The concept behind WBUR’s “Coronavirus, Briefly,” or CVB, is not novel. “Pop-up” news products are becoming commonplace. What is different is how we executed it.
In early March 2020, WBUR was witnessing a demand for consistent, trustworthy local news about the coronavirus pandemic. The three-person Project CITRUS team, which pilots digital-first audio, decided we could leverage the great reporting coming out of the newsroom and experiment with a local, short-form audio product for digital platforms – RSS, the web, voice assistants, etc. At the time, KNKX’s “Transmission” was the only public radio product focused on local coverage. We felt we could stand out with our local focus and bite-size, three-minutes-or-fewer briefing format.
From the outset, we knew production had to be light and easily replicable. We gravitated toward a three-story approach: a lede that was generally the day’s top local coronavirus story thread, plus two supporting stories. We sought to find balance between officials like Gov. Charlie Baker and first-person stories that allowed us to hear from people experiencing the pandemic. Due to the rapidly updating nature of the story, weekday releases made the most sense.
As time passed and the situation developed, we adapted to make the strongest local news product. We cut the data summary in the outro. To add texture, we switched from a single host to curated repurposing of WBUR newscast spots, playing to our local-news strengths. This simplified production and helped envelop listeners in the WBUR “warm blanket.” We also created “micro-segments” out of audio features too long for our format.
As with most audio-first content during the pandemic, each episode since CVB’s launch in late March 2020 has been produced remotely. We created a workflow from scratch, with contingency plans to allow for the challenges of at-home audio production. We record over the phone each weekday, from three different locations.
While one could call CVB a “podcast” in terms of format and distribution strategy, it leans more “newscast” when it comes to content and sound. Even though the pace of pandemic news in Boston has slowed, we reliably produce a worthwhile three minutes of CVB each weekday. We recently released our 100th episode; however, we are prepared to end CVB once it is no longer useful to its local audience, taking with us the lessons learned.