Issue 252,  published March 31, 2020

El hilo: A New Spanish Language News Podcast

The work must go on.

Last Friday saw the launch of a new podcast from the team at Radio Ambulante: El hilo, a Spanish-language weekly news show focused on covering Latin America and the US. The podcast, they say, is designed to deliver stories in a style similar to Radio Ambulante, but grounded in a newsier approach.

Hosted by Eliezer Budasoff and Silvia Viñas, El hilo is making its debut in a most anxious time, as the world grapples with a pandemic that’s further exacerbated by streams of misinformation. The first episode, as you would imagine, dives headfirst into the mess, and will likely continue to do so across its opening weeks.

To learn more about the show’s development process, and what it means to launch a new podcast during this specific moment in time, I sent a couple of questions over to Viñas, who also serves as the show’s executive producer.

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Hot Pod: Walk me through the basics. What is El hilo, what is it being built to do, and what should I know about its production context?

Silva Viñas: El hilo is a weekly show that covers the most important news of the week, from a Latin American perspective. Every Friday morning on El hilo, we’ll speak to reporters, Radio Ambulante contributors, and other voices from the region, focusing on the most significant news story of the week.

It’s hosted by Eliezer Budasoff, former editorial director at The New York Times en Español, currently editor for special projects at El País, and me, Silvia Viñas, a journalist, editor and producer who has been with Radio Ambulante for seven years. I’m also El hilo’s Executive Producer. We’ve learned a lot in the last 9 years making Radio Ambulante, and we want to bring those lessons and that style of storytelling to the news. This is going to sound new in Latin America, where shows like this just don’t exist. We think the audience is going to respond.

El hilo is also the second podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, more urgent and newsy, than our flagship podcast. There are currently no podcasts in Spanish with a regional vision that report on timely news events using narrative storytelling, scoring, and archive. El hilo is a response to that but also to the need for more context, analysis and understanding of news from Latin America and the Spanish speaking world.

El hilo will be hosted and distributed by Acast, and they will manage the relationship with sponsors. Acast has led the way in podcasting for years, and have developed a marketplace for podcast advertising that was appealing for us. Not only does Acast have a strong presence in the US, but also in a number of countries in Europe and Asia, and has recently opened an office in Mexico City. We felt Acast was the right platform for us, in part because they share the global vision that characterizes Radio Ambulante.

Radio Ambulante Estudios is a non-profit organization and receives foundation support. Not all of our revenue comes from philanthropy (we’ve developed products like Lupa, for example, our language learning app, that are starting to bring in significant revenue), but we were able to find a couple of grants to support the development of the project and make it a reality.

HP: I’ve heard that El hilo has been in development for about a year. What went into that process?

Viñas: When Carolina and Daniel began thinking about building Radio Ambulante the podcast into Radio Ambulante Estudios, a production company with multiple shows, they were convinced that a news show should be the next project.

We did multiple audience surveys and knew that our audience wanted more shows, and that there was an emerging regional consciousness. People in Latin America were curious about what exactly was happening, not just in their country, but in neighboring countries as well.

Early last year, we started developing the podcast with The New York Times as a way to dive deep into the region’s stories with their NYT en Español team and Spanish-speaking correspondents. We hired a producer and a sound designer and piloted several episodes during the summer of 2019. Unfortunately, when the Times decided to close operations for their Español team in September, the partnership didn’t make much sense anymore, so both organizations agreed to terminate the contract. The Times agreed that Radio Ambulante could continue developing the show independently, but of course, for a small organization like Radio Ambulante, it represented a big challenge.

Still, by then we had a show we were proud of and a committed and talented team working from New York, Mexico City, London and Berlin. We knew that we needed to launch the podcast independently. It took us over 6 months to develop the product side and distribution strategy, and to secure a couple of grants to make it a reality.

HP: I imagine it’s a strange time to be putting something new out into the world, particularly if it’s not specifically coronavirus-related. Has that been weighing on your mind?

Viñas: It’s a fraught time to launch a new product, honestly. But we’re a mission driven organization and in some ways, Covid-19 has clarified that mission for us. We need better and more rigorous reporting about this unprecedented crisis. We need it desperately in Spanish, for US Latino communities and for Latin America, where the response has varied widely from country to country, and where the public health systems are not, generally speaking, so robust. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that at times like these good journalism can save lives.

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You can find the podcast here. New episodes will drop every Friday morning.

I run this thing.