Remaining competitive in today’s digital landscape is something many outlets address. That means deciding how to retain audiences across video and digital content, engage readers on social media and keep podcast fans loyal.
For a while, podcasts seemed like a sure way to attract new audience members, despite the slightly archaic quality to the storytelling technique.
But recently, some stalwarts like BuzzFeed — which laid off most of its podcast staff and shut down its in-house studio last week to focus on video — have bowed out of the competition.
The USA Today Network, however, is combining the tradition of audio storytelling with the work coming out of its emerging tech team to launch a new AR-accompanied series called “The City.” On its first day live, "The City" was featured in Apple Podcasts’ “New and Noteworthy” listing.
“The City,” which won WNYC’s 2015 Podcast Accelerator competition that funded the pilot, is a long-form podcast that looks past the façade of modern cities to examine how power and corruption impact their landscapes.
Season one focuses on Chicago in the 1990s, as a waste hauler with mob ties creates an illegal dumping ground the size of a city block in North Lawndale, the city’s black, working-class neighborhood. Over the course of 10 episodes, the series unpacks the effects of environmental racism, politics and corruption on a local level.
The show is created, hosted and executive produced by journalist Robin Amer.
Working with its emerging tech team, USA Today built an AR component that takes fans to the site of the dumping grounds as they existed in 1992, including animation, archival photographs and ambient sound. Users see the North Lawndale dump grow, adding scale to the story — at its largest, the site rose to six stories and covered a vacant lot the size of 13 football fields.
The AR component is available on the USA Today App.
The USA Today Network has found ways to use its technologically enhanced storytelling to both drive revenue and connect with new audiences.
Kate Gutman, head of content ventures, USA Today Network, told Publishing Insider: “The City's audience tends to be younger consumers who are regular podcast listeners. It allows us to reach an entirely new audience with our investigative journalism.”
The USA Today Network is reaching these consumers through cross-platform promotion, including a story in USA Today about its launch and promotion through radio entities WBEZ and Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting. A distribution partnership with Wondery and digital billboards appearing across two train stations in an out-of-home campaign in Chicago, a first for the company, are also publicizing the podcast.
Sponsorships include SimpliSafe, Daily Harvest, Bombas and LinkedIn in the form of mid-roll ads.
The USA Today Network has seen its past VR and AR projects resonate with its audience, including “The Wall,” which won a Pulitzer Prize this year. Though the podcast market is overloaded, innovative storytelling could be the key to locking in a dedicated audience and pulling in revenue cross-platform.