The New York Times isn’t short on ambition when it comes its now signature podcast, “The Daily.”
The latest signal is the promotion of Theo Balcomb, who has been named executive producer of the podcast and audio news, a new position, after serving as managing producer for “The Daily” since its 2017 launch. In her new role, Balcomb will aim to grow the audience of the podcast, which has doubled in median downloads year-over-year and now has around 1.7 million listeners a day, along with the Times’ overall presence in the audio space.
Recently there’s been the launch of flash news briefings and a daily news quiz on voice speakers enabled with Amazon’s Alexa and a partnership with American Public Media now has “The Daily” on 150 stations across the country after starting early last year with only 16 stations. But Balcomb is ambitious about “The Daily” and its ability to draw listeners, even if she isn’t working with a specific goal in mind.
“I don’t think there’s a ceiling for the number of listeners we can get,” she said, not scoffing at the suggestion of 10 million someday. “There are many more people out there who would benefit from it, maybe people who don’t think news is for them or they just think it’s biased or wrong.”
The APM partnership, in particular, is set to expand and Balcomb said bringing the podcast to the radio, despite the irony, has been one of the most successful avenues to get “The Daily” to people who are not in a typical market for the newspaper, or for podcasts in general.
“We get feedback from folks, we have an email inbox, saying, ‘I don’t understand what a podcast is, but I like this,’” Balcomb said. “We’re also getting feedback [from APM] that we’re an exceptionally fast-growing show in their offerings. We’re coming up on a year and the idea that we would have been on 150 stations [in that time] is something unusual.”
As for the how the more recent foray into the world of voice speakers is faring, Balcomb wouldn’t give specifics but said it’s “going well” and that the metric for success, right now, is how often people who listen to a briefing or engage with the news quiz then choose to play “The Daily.”
“It’s a small but growing sector of our work,” Balcomb said of voice speakers. “We’re seeing a lot of people interacting with the news quiz and it’s a nice sort of training ground for us to understand how people interact with voice.”
But what is it about “The Daily” (last year the most downloaded podcast on Apple’s platform) that is so appealing to people? For Balcomb, it goes beyond the fact that the roughly 20-minute episodes are an accessible, digestible and sensible breakdown of daily news. It’s the fact that the show is all of that during a time when the news itself has scarcely been more fraught and incessant and that radio and podcasts tend to produce a more intimate listening experience.
“It’s the unique connection you get when you’re listening to somebody like this,” Balcomb said. “Listeners get an overwhelming feeling when they try to engage with what’s going on and having [a destination] every morning, it’s a comfort: ‘I know I can get the information I need and I’ll feel soothed and I won’t have to wade in the muck of other stuff that feels like too much.’”
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