Podcast multimedia: A case study
If you’re reading this, chances are good you have—or will have—a podcast. Podcasts are thrilling to produce and the good ones are rewarding to hear. But that’s just the tip of the multimedia feast you can prepare from a great interview.
How much of that is worth the effort? Here’s a case study based on a Rivet360 / Chicago Public Square interview with the authors of the Axios Chicago newsletter, Justin Kaufmann and Monica Eng.
First, a breakdown of what we did:
‘This is a talk show in an email format.’ In the latest edition of the Chicago Public Square / Rivet360 Chicago Media Talks podcast, Axios Chicago’s Justin Kaufmann and Monica Eng discuss their work.
- If you prefer to read your podcasts, here’s a transcript.
- If you’re a completist, you can go behind the scenes with raw video of the interview on YouTube …
- … including (at 34:50) a deleted segment in which they answer the question, “How did Charlie most annoy you?”
- Check out previous Square podcasts here.
Can you guess which of those links—the main link to the podcast (or the picture, which also linked to the podcast), the transcript, raw video of the full interview, the jump-cut to a deleted scene, or the link to the whole series—was tapped most? We’ll wait while you ponder before scrolling down for the answers …
OK. Two days after that email was dispatched, here’s how the total of taps on those links broke down:
Previous podcasts: 0%
Raw YouTube video: 5%
Main podcast link: 34%
Deleted segment: 37%
This is just one case and the numbers are relatively small, with plenty of variables at play. But here are a few conclusions one might reach:
Footnote: Across all audio platforms—including Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and others—listenership to this podcast as of this writing was running almost triple the viewership on YouTube.
What other lessons do you take from this case study? I’d love to hear from you. Email Charlie@Rivet360.com.
Charlie Meyerson 0:00
She’s worked for Chicago’s biggest newspapers, and he’s worked for Chicago’s most successful radio stations. And now, they do email.
Monica Eng 0:08
At WBEZ they kept saying, “Would you like to write our newsletter?” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’m a reporter! Stop with the insulting questions.” And now, like, I love it.
Monica Eng is a longtime Chicago reporter who’s covered food, culture, health and the environment for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and, yes, also at a radio station, WBEZ. Justin Kaufmann’s a former talk show host and producer in Chicago at WBEZ and WGN Radio. They’ve teamed up to create the Axios Chicago newsletter, rounding up the day’s biggest Chicago news plus coverage of their passions, including food and sports.
Justin Kaufmann 0:44
Chicago is a different place. It is going to be a different newsletter than Denver. It should be a different newsletter than San Francisco.
Coming to you despite a cough, congestion and a mild fever that a test assures me do not signify COVID-19, I am a well-medicated Charlie Meyerson with Rivet360 and Chicago Public Square, which, yes, is also an email newsletter. And this is Chicago Media Talks. Justin, what did you want to be when you grew up? And how did that lead you into Chicago radio?
You know, it’s funny. My dad always reminds me that I was really into DePaul Blue Demon basketball when I was a kid and I would write up stories like sports stories of the games that they would show on Channel 9 at the time, like when DePaul would pay like Creighton, or Georgetown. And I would write—he showed me when I was older—like, these write-ups. So I think I wanted to be a sports writer in some form. But to be honest, I really wanted to be in radio. I love the idea I had my own— I did the announcements in high school and a lot of things to end up where I ended up to be a talk show host. So I think that that’s what I wanted to be.
High school announcements: You and I have that in common. Monica, what did you want to be when you grew up? And how has that shaped your career?
I had no idea. But by the time I was 15, and my mom was dating Roger Ebert, he said, “Hey, so do one of your kids need a job this summer?” I said, “Well, I’m not going to be doing anything but watching TV. So maybe I’ll go try this thing called being a copy clerk at the Chicago Sun-Times.” And from the first day I started working in the features department at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1985, I fell in love with it, and that’s all I ever wanted to do—be a newspaper woman or a newswoman. I did not envision I would be an emailer, thanks for calling me that.
It’s an honorable profession. It’s honorable.
There was no email at the time, which was why I had a job. You know, putting the mail in the slots at the Chicago Sun-Times.
How and when did you two first meet?
That’s a good question. Monica was world-renowned, you know, in Chicago media. And I think I booked her a couple times on talk shows on WBEZ. And then, you know, when Monica was looking to make a career change, she came over to WBEZ. So we worked together at WBEZ for a couple of years, working on talk shows and reporting.
