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“It’s a more intimate way of consuming journalism:” Why The Correspondent launched an audio-only app

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The Correspondent, famous for their 2018 ‘unbreak the news’ crowdfunding campaign, are branching out into audio to bring their journalism to members in new ways.

A year after the English-language edition went live, the publisher is now bringing its journalism to your ears. The team have launched two apps in recent weeks; one in English for The Correspondent’s audio stories, and the other in Dutch for sister site De Correspondent.

We caught up with The Correspondent CEO Ernst-Jan Pfauth to find out why they chose to launch a privacy-focused audio app, and how they are hoping it will enhance the experience for their members.

Demand for audio

Audio is growing in popularity as an alternative way to engage with publishers’ content. Titles like The Economist use audio editions as a retention tool, and others like The Washington Post, Bloomberg, the BBC, The Financial Times and the New York Times have developed similar offerings in recent years.

For The Correspondent, audio was a feature that was being frequently requested by its members. “We were a text-based site mostly, and our members asked us if we could also provide audio, because it’s easier to combine it with different activities like travelling or working out,” Pfauth explained. “We figured, well, it’s not our mission to provide text. It’s our mission to be a daily antidote to the news grind, to give an insight into how the world works. The medium isn’t that important, so if voice works better, let’s introduce that.”

The team had some previous experience with sister site De Correspondent, where they had introduced audio versions of articles last year. With some stories, listening numbers actually did better than readership numbers.

This reflects the experience of Danish magazine Zetland, who also experimented with audio articles in 2016 after a number of requests from readers. Today, 70% of the magazine’s content is consumed via audio.

Whether The Correspondent will see similar patterns remains to be seen, but given the level of demand from members, Pfauth is confident that the app will be well-used by members.

A dedicated experience

The decision to launch an app rather than just having audio available on audio apps was to give members an alternative to other platforms, according to Pfauth. “We don’t want our members to be dependent on third-party apps like Spotify,” he explained. “We wanted to offer them an experience that’s aligned with what The Correspondent thinks is important, for example privacy and good design. That’s why we decided to build our own app.”

However, the audio stories are also still available on many podcast platforms. Pfauth said that this was to offer members the opportunity to listen wherever they want, and to be able to share the stories they have helped fund. “Our idea is always that if you share a story, other people can see it, and with audio it’s the same. We want to make sure it’s widely available, and that our members can easily point to the content they helped create,” he added.

Although the audio stories aren’t exclusive to the app, the app has been designed just for members to give them a dedicated audio experience. “The design is more calm, and you’re not distracted by other music or other shows,” said Pfauth. 

As part of the app, members can also have ‘conversations’ with The Correspondent’s journalists and other members on the platform. The functionality synchronises with the comments section on The Correspondent website, and is an important part of the publisher’s membership proposition.

“We always want to involve [members] in our journalism,” Pfauth emphasised.  “With audio, it’s even more personal than text, and we see more opportunities there because it’s a more intimate way of consuming journalism.”

Members can ask follow-up questions, take a deeper dive into the subject, or can even offer their own knowledge on a particular subject; something Pfauth says has put correspondents on new paths for new stories in the past.

Evolving the app

At present, The Correspondent are being selective about which stories get the audio treatment. They plan to slowly build up and monitor how people respond, eventually getting to a point where every bigger story is also in audio.

The team also have plans to widen the app’s functionality over the coming months. There are already live Q&As that happen between the correspondents and members, and integrating this with the app is a priority. “We see it as a starting point to experiment with all these ways of storytelling and building,” Pfauth said, emphasising that they will be listening carefully to user feedback to shape future development.

Interactivity will be a big focus for the app’s future. “I think the next big step in audio journalism is to see how you can make it more interactive and create a community around it,” explained Pfauth. “We operate intuitively, so we believe this is the right step.” 

“But based on the many requests we get from members – and of course we’ll be checking in with them on how they like the app and what we have to improve – we don’t have quantitative metrics. We focus on the qualitative side.”

Header image courtesy of The Correspondent