In late June, NPR launched another daily news podcast. But instead of a fresh product push, this new project is actually a pivot from something that already exists. Coronavirus Daily, the daily podcast NPR launched on 18 March to cover the pandemic, is being rebranded as Consider This, an afternoon counterpart to its morning news podcast, Up First. As the name suggests, Consider This has close ties to All Things Considered, the organization’s flagship news radio show, with the four hosts of that show joining the roster for the podcast.
This is, to be sure, an unconventional way for a major publisher to launch a new product. “We think this is the first time we’ve done something like this,” Neal Carruth, NPR’s senior director of on-demand news programming, told me when we spoke last week. “We’re pretty confident that Coronavirus Daily was both the fastest launch in NPR history and the fastest growth audience of any podcast.” For the record, Coronavirus Daily was greenlit on a Thursday, with the first episode dropping six days later. Its audience would go on to grow by 56 percent in six weeks.
NPR was already working towards launching an afternoon news podcast when the pandemic started dominating attention in March. Indeed, it was to be the next show to drop in the organization’s ongoing push towards more short-form news podcast content that includes Up First, The Indicator from Planet Money, Shortwave, NPR Politics and Life Kit. Carruth contrasted this moment with when the impeachment proceedings began in December 2019 and many publishers created new, pop up podcasts in response. Then, NPR chose to make the NPR Politics podcast daily rather than start a new show. But for coronavirus, a new feed felt like the best way to meet the moment.
When Coronavirus Daily started publishing daily episodes, Carruth said, nobody had any idea how long it would run for. “At that point, who knew what would happen? It might have made sense to keep that up and running for a year or even two years.” Three and a half months on, the moment has changed, and the decision was made to broaden the show’s scope. “We’re hoping to still capture what people remember about how they got first introduced to Coronavirus Daily,” he explained.
Meeting this moment requires being more flexible in coverage, both because of what’s happening in the news, and because of a change in listenership data. “It started to become clear that the audiences were disengaging a little bit from the coronavirus story.” Carruth notes that by transitioning to the Consider This banner, the show will be able to cover things like the current debates over race and policing, the presidential election, and whatever lies ahead.
The original plan for the NPR afternoon podcast was always to tie it in with All Things Considered, and that’s still an important element of this new strategy to “elegantly crossfade” Coronavirus Daily into that show. As well as sharing hosts, the new podcast will also see a blend of production teams, with Coronavirus Daily’s Beth Donovan, Brent Baughman, Gabriela Saldivia, and Anne Li being joined by All Things Considered producers Lee Hale and Cara Tallo. It’s worth noting that Saldivia and Li are also members of the NPR One team, and they will likely bring audience insights from that work.
The intention, Carruth said, is that Up First and Consider This will compliment each other from either ends of the day. The latter is intended to be an afternoon deep dive, which will give a little bit more of an extended treatment of a single topic, though it will likely switch things up on the days where it makes more sense to cover multiple stories — or one story from multiple directions.
Avoiding duplication between the two podcasts will be key, because NPR wants listeners to tune into both shows, rather than choosing one or the other. I found this to be an interesting echo of the linear radio idea in the on demand space — rather than seeing Consider This solely as a standalone entity competing with other afternoon or evening drops, Carruth suggested that it should also appeal to Up First listeners who want to check in on the news again with NPR later in the day. “We think the audience will get a lot of value out of listening to both,” he said. The aim is to publish each daily episode of Consider This around 5pm EST, although that’s “flexible” while the team settle into the new schedule.
Just like the original creation of Coronavirus Daily, this transition plan has also come together very quickly, having been put together in the last few weeks. A big part of that is to avoid doing the same work twice, Carruth explained. “We’re trying not to build separate systems, but rather build onto the existing system… That includes the member station work — we’re making use of existing systems and sources to bring this work to a new audience,” he said. “It’s also a way to showcase the strength of the public radio system as a national local network.”
One side effect of 2020 so far that I’m finding fascinating is the deluge of previously unprecedented changes in established organisations. I suspect that if anyone had outlined this plan internally at NPR a year ago — to launch a new daily news show within a week, and then transition it into a new and permanent accompaniment to a flagship show three months later — there would not have been enthusiastic uptake for that strategy. And yet, here it is.