Ellen Weiss Anchors E.W. Scripps’ Digital Strategy on DecodeDC Podcast

Under the leadership of new Washington multimedia bureau chief Ellen Weiss, the E.W. Scripps Company acquired the DecodeDC podcast last year. In fact, this may be one of the first, and only, podcast acquisitions in the history of the medium.

Weiss knows a thing or two about radio, audio and journalism. With close to three decades at NPR and a stint at the Center for Public Integrity, she has been an active participant in the evolution of journalism in the digital age. Scripps has a long history in newspapers and television, and now it’s Weiss’s job to build up the company’s digital presence.

On episode 56 of The Wolf Den podcast she tells host Jeff Ullrich how podcasting’s differences from print, television, radio and even other digital media allow Scripps to reach new audiences. She also explains that the medium requires its own unique approach in production and sales.

Weiss says that her bureau took on DecodeDC because they liked the podcast’s approach, which is compatible with the company’s position as, “in DC, but not of DC.” The show was founded by host and former NPR correspondent Andrea Seabrook with the mandate to help listeners understand how political issues affect everyday life.

As Weiss explains, “we weren’t just going out to say that Scripps has a podcast strategy.” Instead, it was the case that, “here’s something in the podcast space that speaks to what we want to do.”

As a show that breaks down and explains the mechanisms and culture, the hows and whys of politics in Washington, Weiss says that DecodeDC anchors the approach that she wants the DC Bureau’s digital strategy to build on. Podcasting may not otherwise have been the very first step in that strategy.

However, “The truth is, the thing we have that is most central to what we’re producing right now is the podcast.”

Weiss also explains that there a very specific value to podcasting. “It’s the best of all possible worlds. It’s mobile, it’s choice, it’s multitasking… Using audio is just a great way to connect to people these days, based on how they consume their information.”

Compared to radio, “It’s a deeper relationship,” between host and listener with podcasting, “so you had better be authentic.”

Podcasting’s differences extend to how you sell them, too.

“This is a thing where you think, ’sales is sales,” Weiss observes, “but it really is different.” She says it is a “huge missed opportunity” when radio producers just bundle in podcast ads together with the broadcast as an add-on. With the podcast “it usually is a different audience.”

That means it’s important to have access to a sales team with expertise in podcasting. When Weiss decided to outsource DecodeDC’s ad sales to Midroll, she told Scripps management, “We have a huge sales team, and nobody knows how to sell a podcast. So let’s go to these guys.”

Be sure to listen to Weiss’s and Ullrich’s whole conversation on episode 56 of The Wolf Den.

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