The Guardian squandered its institutional knowledge of podcasts

Over a decade ago, The Guardian was a genuine innovator, launching a daily news podcast. It's revisiting that idea in 2018 - seemingly unaware that they've done it before.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The Guardian this week:

The Guardian announces today that political editor Anushka Asthana will become the host of its first ever daily news and current affairs podcast. It will launch by the end of the year and take listeners behind the headlines.

The Guardian in 2006:

Every weekday from tomorrow we're producing a daily podcast entitled Newsdesk from Guardian Unlimited. That means for 20 minutes each day you'll hear the Guardian's writers and reporters discuss the stories of the day, including some that you won't have heard elsewhere. There'll also be a round-up of the papers.

That “first ever daily news and current affairs podcast” is obviously just plain wrong. It has now been corrected (see below).

It's clear that The Guardian has lost the institutional knowledge it gained way back in the mid-2000s, as a genuine pioneer of podcasts in a journalistic institution. And then, they dumped them all for video, just before podcasts really took off.

As other Guardian journalists from that era have pointed out, this is more than just a case of lost knowledge, it's profoundly disrespectful to those who have come before:

Institutional memory is such an important thing--not just for accuracy, or even understanding what decisions can be...

Posted by Bobbie Johnson on Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The team that ran Newsdesk back in 2006 would have some useful lessons about what works and what doesn't, about workflows, and about audience development, all of which were thrown away when they abandoned podcasting rather prematurely. No wonder we, as an industry, are struggling so badly if we treat digital expertise and learning as a disposable resource that's not worth preserving.

Equally to the point, the sheer fact that The Guardian abandoned podcasting and is now struggling to catch up again is an illustrative lesson in commitment and the dangers of just chasing after the new thing in digital.

And, of course, think of the reader impact. Clearly, the market for podcasts is much bigger than it was 12 years ago. Mobile phones have made them so much more accessible than they were in the "download to your computer and sync to your iPod" days. But some readers will remember. And some will wonder why the hell The Guardian is claiming that something they've done in the past never happened.

Why do we honour our print pioneers, but pay such little mind to those who did the hard pathfinding in digital?

Update 13/9/18

The Guardian has now updated its press release to remove the reference to it being the first daily podcast, and has appended this correction:

• This press release was amended on 12 September 2018 because this will not be The Guardian’s first ever daily news podcast, as an earlier version said. Jon Dennis presented a daily news podcast from 2006 to 2010 called Newsdesk, and later Guardian Daily.
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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.