December 5, 2019

Last month, public media organization PRX released a series of 10 instructional videos, called Podcasting 101. We produced the videos alongside Google Podcasts as part of the Google Podcasts creator program, and they’re intended to train and support early stage podcasters around the world.

A core value underscored in PRX’s approach to training podcasters is to ask a really fundamental question: Who are you trying to reach? We turned our approach on ourselves when we imagined our ideal viewer. We thought of someone who likes podcasts and who’s wondered if they might be able to make one, as these videos encourage early stage podcasters to take the leap. We also baked in a few words of caution. It’s easy for anyone to make a podcast, but challenging to make money at it. Feasibility and viability remain challenges for many early stage creators.

To prepare the podcasters and producers we train to face hurdles head-on, we’ve adopted a framework based on design thinking. We encourage them to think deeply about who they’re creating their podcast for and to adopt a process of constant prototyping and iteration. While Podcasting 101 offers technical know-how, techniques of audio storytelling and the actual logistics of getting a podcast out into the world, the videos also explore core mindsets of human-centered design. In the very first episode, the hosts urge viewers to interrogate their “why” and to think hard about their target listener.

In Episode Two, one host encourages viewers not to wait to make an (imperfect) pilot and to instead seek feedback from family and friends. And we dedicated most of the final episode to words of encouragement to the effect of “Keep at it.”

This video series, offered free via YouTube and translated into five languages — Spanish, French, Portuguese, Hindi and Arabic — offers concrete information and best practices to aspiring podcasters everywhere on topics ranging from the nitty-gritty of recording to thinking about monetization.

We invited influential podcasters Luvvie Ajayi and Sean Rameswaram to serve as the faces of the project. They’re role models in a genre that rewards hustle, experimentation and deep engagement with listeners. What’s more, they’re each doing incredible work in two different formats: Ajayi in her chat-casts and interview shows “Rants & Randomness” and “Jesus & Jollof,” and Rameswaram in “Today, Explained,” Vox Media’s daily news podcast.

For the scripts, my team condensed our most crucial advice into three to five minutes of content per episode. Our goal was to make the series engaging, informative and easy to watch in one sitting or to return to over time as needed. Best-practice podcasting advice often differs depending on who you ask. To ensure our advice is comprehensive, we enlisted PRX’s deep organizational knowledge, calling on our in-house experts in tech, hosting, publishing and more.

Ajayi and Rameswaram also brought their own hard-won knowledge to the process. During the script-writing process, they contributed examples from their shows. Ajayi spoke passionately about the techniques she uses in interviews, and the magic of going on an unexpected journey with a guest. Rameswaram, whose roots are in public radio, recalled the experience of hearing from listeners of “Sideshow,” the podcast he produced for the public radio show “Studio 360,” and realizing others were interested in the sometimes-niche things he cared about, and through that experience, finding a new community.

So why create this training tool for global audience? PRX partnered with Google last year to develop and run the Google Podcasts creator program, a training program and accelerator for budding podcasters around the world, with the aim of removing barriers to podcasting while increasing the diversity of voices in the industry. Over the course of the program, during open calls for applications, we heard from more than 10,000 podcasters representing more than 100 countries working in dozens of languages. We were continually amazed by the bold, urgent ideas we received in pitches, and by the passion and excitement for getting started in the industry. But we also saw how needed a tool like Podcasting 101 was: a free, trusted and actionable resource for a global community.

Also through that application process, and with the input of members of our Advisory Committee, we identified India, Brazil, the Middle East and France as particular areas where networks are forming and listeners are beginning to seek out content, even if they may not yet have had their “Serial” moment like the United States did in 2014. We also noted the rise of Spanish-language podcasting internationally. This helped us to identify the Podcasting 101 languages. (Through the 20-week intensive training portion of the Google Podcasts creator program, we’ve also worked closely with podcasters from most of these areas.)

Launching a podcast is only the beginning. Building a community of listeners while constantly improving is the real work.

We often say podcasting is a lonely business. We also know that a series of videos can’t replace the support and camaraderie offered by an ongoing training program. But if the Podcasting 101 series does its job, it’ll provide new voices with the tools they need to get started building communities of their own. At PRX, we’re committed to the open nature of podcasting. We want to see more voices that aren’t traditionally heard in media reaching audiences that aren’t traditionally served.

Kerry Donahue is the director of training at public media organization PRX, where she oversees training initiatives for podcasters and audio producers of all experience levels across the United States and around the world. Formerly the director of the radio program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Donahue’s work has been heard on programs produced by PRX, NPR, WNYC, and more. She recommends you check out podcasts incubated in the Google Podcasts creator program including “AfroQueer,” “Who Taught You How to Drive?!,” and “Copper & Heat.” 

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