Think you don’t have a voice for podcasting? That’s what Amber Hunt, a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer, had been told. When she recorded Accused, an investigation into an unsolved murder, she struggled to get used to the microphone and had to keep reminding herself to slow down. Then came the first reviews.
“They liked my damn voice!” Hunt says. Accused went on to become a smash hit; Hunt and producer Amanda Rossman are now working on the third season.
“This is my favorite kind of reporting because I can be transparent,” Hunt said at the 2018 Excellence in Journalism conference. Since each episode runs about 45 minutes, Hunt can include the steps she takes to verify information. “We let the listener know we put in the time and research, and you can trust what we’re telling you,” Hunt said.
Organization is key in this kind work, Hunt says. She color-coded every document and interview transcript; references to the day of the murder were in orange, for example. Then she decided what would go where writing the elements on large sheets of paper to make sure she didn’t reveal developments too soon. “I had to put it on the wall and visibly organize it all.”
For Sarah Delia, a reporter at WFAE public radio in Charlotte, North Carolina, a metaphor–a winding road–was her organizing principle.
Her podcast, She Says, tells the story of a sexual assault survivor’s quest for justice. As Delia follows the woman’s story, each episode is a stop on the road. That meant she had to map out what she wanted to reveal and when.
“Have a plan, believe in it, know your plan can change,” she advises.
Both Delia and Hunt had done almost all of the reporting before they started producing their podcasts. Hunt says that was essential to avoid misleading listeners. “When we were investigating I thought I had this solved and it was a red herring.”
When did each of them know the story could be a podcast?
Hunt remembers the precise moment when she learned the police had never followed up on a statement by the victim’s boss that he had gone to her house the night before the murder. “I can investigate because it hasn’t been done properly,” she decided.
Delia made her decision after people she told about the story found it really interesting. When she had a certain amount of tape she made a pilot episode and had her boss listen. That’s all it took to get a green light for the series.
“Break the clock,” she said. “Just make it.”
This post originally appeared on advancingthestory.com.
Deborah Potter is an experienced journalism trainer and reporter who spent 16 years as a network correspondent at CBS News and CNN. She is co-author of “Advancing the Story: Quality Journalism in a Digital World,” now in its fourth edition. She writes regularly about journalism on the Advancing the Story website. For almost 20 years, Deborah ran NewsLab, the journalism site she founded in 1998, which is now part of the University of Mississippi. Deborah leads workshops for journalists in newsrooms across the United States and around the world on writing, social media, digital journalism and ethics.