments being made in Nieman Lab’s annual journalism prediction portfolio for the coming year.

Joni Deutsch, VP of Podcast Marketing and Audience Development at The Podglomerate, says that 2023 may have been a “a year of contradictions” with layoffs and cutbacks, but it also brought listener growth and higher advertising revenue while solid journalism was still able to thrive on many series. And she is optimistic about the year to come.

“Even though the audio industry is clearly going through its own version of a ‘bubble burst,’ we can rebuild it,” Deutsch writes in an essay. “We have the technology. We have the capability to make podcasting better, stronger, and faster than it was before – not just for ourselves, but also for our listeners.”

Deutsch says that means getting back to taking “creative risks and giant audio leaps” for the sake of listeners, not making money. “In 2024, we need to reframe what we do (and how we do it) to get back to that foundational element of this medium,” she says. But Deutsch’s bionic outlook, with a tip to 1970s television shows, may be most closely aligned with her assessment that the industry needs to embrace artificial intelligence to more quickly produce shows at a lower cost.

“AI cannot replace the power of people, particularly in a medium that is truly made possible by the intimacy of human thought and experience,” Deutsch writes. “What AI can do is help optimize our work as podcast creators, editors, marketers, and beyond.”

After podcasting experienced its first year of widespread layoffs in its two-decade history, Deutsch predicts there will be a bigger push toward unionization in 2024 and expects to see more worker-ownership co-op models to take root.

Alarm Bell For Public Media

Nowhere has the squeeze of economic realities been felt more in podcasting than in public media, where layoffs and show cancellations have some questioning its role in the medium’s future. But Kerri Hoffman, CEO of PRX, writes in her Neiman Lab essay, that public media has no option but to embrace podcasting.

“While terrestrial public radio will continue as a significant medium, the gravitational pull toward digital is undeniable,” says Hoffman. “The greatest risk facing public radio lies in the peril of inaction.”

Hoffman thinks public media outlets should stop gauging the success of their podcasting business to public radio’s longstanding business model. Doing so, she says, will result in overlooking the full potential of podcasting.

“Failure to transform public radio into a more digitally robust form, such as podcasts, could result in unexplored revenue opportunities, suboptimal network effects, redundant services, audience fragmentation, and a missed connection with younger audiences and inclusive opportunities,” she says.

Hoffman also thinks that local public radio stations “bear considerable risk” when it comes to things like distribution and monetization, but says improved digital infrastructure should improve their collective success in the years ahead.

Public Media Needs An Overhaul

The biggest player in public media podcasting remains NPR and it will go through a leadership change in the coming months as President John Lansing retires. Kristen Muller, Chief Content Officer at “LAist 89.3” KPCC Los Angeles and Southern California Public Radio thinks whomever takes over will face digital transformation as their biggest challenge.

“Listeners are on the move. The pandemic permanently disrupted their habits. Fewer people are listening to the broadcast signal, and that means there aren’t as many people to donate,” she writes in her Nieman Lab essay designed as an “open letter” to the new NPR head. Muller says the new NPR leadership should think of the network as both a B2B and B2C company and restructure accordingly.

“The public radio system needs to be overhauled,” writes Muller. “Every story that lives only in a newscast or feature spot is a story that never finds an audience beyond who was listening at that moment. NPR needs to bring a laser focus to strengthening the local news stations who have the potential to be the most trusted messengers in their communities — but not if they’re only reaching the existing rapidly shrinking broadcast audience.” She says there also needs to be a rallying of the public media troops, adding it is a “tough time to be a journalist.”

The Role Of Escapism

Eric Nuzum, cofounder of the production company and consultancy Magnificent Noise, says that even though podcast has had a “rough year” the basic reason people listen to podcasts and digital audio remains unchanged.

“They listen to escape,” he says, explaining that can be escaping the day’s news or just to stretch their minds in new directions. “Listeners remain smart and interested in learning more, or are just looking for some fun or an intriguing point of view — but they still see it as a break from what the world is throwing at them that day.”

In his Nieman Lab essay, Nuzum says that as the presidential election fills headlines this year, he advises producers to keep escapism in mind. “While our work to cover the election is essential,” he says. “So is using our skills to serve our audience’s need to think about something else, feel something else, be challenged by something else, and make the world feel a little smaller, more connected, and maybe even less complicated.”

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