Helping your audience build a customised audio news service

By VoxPop co-founder, Peter Fowler

Put an "Add To Playlist" button next to individual reporter stories and let your audience create customized news bulletins.

Listeners to flagship radio shows such as NPR’s Morning Edition will be familiar with a format of lots of shorter stories selected by editors. But what if the audience could select the news stories to create their own personalised news bulletin?

For me, the appeal is that I can avoid news I do not want to hear, such as stories about rugby. If rugby leads a news bulletin, I will stop listening to the entire bulletin.  There is no other option to avoid it. The radio station has lost me.

It is no wonder the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found in its annual Digital News Report 2022 that 38% of respondents said they often or sometimes avoid the news – up from 29% in 2017. Around 36% – particularly those under 35 – say the news lowers their mood.

If I created my own news playlist from a radio newsroom’s content menu, I would be more likely to consistently listen to it and less likely to avoid the news, because I am in control of what I am listening to, not some rugby mad subeditor.  

The idea of customizable news bulletins is not new. Google has tried with its algorithm-customized briefing on Google assistant, retreating instead to the industry default of publishing news bulletins designed for radio broadcast. Customisation consists of pre-programming a number of bulletins to run together, such as RNZ, NPR, BBC.

But what if you could split those bulletins apart into a series of stand-alone stories, and instead the audience is able to choose which of those stories they want to include in their news playlist. 

There is no audio news service we can find that takes it down to this micro level, so we have built one.

One reason Google struggled is because it is an aggregator and the type of content needed - individual audio stories - is generally not available to be robotically vacuumed up and reorganised. This is still a job that requires the unique skills of journalists, sub editors and editors. So journalists have an opportunity to shape how this technology evolves. 

For a radio newsroom, particularly large ones or a cooperative of newsrooms, there is a large and constant flow of short audio news items being produced for news bulletins and news shows such as All Things Considered. These include the 30 second reporter voicers for bulletins, a 3 minute package for Morning Edition, the raw interview you did with the newsmaker or a speech you recorded to write a story from.

Our solution is to publish all this content into the platform and then let the audience create their own news playlists.

At the moment the audio work by the journalist is for radio news bulletins and programmes. Uploading this finished product to a customizable audio news platform would extend the reach and usefulness of the audio story and create an entirely new product from existing output. Material which audiences never usually hear due to radio space constraints, such as the full interview with the newsmaker, can be uploaded to the platform as well.

Not limited to hourly bulletins, reporters can file updates quickly, directly into the apps in studio quality. 

Add in audience and newsmaker comments and related audio stories and you create the ability for users to create in-depth news playlists based on their interests. All this adds up to a better informed public and greater time spent engaging directly with your brand.

The audience will still be exposed to all the news the newsroom is producing, because they scroll a wire of latest stories looking for content to add to their playlist. I would still see a story blurb about rugby, but can just scroll on by.

Our system to personalise audio news doesn't rely on algorithms and robots that spy on you.  It respects peoples’ privacy and puts the power of news consumption in the hands of the public.  

Many newsroom journalists already understand the way they have done things since radio began is dying, and the way to preserve their craft and important role in society is to create new digital platforms that meet modern expectations. Better they help shape this change, than a technology company that is not interested in journalism and instead designs a system to mine and sell your audiences’ personal data. 

Once the newsroom is on board, you start adding content as fast as you can providing a constant stream of audio content the audience can select for their news playlist.

It may take a daily journalist three hours to conduct interviews, process and write them into a bulletin story and perhaps a longer news show package. Adding the finished product - the news story - to an app by uploading or recording it directly would add very little time or effort to the story production process but add tremendous value to your new audio platform. 

You will have created a revolutionary new way for audiences to consume your content.

If your newsroom is interested in exploring this concept with us, please get in touch: peter.fowler@voxpop.nz