Alex Blumberg Proposes a New Model for Sustaining Podcast Journalism

“To be successful in journalism you have to have some entrepreneurial instincts.”

That’s what public radio producer Alex Blumberg tells Jeff Ullrich in episode #57 of The Wolf Den podcast. Alex is a long-standing producer for This American Life and the co-founder of the NPR podcast and radio program Planet Money.

He and his co-producer Adam Davidson applied those entrepreneurial instincts at Planet Money when they launched a wildly successful Kickstarter to make a t-shirt in order to document its production and distribution across the global supply chain.

Why Kickstarter?

“We didn’t have the money,” Alex explains. “In public radio there’s no risk capital.”

So they turned to the listeners to put up the money in advance, and “the response was insane. One of the most editorially exciting projects I’ve worked on.”

The project offered lessons for new directions in funding narrative journalism.

With the Kickstarter Planet Money didn’t run it like a public radio pledge drive, telling listeners that their donations would help keep the lights on. Still, “people were happily handing over $25 because they wanted to be part of it. It was an utterly honest transaction.”

Looking forward, Alex sees a formula for funding and sustaining narrative journalism in a podcast form. First, there needs to be a decently sized audience. Then part of the funding would come from ads. The other part “would be through this audience engagement.” That’s where producers would offer listeners the opportunity to, quite literally, buy in.

“If you can create those opportunities, I feel like they can become very self-sufficient.”

Now Alex is going to put his ideas to the test. He’s setting out to start a new company to create narrative journalism in podcasts. “The most successful version of this is that in 5 years we have 5 to 10 Planet Moneys, This American Lifes or Radiolabs. [Shows] like that, that have that number of listeners, and are that sort of successful. But, then, each of the brands by itself has to be a thing.”

Don’t miss Alex’s full conversation with Jeff on this podcast episode, where you’ll learn more about Alex’s plans and ideas, along with Jeff’s advice, based on his experience in the podcasting business. You’ll also want to watch this episode’s bonus video, where Alex reveals what about podcasting keeps him up at night.

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