Audio Conference info

Maeve McClenaghan on how to create compelling stories in podcasts

Investigative journalist Maeve McClenaghan began The Tip Off two years ago. It began as a side project aimed at listeners behind the scene access to the process of researching and reporting a story. Each episode has a new journalist who takes the listener through their process from idea to publishing.

She joins the Well Told conference on Saturday giving a talk on how to create a compelling story in a podcast. She breaks it down into a few categories: format, tone, structure, recording, publishing and safety.

Most podcasts, she says, are done in people’s free time so she advises creators to “make sure the subject is something you’re passionate enough about.” Then you need to check your hypothesis works and check there’s a market for it. If the market has already been filled, how can you tell that story in a new way?

For format, Maeve highlights the length of the episode. Podcasts do give creators freedom of length, but Maeve advises, “people might not listen for an hour. I find 20-35 minutes works quite nicely for me.” Only include what is necessary.

The tone of the podcast might not have to be the obvious choice. Maeve highlights the Mystery Show for its whimsical tone. She says, “It’s a great example of how even with subjects that aren’t completely serious, you can use narrative storytelling to build up the drama of it.”

Maeve highlights that again, you can get creative with the structure. She explains how linear isn’t always best. “Once I’ve got the story and someone’s told me what they did I think I could start them at the beginning, or I could drop them at this later point and show them how they got there.”

The location of where you record the podcast must also be considered. Maeve highlights the pros and cons of using a studio space compared to other locations. While a recording studio can produce clearer audio, it can be more stressful for a guest. If you are using a room elsewhere, consider how soundproof it is. Maeve suggests looking at rooms with thick curtains or bulky furniture to absorb sounds from outside.

To publish your podcast Maeve recommends the platforms: Libsyn, Soundcloud and Acast. She also recommends creating a cover image that is 1400 x 1400 pixels minimum for high quality.

When it comes to releasing your podcast Maeve says, “Everyone says weekly is better, but I do it fortnightly because weekly is hard.” Weekly works best as listeners get into a routine of expecting it on a certain day, however, don’t force it if it doesn’t work for you.

Maeve has three tips to get your podcast heard. She recommends launching with two or three episodes to give a sustainable impression. She then recommends emailing critics with a press release and hope it stands out in their inbox.

To generate and build an audience she suggests looking at Facebook groups for your speciality and promoting there, she explains “I think once you can get it in front of the right people and a buzz starts happening, that’s how you get your audience”.

She ends her talk on discussing the safety of your podcast. When discussing issues such as domestic violence, it’s important to protect your source by changing their names and sourcing actors for their voices. “You might need to take an additional responsibility of protection for them.” To cover yourself, she says to remember to stay within the law and should you publish any accusations, ensure the accused have had their right to reply.


Helpful podcasts:

For tone: Whimsical – Mystery Show, Rich storytelling – S Town, Human Voices – Dirty John

Structure: Twists – Criminal, Set Segments – Reply All/Heavyweight


Other helpful source for tech: Podcasters’ support group

Words by Corrie David