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June 4, 2024

BBC newsroom stars reveal how they like to ‘chill out’ on podcasts

A panel of prominent BBC staff say podcasting is changing their relationships with the audience.

By Bron Maher

A panel of high-profile BBC journalists have revealed how they enjoy the chattier style of podcasts but also warned it can go too far.

Today presenters Nick Robinson, Amol Rajan and Justin Webb as well as Newscast presenter Adam Fleming and disinformation and social media correspondent Marianna Spring told The Podcast Show in London that there is a risk getting used to podcasting can lead to a lack of discipline on live radio.

Robinson said: “It is, in a sense, narrow. We invite people to join our club. You have to press the button in order to listen to it.”

He argued that whereas radio is enmeshed with people’s everyday habits, audiences that listen to podcasts “are choosing to be with you. And I think that gives you permission to stop, if you like, impersonating what you think other people are who are broadcasters.

“I think the worst thing in our business is people impersonating what they think broadcasters are meant to do and sound like.

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“And I think podcasting liberates you to have more of a conversation, to be less stuffy, less formal… more open about what you don’t know about what and what you do.”

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[Read more: Nick Robinson interview: Whatever happened to broadcast news impartiality?]

Younger audiences brought in by more personal approach, says Marianna Spring

Adam Fleming, who presents the BBC’s daily Newscast, agreed, saying: “To get taken seriously as a young — or young-looking — broadcaster… you’re putting on a performance by putting on a weird voice and not being yourself.

“And then you’re like — well, hang on, the great broadcasters are the people who are themselves and have broken the mould and don’t put on a fake news voice.

“And so you can only get so far by performing — you’ve got to really be yourself… the great thing about what’s happening in broadcasting and podcasting is everyone’s just chilling out about how you look and sound, and that’s great for audiences because it means you’re just going to hear more people who are just good broadcasters.”

Marianna Spring, a BBC podcast presenter and disinformation and social media correspondent said: “One thing I get a lot of messages about is people saying: ‘I love it because I feel like you’re talking to me and I’m coming with you as you uncover, analyse and show’ — and I think increasingly there’s an appetite for that, particularly from a younger audience who are used to watching Youtubers or listening to podcasts or just engaging with an audience on social media who don’t put on any kind of facade of, like, ‘this is us being proper’.”

Amol Rajan: ‘Because there are so many incredible stories… it’s really people that you follow’

Today presenter Amol Rajan said: “To cut through you do need to go all in on trying to create that personal connection and relationship.

“On the Today programme we are very, very, very mindful it’s about the news, it’s not about us. There’s a bit on the Today podcast — we do a little moment of the week, which is sometimes a personal one, it often involves my children. And there is a little bit of a sense that you can use a bit more of yourself to create a connection with people. 

“I’m a podcast fanatic, I listen to zillions of them every single week… increasingly, because there are so many incredible stories… it’s really people that you follow. And we’ve got an ability to do that, especially when you take the piss out of Nick, on our podcast, in a way that I wouldn’t dare to on the Today programme.”

‘The danger is that you allow the enjoyment and looseness of podcasts to affect the discipline of live radio’

The journalists did discuss, however, the limits of this approach.

Rajan said: “There are people who’ve been listening to Today’s subject since Jack de Manio and Brian Redhead, whoever it might be — you do expect the weather at a certain time and the radio forward trail and the sport…

“The danger is that you allow the enjoyment and looseness of podcasts to affect the discipline of live radio. I’m very mindful we don’t want to take it too far. The Today programme is not a podcast.”

[Read more: Radio 4 Today at 60 — ‘There were many more reporters in the 1980s, the downside was they were all drunk’]

Justin Webb, another Today programme presenter who also fronts the BBC’s Americast podcast, welcomed podcasts but suggested they posed him some professional danger.

“We’re hugely affected by podcasting,” he said. “I think our styles, the way we approach the programme — you wouldn’t want it any other way, but there isn’t any other way. We are genuinely looser, more relaxed than we would have been before podcasting became a thing.

“I mean certainly for me, I think doing Americast — Marianna quite often says to me when I’ve said something: ‘Justin, you can’t say that!’ She’s not being censorious, she’s saying that actually, I think at the BBC, we don’t do that sort of thing.

“But of course, when it’s recorded, you can say that, because it’s up to other people to judge what is and is not possible to be said [through editing]. 

“And I think that whole business of not doing stuff live leads us, actually, into a potential set of dangers presenting live. You go in all relaxed — ‘oh ho ho, let’s give this a bit of welly!’ — and then, hang on a second, it’s live! And you’ve just called so-and-so a so-and-so!”

In February the BBC’s complaints unit upheld a complaint against Webb after he used the phrase “trans women, in other words males” during a Today programme discussion about mooted gender segregation guidelines in chess.

Webb did not refer directly to the incident, but told The Podcast Show audience: “You might have done [something un-broadcastable] on a podcast and they’d just laugh and screw it straight into the bin… So I think, as well as it being a real positive, frankly, I see it as a bit of a danger — particularly to me.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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