Daily news podcasts are nothing new. The New York Times launched The Daily in 2017, just a couple months before NPR dropped Up First, aimed at getting the three biggest stories of the day in everyone’s feeds before 6 a.m. Eastern time. Both routinely appear on Apple’s Top 10 podcasts chart, proving that listeners are hungry for and interested in smart, bite-sized glimpses into the issues of the day.
It’s part of WNYC’s move toward editorial synergy, says Audrey Cooper, editor in chief and SVP of news at New York Public Radio. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve really been working very hard to think of ourselves as a multiplatform newsroom,” says Cooper. “We have the venerable WNYC brands and Gothamist, and NYC Now is really part of a much larger strategy to bring together all of the things that we do well to ensure that we’re truly serving the public on multiple platforms, where they want to be, and with news that they want to get.”
Officially launched April 27, NYC Now stands apart from something like Up First in part because of its format, which aims to keep listeners informed throughout the day. Released thrice daily — around 6:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. — NYC Now comes in three- to 10-minute chunks, all sourced from features, two-ways and newscasts that the WNYC newsroom produces for broadcast. The morning and midday segments are taken unedited from live broadcasts.
Cooper views NYC Now as both a stand-alone product and a companion piece to shows like Consider This and Up First. A perk of NYC Now’s bite-sized length, she says, is that listeners can absorb it however they see fit, not unlike the way someone might click on their radio for five or 10 minutes at a time.
“There’s so many newscasts throughout the day, and if I happen to be in the shower or making breakfast for my kid, I can very easily miss one,” says Cooper. “The great thing about NYC Now is that it works in any time period, like whenever you’re commuting, whenever you’re going to lunch, or whenever you’re coming home at night.”
Giving broadcast segments a longer tail
Though the idea of a hyperlocal daily podcast had been floating around WNYC for a bit, things really kicked into high gear once Kenya Young joined WNYC Studios as SVP. In her previous role at NPR, she’d served as EP of Morning Edition and Up First, so she and Cooper would occasionally chat about what the latter calls “that early-morning itch that people have for information” and how a product like Up First had come to resonate with listeners.
Late last summer, WNYC hired Ave Carrillo, a public radio veteran who was most recently at the New Yorker Radio Hour. She came to her new role as EP of local podcasts full of ideas about how to use podcasting both to give listeners what they want and to highlight the station’s more impactful and time-consuming reporting, which can get lost in the constantly moving news stream.
“Our newsroom is creating all this work, and it didn’t make sense that we weren’t actually taking some of that work and putting it up in the podcast realm,” she says. “It seemed so necessary to me to provide our listeners with a place where, if they aren’t able to catch the newscast, then they could have a place to actually listen to what’s happening in their community.”
WNYC has one other full-time staffer who works on both NYC Now and Consider This alongside Carrillo. In the future, Carrillo says, she expects NYC Now to feature unique content that hasn’t already aired on broadcast, including an in-depth piece slated for this summer. For now, though, the station is playing with the show’s format, seeing what works and how people receive and absorb the product.
Though it’s still early days, Carrillo says she’s been surprised to see how many people seem to download and listen to all three episodes in the evenings. Some episodes are still being downloaded and listened to days after their release, giving them a longer tail than the team at WNYC had expected.
“The whole thing is a big experiment,” says Carrillo. “We’ve only just really opened up our doors, and if we realize, ‘Look, this isn’t really going to work,’ then we should switch it up. But right now, we like the idea of being able to respond to news that’s updating throughout the day.”
Episodes have so far included everything from in-depth reporting on a Brooklyn resident who had been “un-deported” from Guyana to weather highlights to a look at the negotiations that led to the state’s recently finalized budget. “The podcast is just a little bit of information, and then if someone’s like ‘What is happening here?’ they can go learn more,” Carrillo says.
Eyes on ‘the long-term win’
So far, Cooper says, the response to NYC Now has “blown away” the station’s expectations. Listeners are returning to the product, and some avid WNYC listeners even found and subscribed to the show before its official launch. The station says the show has already attracted “a ton of demand” for underwriting, much of which will be geotargeted to the NYC audience.
“At the end of the day, if it’s quality work, that’s what keeps people coming back and grows the WNYC audience over time,” Cooper says. “We can’t look at these short-term wins and value them more than the long-term win, because I think in the long term NYC Now is going to be a platform that will help keep WNYC in everybody’s phone, on all of their smart speakers, in their houses, and in their ears.”
Carrillo agrees, saying she thinks it’s a win any time she can help share the work coming out of the WNYC newsroom on as many platforms as possible.
“With NYC Now, we’re not changing the content of what’s on air, we’re just changing the delivery system,” she says. “This podcast gives us a way to get those stories in front of as many people as possible, and in a way that’s as easy as possible.”