Yeah, well, yeah, I remember I remember. I used to hear you on the radio. And I was always a huge fan of WBEZ, and then you know, you, you’d say, “Hey, can you come on and talk about your Tribune stories?” And I thought, “Oh, this is fun.” So when you said, “Hey, there might be a spot here,” like, “You know what? I’m gettin’ a little sick of the Tribune, maybe I’ll think about that.” But as you recall, hiring at public radio sometimes takes a little time. So I think we were doing that dance for a couple of years.
Yeah, we had a lot of lunches at Fox & Obel, which is that high-end grocery store over on …
… between Tribune Tower and WBEZ.
How did you come to be a team on the Axios Chicago newsletter?
Justin had already been working with the Axios daily podcast. So he kind of knew about that world. And we both had worked with Niala Boodhoo at WBEZ. And she was already there. She was quite an evangelist for the place. And I thought, “Whatever, I’ve never really even heard of this thing.” And so when she told us both about it, I think we’re like, “Well, let’s take a look at this.” I don’t think either of us were like super-sure we wanted to do a newsletter because obviously we had different skills. We didn’t like who has newsletter skills? Do people like graduate college knowing how to do this?
Yeah, I will say, Charlie, that the one thing that grabbed our attention, I think, was looking at what Axios was doing with newsletters—not just in the local markets, but what they were doing with Mike Allen and others who do the national newsletters—is they really did feel like a written talk show. And if you look at Mike’s Axios AM, that’s what it is. Mike is hosting a talk show—he’s doing articles instead of segments—but it really had this vibe, this energy to it. He’s connecting to his readers. He’s engaging, he’s going back and forth. It reminded me a lot of what I was doing at WGN Radio when I was doing a WBEZ with Reset. So it was an easy opportunity when they said they wanted to do it for Chicago, you know, it was a, it was a no-brainer to say, “OK, well, you know, could you do a talk show in an email format?” And that’s what we’ve been, that’s really our ethos, our mission statement, our philosophy, Monica and I, that this is a talk show in an email format, and it seems to be working.
In fact, when we are when we’re over length on these newsletters, Justin’s like, “Oh, we gotta cut it for time.” I’m like, “Justin, we’re not doing radio.”
It’s hard to lose the little radio things like “cut for time.” “Listeners,” I always— Our readers are listeners, I always say that.
It’s easy to get those mixed up. You know, sharing some of that same professional DNA with you guys, I know that one of the hardest things I find in creating an email newsletter is deciding what not to put in. Because, as Monica has said, there’s no time restriction, there’s no length restriction, and deciding what doesn’t go in is harder than deciding what does go in. How do you wrestle with that?
Well, we do have a length: Nothing over 950 words. But that does make it harder. I mean, Chicago is full of, you know, a million stories in the naked city. And so how do you choose, you know, four or five a day? It’s a terrible Sophie’s choice to make.
That has been an issue where I think a lot of the editors and everyone were like, “You know, you’re gonna have to do this every day, you’re gonna watch out— Finding content will be an issue.” For Monica and I—because we’ve covered the city for years, and you know, this, Charlie; I read your newsletters and same idea—you could do 50 stories, you could do 100 stories. I mean, there’s— time is nothing, so you’re just like, yeah, every night at 10 o’clock, after we put the thing to bed, I’m like, “Darn it, we didn’t talk about this, or we didn’t do this.” And that reminds me of when I worked at ’BEZ and ’GN as well, where you would be down on yourself because you missed the topic that you think Chicago wanted to talk about.
As we record this August 22, 2022, you’ve been with Axios just a bit more than a year. What’s been a high point of that year or so with Axios?
I think, to me, the highlight has been just connecting with Chicago readers. I would have never thought this would be this successful. I mean, at the time we tape this, we’re over 80,000 people who are signed up for it. The open rate is way above the average. And people are engaging and sending us emails on a daily basis on every story we do. It’s way more than I ever had at WGN or WBEZ. I think that that has much to do with the format—I mean, people at their computers are like I can easily respond to this. But that has been the high point to me is watching that sort of evolved engagement from some of the other things that were— I mean, you know, Charlie, talk radio is all about engaged. So by getting people on the phone, like, that’s where it’s supposed— you think that’s ingrained in the secret sauce of an AM talk radio station like WGN, but this supersized it. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of emails and people who want to engage.
They can be overwhelming at times—because, yeah, it’s like, “Oh, I want to respond to all 150 people who wrote to us today sharing you know, where they like to go, you know, for a picnic in Chicago, or, you know, what they remember about Tower Records.” So, yeah, similarly, I think, you know, the engagement. Yeah, of course, I got COVID during our first or before our first retreat, so I couldn’t go, and Justin just loves to rub it in about how fun it was.
