The (Digital) Radio Star Lives: PRX Launches Podcast Network for Story-Driven Journalism

radiotopia finalThis week, PRX announced the launch of Radiotopia, a podast network for story-driven journalism, backed in part by a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX, likens Radiotopia to an independent music label:

The analogy works in two ways. We’re trying to create a collective around a particular sound and approach in style so these artists, essentially, share an affinity for story driven, high quality audio inspired by public radio but designed for digital listening. And then role that the label ends up playing is one of marketing, distribution, promotion, sponsorship… and experiment with editorial collaboration, crowdfunding and so forth.

PRX has built mobile apps for podcasts such as This American Life,  The Moth, among many others, and plans on using Radiotopia to continue to learn and implement some ideas gained from their experience. Says Shapiro:

We are very interested in creating a feedback loop that gains from those insights and data and help improve not only PRX’s own tools for distribution and tactics but also becomes information that producers can start to use about better serving their audience. Radio for decades has honed ways of producing a broadcast, but in the world of producing for mobile listeners, we are still in very early days.

It may be early days, but story-driven journalism is certainly having a moment on the radio and in podcast form. And, unlike in print or on television, it’s somehow easier to make investigative journalism entertaining for broader audiences. Shapiro says exploring that space is inherent in PRX’s mission:

There’s a spot between making sure that we’re doing informative, mission driven journalism but still aiming for a broad audience with something thats extremely engaging and high quality and entertaining and well produced…it’s about finding that spot. 

In addition to Radiotopia, PRX launched Reveal  this fall, in partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting, which has already done segments on the VA and prescription pills and a profile on an attorney who represents “bad charities.” It’s good stuff — but it needs an audience and a business model. Shapiro thinks it’s a good time to find one:

Interestingly, the technology which ordinarily would be seen as disruptive, has converged to take some of what public radio is best at and translate it to the digital age. Things like crowdfunding? That’s public radio — the heart and soul of it. High quality content offered for free? …There are a lot of things that are in in the DNA of public radio that make a ton of sense in internet terms. A major challenge is the structure of the incumbent industry and how the business model works. That’s one the purposes of Radiotopia,  to be a place where we test out new versions of how that could work.

Radiotopia launches with popular podcasts such as 99% Invisible, Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything, Fugitive Waves, among many others you can check out here. Add them to your playlist now, or better, tell a friend.

Are you on the podcast or public radio bandwagon? Any good journalism we should be listening to?