How Publishers Can Use Audio to Drive Greater Audience Engagement

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Credit: Omar Medina Films from Pixabay

Social media and smartphones have made it easier for newsrooms to encourage and use user-generated content than ever before.

However, much of the material solicited from what NYU professor Jay Rosen called “people formerly known as the public” has focused on photographs or videos of current events. These can add color, flavor, and eyewitness media to a newsroom’s offering, but they also only scratch the surface. Audio is too often missing from this mix.

Here are four ways newsrooms can use audio to encourage greater engagement and audience participation.

Capture audio reviews

At the end of 2019, BBC Radio’s flagship program, Kermode and Mayo film review encouraged listeners to submit their own thoughts they saw via a 30-second audio recording. They then play the best of them on the air.

Image via Facebook

With covid closings reducing opportunities to visit the theater, the show has rotated to encourage listeners to comment on the movies you can watch at home.

This format is not only applicable to a radio show or podcast. Newsrooms can embrace this idea by showcasing audio clips, audience-submitted on a myriad of topics, on social media (using tools like Headliner and Audiogram which I have highlighted in a column previous) or on their website as pure audio files.

Platforms like SoundCloud make it easy to integrate audio across most platforms and CMSs.

Gather expert opinion thanks to voice memos

Newsrooms could also transcribe these audio submissions to create textual content for various platforms. This method of collecting information is particularly useful for sources in a hurry, juggle other obligations, or struggling with bad phone or Internet connections.

As a journalist and co-host of The Writers’ Co-op Podcast, Wudan yan shared, voice memos could also be used as a substitute for email interviews.


The speed and ease with which voice memos can be created can result in a rawer, more insightful contribution from a source. And as Bernardo Motta, an assistant professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, suggested, you can use transcription apps like Otter.ai to save time typing answers.

Most importantly, this approach can improve accessibility and participation by making it easier for people to interact who may be turned off by the way we traditionally seek to contribute to the journalism we produce.

This approach can make it easier to engage sources who might have difficulty providing written responses (perhaps for reasons related to language or literacy issues) to questions sent by email, to those who fear being interviewed by a reporter face to face and to people who don’t have time for a standard phone or in-person interview. The use of voice memos helps manage these concerns and empower the respondent by giving them more control over the journalistic process and their involvement in it.

Solicit questions and respond

About is one of the most popular public radio shows in the United States. Hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti and produced by WBUR in Boston. The show is distributed by American Public Media to more than 240 stations across the states. This actively encourages participation by voice mail, as well as social channels.

In January 2021, the show released a special five-minute podcast prompted by messages from listeners about the Capitol Riots.

Screenshot via WBUR website

Of course, radio stations, especially talk radio stations, have long since wanted entry of their audience on the phone. But this commitment doesn’t have to be alive, and About The use of voicemail reminds us that newspapers and other outlets can also use this technology for tips, presentations and comments.

Back in 2016, Journalism.co.ukCNN’s weekly podcast highlighted efforts by CNN and the Washington Post to use voicemail to interact with audiences. More recently the BBC American, who worked as a TV show and podcast (it’s currently on hiatus until midterm next year), featured a segment titled “Americanswer” where listeners submitted questions to hosts to unwrap.

These could be submitted via several means, including audio, these vocal elements could be used in the program.

Hosting audio-only events

The pandemic has created new opportunities for newsrooms to host online events, adopting platforms like Facebook Live and Zoom to discuss topics that might otherwise have been hosted in person.

While the opportunities to interact in person are increasing, screen fatigue remains a very real concern. This is where the opportunity to host audio-only events on platforms like Clubhouse (soon to be renamed Shortcut) and Twitter spaces can potentially flourish. As RJI columnist Adriana Lacy explained, with these tools “newsrooms have a new way of connecting with existing readers and attracting new ones.”

Instead of hosting video chats, newsrooms can move those conversations to audio platforms. Doing this recognizes the common “screen off” reality of many video calls and addresses the fact that audio is a great background medium.

And because audio is great for multitasking, audiences can “tune in” to events while cooking, on the move, sitting at their desks, or walking their dogs. Unlike video, you don’t have to feel guilty if you’re only listening with one ear.

The audio from these sessions can also be reused and distributed as podcasts (if desired), creating new opportunities for engagement. Considering the low production value of many online webinars, I’m surprised most aren’t audio-only. Are you not?

Damien radcliffe is Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon. In his columns for the Reynolds Journalism Institute, he will explore how local newsrooms can use audio to generate revenue.

This post was originally published by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and is republished here with permission.

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