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Lenfest Institute: A look into VTDigger’s Podcast Operation

Following up its solid overview on WBUR and The Boston Globe’s Season Ticket (which I digged into a little further here), the Lenfest Institute’s Solution Sets newsletter recently turned its attention to how the Vermont non-profit news outfit VTDigger has adapted its podcast strategy since launching an audio effort in 2016.

The breakdown, written by Anh Nguyen, is super useful, particularly for the look it provides into the guts of a small independent news operation that’s thinking through an emerging product line: VTDigger’s website is described to average over 300,000 unique views per month — presumably a mixture of in-state and diaspora audiences — while each episodes of its flagship podcast, The Deeper Dig, averages between 8,000 to 10,000 downloads. (The hosting platform is not identified, so you’d want to control for that.) For reference, the official 2017 count of Vermont’s population is slightly over 620,000 people, and according to BroadbandNow, 86% of the state has broadband coverage.

Something I’ve always grappled with when thinking about local news podcasting: what is the best role that podcasts can play as an extension of a local news organization? Should it mostly perform a distributional function — that is, should its primary purpose be to disseminate the fine journalism done by the newsroom — or is it more efficient to fashion it out as a special project unit, with a view towards creating an investment that may function well within the emerging podcast industry? What balance can be struck between those two models?