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Inside the newsroom: The ABC’s new daily podcast

The ABC was an early entrant into the daily news podcast space with The Signal, which finished in December 2021 after a 900-episode run.

The Signal’s successor is ABC News Daily, which launched a few weeks ago. The podcast showcases the best of the ABC’s journalism and is hosted by one of the national broadcaster’s most experienced journalists.

We caught up with ABC News Daily’s supervising producer Stephen Smiley to find out more about the podcast, what the team has learned from The Signal, and what it has in store for the upcoming federal election.

Stephen, you’ve recently launched ABC News Daily. What is the podcast all about?

ABC News Daily is the ABC’s flagship daily podcast, exploring one story in depth each weekday. We’re working hard to deliver an accessible, digestible look at a major story, issue or debate in under 15 minutes, highlighting the best of the ABC’s network of reporters, correspondents, and analysts.

Our host is Sam Hawley, recently back from nine years reporting overseas for the ABC from London, Jakarta, and Bangkok, and she has a depth of experience as a bureau chief, correspondent and federal political reporter that really sets her apart. With Sam behind the microphone, we’re aiming for a show that’s sharp, succinct, and forensically focussed on one story our listeners need to know each weekday.

What audiences are you hoping to reach and what’s been the response so far?

Overwhelmingly positive! So far our listeners really like the manageable episode duration and varied story selection, and appreciate the enthusiasm, curiosity and breadth of expertise that Sam brings to each yarn.

We’re offering the show to subscribers to its predecessor, The Signal, as well as via the ABC Listen app and to anyone with a podcast app on their phone.

What stories have you been covering?

The whole breadth! We launched the show in late January, and already we’ve covered the delayed start to the school year, the devastation being wrought by COVID in remote NT communities, how businesses have been coping with WA’s hard border over the summer, and what it’s been like working in healthcare during the Omicron waves in Australia and the United States.

We’ve also heard the inside story of the PM’s first Press Club speech with Laura Tingle, talked about what the national security community in Canberra makes of the latest China panic with David Speers, travelled to Kabul and Kandahar with Yalda Hakim, and been inside an aged care system in crisis with Anne Connolly.

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The daily news podcast market is a competitive one. What do you hope will set ABC News Daily apart from its competitors?

The ABC was in the daily news podcast market at the very beginning with ABC News Daily’s predecessor, The Signal, which had clocked up 900 episodes by the time it wrapped in December.

With ABC News Daily, we’re drawing on the lessons we learned with The Signal, coupled with a new focus on showcasing original ABC journalism. Our aim with the new podcast is also to stress the relevance to our audience of each story we cover, and to make sure we’re editing episodes to be as succinct as possible — we know they’re busy, so we won’t take up too much of their time! We also think our listeners are going to love getting to know Sam.

ABC News Daily host Samantha Hawley and supervising producer Stephen Smiley. Image: ABC News

How many editorial team members work on the podcast?

At the moment the team behind ABC News Daily includes Sam Hawley as host, Chris Dengate as audio engineer/producer, Flint Duxfield, for three days a week, as producer/researcher, and me, Stephen Smiley, as Supervising Producer.

We’re currently also benefiting from producer Emily Bourke’s expertise for four days a week. We sit within the ABC’s Audio News and Current Affairs unit, which outputs AM, PM, The World Today, ABC News Radio and our audio on-demand offerings, as well as podcasts including Coronacast and Australia If You’re Listening. We’re lucky to have a strategic steer from time to time from the unit’s Podcast Lead, Eric George, and its Managing Editor, Tanya Nolan.

What does a day look like for the team?

Our episodes are built around one or two key interviews recorded by Sam each day, and sometimes will include extra audio of interviews done by our reporters out in the field, or actuality from the news cycle. Each day, we try to get our main interview recorded early to give us time through the afternoon to sweat the edit, to fact check, and to research and prepare briefs for upcoming episodes.

We’re working a Sunday to Thursday workweek to be a day ahead of the news cycle, and are always ready to throw out our plans if a major story lands that we think our audience needs to know about quickly.

We’re also working hard to be across what all the teams across the ABC are up to, so if someone has a great yarn coming up within the organisation, we can bring it to our listeners fresh.

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You’ve spent the past few years working on another daily podcast, The Signal. What have you learned from that experience?

I co-hosted The Signal with the remarkable Ange Lavoipierre for four years, between 2018 and 2021, and for much of 2021 I served as its Supervising Producer too, with Chris Dengate as our audio engineers/producer over that period. So there’s a lot of Signal DNA in the ABC News Daily team!

At The Signal, we all learned how to ride the news cycle, navigate the unpredictable obstacles thrown up by COVID, and forge bonds with our listeners, with whom we had a strong relationship via our feedback inbox.

We know daily podcasts are habit-forming, and the hosts can come to feel like friends — especially during times of upheaval like the long winter lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney of the last two years. We’re trying to draw on those lessons with ABC News Daily.

The federal election isn’t far away. What role will ABC News Daily play in Aunty’s election coverage?

We’re going to be bringing the federal budget, the campaign and the election itself to our listeners in all their full complexity. With our access to the ABC’s extraordinary stable of broadcasters, specialist and investigative reporters, and teams on the ground across every capital city and in many marginal seats, we think we have a peerless capacity to contextualise what Australia’s thinking and talking about. And we’ll be doing it day in and day out.

What’s the best way for new listeners to connect with the podcast?

You can find ABC News Daily on the ABC Listen app, or wherever you get your podcasts.