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«According to analytics data, the podcast proved to be one of the reasons for the loyalty of part of the Istinomer audience»

Jovana Prešić, Project Coordinator at Istinomer (Serbia) 

Audio formats, such as podcasts, took hold quite recently in the multimedia journalism landscape, and it is widely agreed that they present great potential for further innovation.

The number and popularity of podcast shows has been steadily increasing for years, and the format has been adopted by professionals and amateurs in all kinds of sectors, from technology to literature, news and politics.

Today, publishing a podcast is easier than ever, and a number of services let users – both organizations and individuals – share their content on international platforms such as Spotify, Apple podcast or Google Podcast.

Among the international fact-checking community podcasts are quite popular, and several outlets regularly host one or more shows. Here we will have a look at the general scenario.

Different formats...

Podcasts are highly customizable

Podcast formats are highly customizable, with almost infinite possibilities: creators can decide the length of each episode, its structure, can enrich it with an intro or an outro, invite guests, and include audio extracts or advertising segments.

Every podcast episode can therefore be totally unique. Several fact-checking outlets have created one or more podcast shows, in order to create a sense of uniformity and develop listeners’ loyalty to their content.

Episodes of the same show are generally published on a regular basis and they all follow more or less the same format, so that listeners already know what to expect when clicking “play”.

That said, podcast shows – even in the fact-checking world – can deal with all kinds of different topics. A popular format, adopted by a number of outlets, is a weekly show where fact-checkers comment on the most viral examples of disinformation that circulated during the week, and explain why they are incorrect.

This format represents the core structure of Maldita.es podcast Maldita la hora(Spain), which every Friday goes over the main hoaxes of the week in about 15 minutes.

A similar format has been adopted by Pagella Politica (Italy) (Figure 1), which also publishes a new 30-minutes episode every Friday in which the team explores the main false information they verified during the week.

Figure 1. Pagella Politica Podcast example

Another popular podcast format is when fact-checkers spend a whole episode focusing on a specific topic, analyzing it in depth and explaining what is true and what doesn’t add up about it.

An example is The Full Fact Podcast by the independent fact-checking organization Full Fact, based in the United Kingdom, which  explores a specific topic in around half an hour each week, relating to disinformation.

Plus, they often invite guests with different backgrounds, from scientists to politicians, to help explain the issues and provide reliable answers.

A third format adopted by fact-checkers consists of shorter episodes (less than five minutes long) that present the results of a specific fact-checking analysis, along with its verdict and the explanation of the process that led to it. An example of this is the Fact check” podcast by the Portuguese news outlet Observador (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Observador “Fact-Check” podcast example

Podcasts published by fact-checkers are not limited to these formats, and every outlet can experiment with different structures, topics, and techniques. 

... And multiple shows

The choice between broad or niche topics

Some fact-checkers decided to step up their podcast strategy and host multiple shows.

For instance, as the 2020 U.S. presidential election approached, Maldita.es started a specific podcast called “Malditas elecciones: American edition” (Figure 3) to debunk the main hoaxes related to the electoral process and its results.

Figure 3. Maldita’s tweet on the presentation of its new podcast about the american elections

FullFact, instead, enriched its podcast sections with Full Fact’s Fact Blast, a three-minutes weekly show published every Friday to keep listeners «well informed going into the weekend», with a series of short investigations that analyze broad topics, such as lockdown skepticism or the influence of QAnon in the U.K.

The Serbian fact-checking outlet Istinomer also regularly publishes two podcast shows, which include interviews with relevant experts or leave space for journalists to review recent political developments in the country.

Istinomer is particularly active with podcasts, as it generally publishes several episodes every week. In this chapter’s case study, we’ll look into their audio content strategy.


Istinomer’s podcast strategy

Istinomer (Truth-O-Meter) is a Serbian fact-checking project launched in 2009 by the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (Crta) as the «first fact-checking platform in the region».

The outlet publishes daily fact-checking analyses along with multimedia content such as videos and, of course, podcasts (Figure 4). Istinomer’s Project Coordinator Jovana Prešić walked us through their audio format strategy.

According to Prešić, Istinomer «uses diverse formats and channels to present the content in an interactive and user-friendly manner». It  opened its podcast page in November 2018 with the main aim of attracting «the attention and engagement of a broad audience».

Figure 4. Istinomer podcasts – Click to enlarge

As previously mentioned, today the outlet produces two podcasts a week: U Mikrofon (Into the Microphone) and Retrovizon (Rearview mirror).

The first one «presents hard-talk interviews of the renowned journalist Danica Vucenic with key politicians, experts and institutions’ representatives on issues in public focus and of the utmost public importance», while the second one consists of «an overview of recent political developments from the perspective of popular Serbian journalist Ljubomir Zivkov».

They are both available on Apple Podcast (Figure 5), Google Podcast, on the Serbian platform podcast.rs, and Istinomer’s own website.

Figure 5. Istinomer podcasts profile on Apple podcasts

From November 2018 to the end of 2020, Istinomer also produced a third podcast called Fakat (Facts) which presented two fact-checking analyses previously published on the outlet’s website.

Prešić pointed out that all podcasts «are in compliance with accountability journalism at the Istinomer website» and, therefore, follow the IFCN guiding principles.

Although some of the topics covered by podcasts may refer to previous articles or fact-checking analyses published on Istinomer’s website (as it was the case with Fakat), the interviews they feature generally offer the opportunity to analyze issues more in-depth «through conversations between well-known journalists and politicians, experts, opinion-makers, and so on».

Prešić explained that podcasts are becoming increasingly popular in Serbia, and Istinomer decided to bet on «the content with the biggest potential to reach a new audience». At the moment, U Mikrofon (Figure 6) is the most popular show with an average of 3,000 downloads per episode, and it also catches the attention of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter users.

Figure 6. Istinomer’s Facebook post about new episode of U Mikrofon podcast

Prešić believes that podcasts can ultimately be a great tool for fact-checkers who are trying to increase their audience engagement levels: «According to analytics data, the podcast proved to be one of the reasons for the loyalty of part of the Istinomer audience», Prešić said, adding: «At the moment, Istinomer is creating plans for further podcast development».

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