The death of a newspaper is a sad event, but when that paper is the iconic tabloid New York Daily News, it is a tragedy for journalism and for readers. In a decision that would have been unthinkable before the coronavirus pandemic, the newspaper’s parent company announced this week that it would stop printing and closing its physical newsroom. The Times described the move as a “disruptive, unprecedented step” and said that “in an increasingly digital world, a physical newsroom is no longer necessary to serve the needs of our audience.”
As the newspaper’s print edition dwindled in recent years, it moved online and experimented with different formats and platforms. In addition to its flagship website, the News published a weekly magazine and several podcasts, including the popular Crime Wave. It was also a leader in the development of virtual reality journalism, with an immersive documentary series called The Newswrap. Its long-running political columnists, such as Bill de Blasio and James Carroll, forged reputations for a mix of high-minded journalistic values and populist sensibilities.
In the last year, many publishers expanded their daily news offerings. The number of active daily news podcasts in the US and UK grew from an initial six to more than 100, led by a surge in launches from Australian publishers and the emergence of a new podcast ranker. The Guardian and Times of London also launched new shows, while the BBC and public broadcaster Radio France developed existing offerings.
These new podcasts range from the New York Times-inspired deep-dives to concise news round-ups and microbulletins aimed at smart speakers. Despite this wide variation in format and length, all show a strong focus on building habit and loyalty. While long podcasts tend to feature a host to establish a relationship with listeners, shorter offerings like news round-ups and microbulletins are primarily driven by content. Nevertheless, the identity of the podcast is clearly established through other elements such as musical stings and distinctive sound design.
Podcasting has grown rapidly in recent years, and daily news podcasts have been particularly successful during the coronavirus lockdowns. While there was an initial dip in listening during the crisis, interviews with publishers suggest that the format has held up far better than other genres and that advertising revenue is now back to pre-pandemic levels.
With the news that The Times of London is to launch a daily news podcast, the market for this type of show seems set to continue expanding. However, the success of shows such as Full Story – the podcast from The Times of London that is built around a single story – highlights the challenge for publishers to find a compelling narrative within the daily news landscape. Unless they can do so, daily news will remain a niche for the most dedicated and loyal of audio enthusiasts. For the rest, it will be another distraction among the ever-growing options for free content in an increasingly fragmented media environment.