How NHPR’s Outside/In podcast brings the natural world to you
When Sam Evans-Brown and the creative production unit at New Hampshire Public Radio sat down in 2013 for a staff meeting, a plan to create a podcast was engineered. The show, Outside/In, would be critical when needed and focus on things that happened in the natural, outside world. Podcasts had been around for a while, but shows mainly stayed in one of two lanes: pre-produced public radio-style segments that were also played over radio airwaves, or talk show-style.
But before the first season was released, something happened. Serial, a podcast that revisited a 1999 Baltimore murder, was released and quickly drew millions of listeners. Podcasts began to blow up. By Outside/In’s release in 2015, the way people treated the medium had changed. But so has the podcast.
“It’s just a better way to listen,” Evans-Brown says. “Pause, fast forward, rewind? I talk to some people and, not to generalize at all but sometimes it’s older people, and they say ‘I can’t get into those.’ And my response is, well why?”
The first few episodes of Outside/In are short, about 20 minutes long. In the first episode, Evans-Brown and his team talk about an invasive species of kiwi. One episode goes into ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s controversial celebration in New Hampshire’s Baxter State Park after setting the record for the fastest time to hike the Appalachian Trail. The next episode is about Keene, New Hampshire’s notorious Pumpkin Fest, and how one year the festival drastically changed a small town’s reputation.
“If the story is good, and there’s a credible connection to the outdoors, we’ll go for it,” Evans-Brown says. “When we launched, we did look around to see what’s out there, but the other podcasts similar to us are different enough where I don’t think we have to change,” he says. “I don’t feel like anybody is making quite what we’re making. It’s introspective, nerdy and fun.”
The loose criteria allow for exploration of a multitude of topics. Skiing, solar energy, storm chasing and recycling may rarely be included in the same conversation. But Outside/In has an episode for each and they appear to be resonating with listeners. Today, the show averages 80,000 downloads a month.
Available on platforms such as iTunes and Spotify, the show is most popular in California, New York and Massachusetts. “We’re trying to not sound like just a show about New Hampshire,” Evans-Brown says, though it’s all recorded and edited there.
But that national listenership has changed the creators’ approach. In 2017, Outside/In began focusing on stories that could be appreciated around the country – and the world. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to WWOOFing” focused on the details of volunteering on organic farms around the world. “Fantastic Mr. Phillips” is a 36-minute venture into the underground world of ecoterrorism, focusing on an environmental activist from Chicago and his protests against the Dial soap factory’s waste disposal practices.
But for every story that engages the audience, there will be well-reported stories that don’t fare as well. Evans-Brown and his team recently put out “Powerlines,” a four-part series about the intersection of clean energy and the rights of indigenous people, particularly in Canada. The series’ two hours of solid reporting didn’t exactly draw crowds. Evans-Brown admits that the series might not be as interesting to the average listener as, say, an episode that dives into whether or not solar panels were created by marijuana growers in California. But that’s a struggle that most journalists, from rookies to seasoned veterans, know all too well: How do we get people to care about this?
“You don’t want to blame the listener,” Evans-Brown says. “I don’t know quite what to do with it.
Outside/In is part of our response to it, like ‘Make me care about it.’ ”