Six tips for breaking into podcasting

GroundTruth's award winning podcast is accepting submissions for an audio story to include in its podcast season. (Photo by Ben Martens. Courtesy of Qainat Khan)

This column originally appeared in Navigator, GroundTruth’s newsletter for early-career journalists. You can subscribe to Navigator here

Milan Polk is guest editor of this edition of Navigator. She’s an Emma Bowen and Democracy Fund fellow with The GroundTruth Project. As a huge fan of podcasts, she was interested in learning how early-career journalists can break into the industry. She spoke with Nina Porzucki, managing producer of podcasting at WGBH in Boston. Here are Nina’s tips. 

1. Get some clips. 

Whether it’s just one story or a whole show, Nina says it’s important to have examples of your audio work.

“I think really it’s about going and making things and getting the skills,” she says. “It’s hard without audio clips to convince someone in an established space that they can trust in your skills and your sensibilities, so if you have stuff that you’ve just made, that’s helpful.”

Nina’s break came during a long drive listening to PRI’s The World in Words, a podcast on language hosted by Patrick Cox. She loved the segment “Eating Sideways,” which was about words that are untranslatable to other languages.

“There’s a word that my grandmother always used, and I pitched him that word, and he got back to me and he said, ‘Yeah I don’t have time to do this, this is great. If you want to go out and report it, I’ll listen to it, no guarantees it’ll go on the podcast,’” Nina recalls.

“I sent it to him and he said, ‘Yeah it isn’t half bad,’ and then he put it on the podcast, so things worked out from there.” Flash forward, Nina ended up co-hosting and co-producing the podcast with Patrick.

2. Pay for a formal training program.

“They’re good for both skill set and plugging you into a network right away of people who help one another, sort of passing along work and all sorts of other opportunities,” says Nina.

Nina recommends Transom in Massachusetts (they also have traveling workshops and a scholarship fund), the Salt Institute at Maine College of Art and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

3. Work with an editor. 

Going out on your own is great experience, but Nina also stresses the importance of pitching stories and working with an experienced editor.

“There’s a lot of room to work on shows that you like, even if it’s just one episode,” says Nina. “It’s really fun to work with an editor, especially someone who’s working in audio for years and can help you shape your story.”

4. Be easy to work with. 

When applying for jobs or pitching story ideas, editors need to trust that you can create great content, but also work well with others.

If Nina is looking at a potential candidate, she wants to make sure they can meet deadlines and be creative, consistent, communicative, easy to work with and open to edits and advice.

“People that are easy to work with, that deliver on time and deliver what they say they’re going to deliver. If you have faith in their journalistic abilities, it goes a long way,” says Nina.

5. Imitate what you like. 

When listening to podcasts, Nina isn’t just enjoying the episode, she’s learning. She remembers listening to the opening episode of The New York Times’ “Caliphate” podcast and was blown away.

“Besides just listening to it and saying ‘this is amazing storytelling,’ I went back and said, ‘How did they do this?’ I listened again and again and diagramed, and then listen as a maker and try to pick apart how someone’s doing that,” says Nina. “In that, you can make yourself a better storyteller.”

6. Listen to podcasts. 

It may sound obvious, but in Nina’s experience, there are many journalists interested in podcasting who aren’t active listeners.

“I can’t stress enough that you just need to listen to a lot of different things,” says Nina. “I think that a lot of people want to get into podcasting but don’t actually listen to podcasts.”