“Frontline” is expanding the reach of its investigative and deep-dive reporting into the realm of podcasting. The six-episode “Frontline Dispatch” series bows Sept. 14 with a look at the prevalence of child marriage in the U.S.
The series is supported by a donation from the Boston-based Abrams Foundation. The gift allows “Frontline” to commit to a three-year cycle of producing what “Frontline” exec producer Raney Aronson-Rath calls “audio documentaries.”
To support the podcasting initiative, “Frontline” has hired Jay Allison, a public radio vet and creator of “The Moth Radio Hour,” as senior editor and creative director, as well as two producers Jamie York and Sophie McKibben and editor Andrew Metz. The podcasts are produced out of “Frontline’s” headquarters at WGBH-TV Boston and will be distributed biweekly by PRX. They’ll be available via the websites of “Frontline” and PBS as well as Apple Podcasts and other podcasting apps.
Aronson-Rath said the goal is to use the podcast form to tackle stories that are harder to tell with video cameras rolling. The debut episode is a prime example. The 53-minute installment looks at the legalities of child marriage in the U.S. It tells the intimate story of an Idaho girl who got pregnant at 14 and married a 24-year-old man just days after her 15th birthday. The installment is produced and narrated by Anjali Tsui, a “Frontline”/Columbia Journalism School fellow who is also on a fellowship provided by Abrams Foundation.
“Frontline’s” podcast initiative has been in the works for about a year. Aronson-Rath wanted to make sure “Frontline” took its time to learn how to best expand its brand of journalism to the podcast form.
“It’s been quite a journey of discovery, learning the benefits of the form and how different it is for visual storytelling,” Aronson-Rath told Variety. “To really stretch ourselves to tell stories in the audio form has been quite enlightening.”
The production process in many ways is as intense as assembling a “Frontline” long-form video documentary. The depth of information presented, the editing of the audio and pacing of the storytelling is vital. Producers also have to be careful not to have too many characters and to focus on a single story that serves as a through-line.
That’s why it was important for “Frontline” to hire dedicated and experienced staff for the initiative. “We didn’t go into this thinking that our filmmakers could immediately learn how to make a podcast,” she said. “The audio form is in your ear. It’s in an intimate listening experience. The storytelling style shifts to a much more personal, narrative voice.”
Podcasts are also a good way to bring new, diverse perspectives into the “Frontline” family of producers, Aronson-Rath added. “We want to bring new voices to ‘Frontline,’ ” she said.
The financial support for “Frontline Dispatch” is part of Abrams Foundation’s larger effort to support the expansion of high-end journalism produced for new media.
“We value ‘Frontline’s’ rigorous, balanced, and thoughtful investigative reporting and share ‘Frontline’s’ commitment to expanding their reach through the use of crossplatform and multiplatform approaches,” said Abrams Foundation president Amy Abrams.
The podcast series bows two days after “Frontline” kicks off its fall season on PBS with a Steve James documentary “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” a look at the only U.S. bank to face prosecution after the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Other upcoming video docs include a study of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, the controversial EPA leader Scott Pruitt and the battle against ISIS in Mosul, Iraq.
(Pictured: Raney Aronson-Rath)