Asthaa Chaturvedi: “The First Thing that Makes a Good Tape is Emotion”

How is an audio news show downloaded 1.2 billion times alone in 2020 and over 3.2 billon times since its launch in 2017 made? Asthaa Chaturvedi, producer on the New York Times’ (NYT) podcast The Daily told from within the story of one of the most popular products of the newspaper during the first day of the podcast festival “Listen up – vol. 2” of the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria on 8 December. 

With a new episode running every workday, The Daily team has a lot on its plate from early in the morning. “We start our days with a member of the team attending the meeting of NYT’s top editors. That informs us how we should think about what is the burning question of the day we need to explain to our listeners. Then, around 10:00 our team of producers meet, there is a robust debate and a team is sent to record the episode. We get a sense of the story, then think about the episode structure, we record with the reporter or the source, and yet we are not even halfway done – this is when post production starts,” she explained. 

The episode even travels a couple thousand kilometres across the Atlantic, to the UK, where the sound engineer of the podcast is based, so that it is ready for its morning release. Alongside Chaturvedi, a team of 20-25 other producers, seven editors, two hosts and many fact-checkers and audio specialists works on each episode, which is usually 20 to 40 minutes long. Behind each episode, there is the collaborative work of at least several people from the team. 

What is the hardest part of the job for Chaturvedi? “I think structuring a daily episode can be pretty hard. Some episodes are easy – they are straight news – but others are a bit more involved, an investigation or a feature, deep-dives with one character, and are thus trickier to structure,” she says.

Additionally, working with print journalists on audio stories can be a hard pill to swallow for both sides, as an audio story often needs elements that might be ignored by a newspaper reporter. “The first thing that makes a good tape is emotion – is there something inherently interesting, scenes and interactions between people – interviewing a police officer is nice by itself, but following them around while they are on a patrol or talking to their colleagues gives a different vibe,” the producer says. 

According to Chaturvedi, what makes The Daily stand out in a growing crowd of podcasts is the emphasis its team puts on bringing out the best version of each story they work on, be it international or domestic. “As someone who values the public service element of journalism, I don’t think that any of our work matters if people don’t listen or watch or read what we produce. And we put a lot of emphasis on that. We don’t do that in place of the facts, but narrative helps draw listeners in and we balance the art of audio with journalism,” she says. 

“On our best days we are also answering the most urgent and pressing questions of the day,” she adds. And, as a conclusion, advises future audio journalists to “keep an eye for what makes a good story and what is a good tape, be constantly asking questions and ask yourself – how do I dig deeper?”

 

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