It was such a fun time without Monica. That really I think that’s the secret sauce is that Monica wasn’t there.
Leave that old wet blanket home.
All right, how about the low point of your first year with Axios? Monica?
Oh, jeepers, I wouldn’t say low point. But, I think, you know: Breaking news. During the strike, when omicron was raging and the CPS and CTU were fighting. We were doing really long days. And it was like, “Oh, shoot, something else just happened. Let’s, you know, break the thing open again.” It can kind of it’s actually very exciting to cover breaking news. But it was wearing and I think, you know, and well and then the Highland Park thing, day after day, turns into a manhunt it turns into to these things. And our bosses are actually great. They’re like, “Look, are you guys feeling worn down? What can we do to kind of rejuvenate you.”
I think because we are news media creatures at best and at heart, it becomes really difficult to shut it off. And so, if there are breaking news stories on top of breaking news stories, we’re not the type to bury our head in the sand. We’re the type to say it doesn’t matter if it’s 8 o’clock, 10 o’clock at night, 11 o’clock, we get up and we start working again. And that is just part of the pitfalls of the job. I mean that you get burnout. You don’t get a chance to have any sort of renewal moment or time to rest. You just gotta keep going.
Just six years after its founding Axios is being bought by Cox Enterprises, the cable communications and historically a newspaper company, for a little more than half a billion dollars. What’s that mean for you and Axios Chicago? Are you both millionaires now?
Well, I guess quasi-millionaires maybe like, multi. It’s actually, you know, I’ve been and Justin’s been at companies that have been bought before, and it’s usually bad, bad news. It actually appears to be good news, in this case. And, and our bosses made sure that they got a really good deal for employees as well. As far as we can tell, they’re not going to touch the journalism, they just actually want more local journalism. Cox seems to really love the local end of it. And so I think it means we get more love and, and, and our bosses are talking about this as a multi-generational thing. They want Axios to be around generations after they’re gone. And I think, as far as I can tell, that’s, that’s really gonna help with this.
Yeah, they’re saying all the right things.
When you say “good deal for employees,” what does that really mean?
We get to sell a third of our stock. So everyone is vested, even people who have been there a short time, and you can sell a third of your stock to Cox and then later, we can sell it for actually an even better deal—you know, depending on the valuation of the company at the time.
You know, Axios is a young company. And it is interesting to see the difference in philosophy and styles when a young company is bought, as opposed to an older company. And I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I was there when WGN Radio was sold to Nexstar, before that tried to be sold to Sinclair. That is a different feeling. That’s a feeling of dread. And, you know, they’re coming in to change formats or cut or like even work in the newspapers. That’s not what this is, this is a win for Axios, they got a media company to buy the product for a pretty sizable amount of money. And they look at it as this is an indicator and also, I would think, an encouraging sign that people are interested in the future of local news.
Between the two of you, you have by my count, more than half a century of experience in newspapers and radio. What’s your take on this, this email news business? Is it a fad? Is it here for the long run? Is it the successor in any way to traditional radio and television? Or is it something that you expect is going to fade away as something else comes along?
Well, I will say this: I think that obviously you’ve been a pioneer and doing email, and you’ve you found your voice, and that’s really what it’s about. It’s not that everybody can go to email and, and be like, “All right, I’m just going to transfer my product to this new format and it’s gonna work.” I mean, it’s the same tenets. You have to be engaging, you have to have personality, it’s about the tone. Everything is the same. It’s just you’re using words, and I think it’s very akin to maybe what we saw in the early 2000s, with the blog movement. I think that that was something that at first people were like, “What, you’re gonna put your—this is in the newspaper? It’s digital? What are we doing?” And you saw some that became very successful and very profitable, and some that were middle of the road and some that died off. And I think that newsletters, especially independent newsletters, are in the same ballpark. I think it’s the same game. It’s just evolved. And I think that advertisers are more interested in putting their money into email newsletters because it’s been tried and true by now.
Yeah, if you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said, “What the heck email newsletters?” I mean, actually, I’ll be honest: At WBEZ they kept saying, “Would you like to write our newsletter?” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’m a reporter! Stop with the insulting questions.” And now, like, I love it. And it really is meeting people where they are. People our age still open email. My daughter, she’s like, “Can’t you just text it to me, mom?” So maybe these will be texted in the future. But it’s respecting their time. It’s curating for them. And it’s yeah, it’s going into the box that they open every morning.
I think it’s all about advertising. And I think that the audience has been there. Charlie, you—we did it together at ’BEZ.
Let’s be transparent. You hired me to do WBEZ’s—
Well, it wasn’t even— WBEZ in 2013 was not set up to send email to readers. So I did what should have been email but was just a blog at the time.
Yeah, but it was a news blog. It was similar. It’s similar in the way to what you do right now with Square. I mean, it was a very similar idea. But that is where this— I mean, you could see the evolution from those kinds of posts that were important—that people would go to the URL to check it out every morning to see what Charlie had to say about Chicago news. Now, they’ve just like podcasts, they figured out a way to take these blog posts and give them right to you in an email format. And that is that I mean, if you really think about podcasts, that’s where the world changed when you were doing radio and it was appointment and I had to go to a dial. I had to actually punch the numbers in. Now they found technology that just puts it on my phone when I wake up. And that’s a big difference. That’s why you have … so much audience there because they’re not having to do anything. It’s almost like the media industry is finally figuring out, you have to go where the audience is at as opposed to trying to get them to come to you.
A colleague in the broadcast business once talked about his organization’s ability to train listeners to do certain things at certain times. That seems to be a notion that I think is going away. I don’t even know when my favorite TV shows are on, they just show up on my TV when I want to watch—
When you’re ready to watch them! Exactly! Right? I mean, I watched two or three TV shows over the weekend that were season finales from two weeks ago. And I didn’t have any problem with it. I knew how to avoid the spoilers. We’re not living in this collective zeitgeist anymore, where everybody’s watching one episode of Lost. There’s a lot going on. And I feel like that is the same with we talked about podcasts, you talking about newsletters, talking about news. And I think that what I find interesting is just the idea that Monica and I are, we get this all the time from listeners—or readers. Sorry, there you go—that say, “I get all my stuff from you.” You know that—
Which is scary. Come on, guys, you shouldn’t be—
Yeah, it is scary. You should read other stuff for sure. I mean, but I think it’d be the same with your readers, Charlie. I mean, they’re coming to you, they can go get the stories from different places. But they’re coming to you for that five, three to five minutes in the morning. For them to say, this is what I this is what’s going on. And this is what I need to know what’s going on.
You know, “We read the news so you don’t have to” is one approach to email newsletters, I think. How has the pandemic played out for you, as you create the Axios Chicago newsletter? Monica?
Well, we started it like 1/3 or halfway into the pandemic. And so, I’m thrilled to be at an organization that says “We will be remote all the time.” If you’re in New York, and you want to go to the New York office, or in Virginia and want to go there, that’s great. But they say “Home is where your office is,” and we get a nice fat stipend every month to make our home a nicer place. And you can spend it on flowers or a dog or whatever —
A dog? I’m impressed.
I mean, anything that will make your home a nicer place to do your job. But for younger people for whom work is like the place where you’re gonna meet your mate, and you can learn from older journalists, I could see how it’s a problem. The world, you know, we know it all.
You’re both youngsters compared to me! Justin, how did the pandemic play out for you?
Well, I mean, I left—I got, you know, tossed outta WGN Radio right when the pandemic started.
Yeah, I was on your last show. It was an honor.
Yeah, that was right. I mean, that was right when the lockdown was happening, which is the timing is crazy. But the so I was one of the people who lost their job right when the pandemic started. And I have yet to— Any project that I picked up freelance, I mean, I went on to host Reset, and I went into the Navy Pier studio to do that. But since then, I’ve done a number of projects—the Madigan podcast, and the Axios newsletter, and working for Axios Today, which is the national podcast—from this desk. And that has changed the world, the technology for us to be able to do this, the technology for us to be able to connect through Slack and other platforms that give us an immediate connection is great. Now, I will say that What I miss is the creativity through collaboration, which was brought up in D.C. I mean, when we went to the Axios retreat—they had an all-staff retreat in DC—that was a big thing that the CEOs and the founders talked about, is they said, we have to do more of these. Because you do find yourself coming out of those, talking to the crew from Dallas or the crew from Tampa or the crew from Salt Lake City, or Seattle, and becoming friends and saying, “We should do something, Detroit.” All that kind of like conversation is amazing. It really gets your creative juices flowing. And so that we miss for sure. And even Monica and I, who have a great shorthand, we don’t see each other in person enough. Now luckily, we’re on the same softball team and that softball team is winning. It’s a winning team. So it’s …
If it were losing, you know, it’d be a sort of an angry confrontation.
All right, well, that brings me to my next question, coincidentally, which is that your passions shine through in almost every issue—Monica, food, and Justin, sports. Justin, we’re in the thick of the season for your passion—and passion’s putting it mildly because I’ve played against you—Chicago’s Kup Media Softball League, named for Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet. How’s it going? Justin?
It is good. You know, there’s some really good teams this year in that league and the league is great, because—come on. It’s a passion of mine because I love the sport. And I really start to learn the nuances and the history of 16-inch softball. The 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame in Forest Park is a tremendous place to learn more about our forefathers, and how they played softball and how softball is Chicago’s sport. So it is really great to be out here and like a night like tonight we’re gonna play tonight as we’re taping this, we’re gonna play on a beautiful night at 75 degrees in a Chicago park on the West Side. It doesn’t get more Chicago than that. So like the connection to the city. And I think I think it’s a very inclusive sport. I think that you see really strong African American leagues on the South Side, you see really strong Latino leagues, you see suburban, a lot of car dealerships. You can’t have a Chicago softball league, leagues without car dealerships, but I mean, everybody knows the game. Everybody’s played it. Everybody’s got a crooked finger. So I feel like it’s the ultimate connector. That’s why I love the sport.
Yeah, the fingers. I can identify with the fingers. That’s why I’m not doing softball anymore. Monica, you’re just back from your visit to the Illinois State Fair. How was it?
It’s pretty disgusting. The highlight was the walking a horseshoe which is, as you know, is Texas toasts covered in ground beef or other meat and then fries and then a beer cheese sauce. This one those are you throw all that in a tortilla, roll it up, deep fry it and then put more cheese sauce on it. I feel like it’s gonna be a few years before I recover. But I have to say I loved those tiny little fried doughnuts, those like tiny cinnamon doughnuts that are warm. You pop them in your mouth, and those are no good for you. But, no, it was fun. But I think state fair food is really an exercise and excess and, and fun for the time you go out there. But I’m paying my penance. I just went to Wrigley Field over the weekend to try their plant-based meats. So I got a really healthful giant helmet of nachos, covered in cheese and sour cream, but then some plant-based chicken on top and a kind of shriveled-up hot dog that you will …
No, that that definitely, definitely evens it out.
No, no, like virtuous. It’s like a kale salad. So yeah, but it’s fun. And I know that readers can vicariously enjoy these strange treats through me. So I’m happy to do it.
I will say this, Charlie, like, I just think that even beyond food and sports, we both share a lot of passions, but we also have individual uniques. I mean, I’m big—you know this—I’m big into politics. Monica is big into public policy and health and environment. You mentioned sports as a passion. But I also feel like sports is a huge part of the stew that is Chicago news. And a lot of places I’ve worked—’BEZ is a great example of it—they ignore it. Or they think that that’s not important. And I think that that’s wrong. And most of the readers that that will write in are going to be sports fans in some form.
Every time I think, “Oh, God, Justin’s writing the sports story again,” we get tons of response. And so I’m so glad we balanced each other out on that because he knows the world. And I just trust him from now on.
Yeah, and that was it. But that’s the news. I mean, if you grew up in Chicago, and you know Chicago, you know how important a Monday recap of the Bears game is.
I did grow up in Chicago, but I’m just like, I’m not interested. But you know that people will be.
They will be. But I think the combination of Monica’s interests and mine together make something that is very specific and unique to Chicago, that brings people around and wants to engage because it’s everything from arts, music, to— and it’s different than a lot of the markets, Charlie. Like if you go to some of the other Axios locals, they’re just straight-up reporters.
Some of them are former real estate reporters. So they love doing real estate stories. One of them is like a beer fanatic, and he does tons of beer stories. And Axios says, “Let your freak flag fly, man. You’re into it, our readers will, like, understand your passion and get into it, too.”
Yeah, but you also know that like Chicago is a different place. I mean, we can compare ourselves to New York or L.A. or compare ourselves to Wisconsin and Indiana. I mean, there’s, there’s something about Chicago, it’s cliche to say it’s, you know, big city, small town kind of thing. But it is going to be a different newsletter than Denver, it should be a different newsletter than San Francisco. And that’s what’s great about it is ours is very unique, very different than the others in the market. And, and theirs are great. I mean, I read them all. I love them. I love the local stuff.
Well, at some point we’re not gonna be able to it’s going to be 35 by the end of the year, and then maybe 100 by 2025.
We have a question from one of our viewers on YouTube, Mike Dessimoz: “From communications and other interactions you have with your readers, what seem to you to be their most serious areas of concern?”
I think it’s violence. I think whenever we get into political stuff like Monica wrote a great piece about Bailey calling Chicago a hellhole again, and really the follow when she asked at the fair, “Hey, what do you say to Chicagoans who live in that hellhole?” he’s like, “I hear from them all the time.”
He says he believes most of us thin