The newsroom sees Twitter Spaces, a live audio platform on the social media app, as a staging ground. It might be less polished, “but it also has that reality.”
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On July 7, the day Boris Johnson announced he would resign as British prime minister, thousands of New York Times readers around the world were trying to make sense of the political turmoil in Britain. Elaine Chen, the director of engagement on The Times’s Events team, thought it was the perfect moment for a conversation on Twitter Spaces, a live audio platform on Twitter that The Times has been using since January.
Vindu Goel, an editor of emerging platforms on the Audience team, spent the afternoon brushing up on British politics and writing a script for the event, while Ms. Chen spoke with reporters and reviewed questions submitted to The Times. Sarah Lyall, a Times writer at large, a former London correspondent and a self-described “Boris Johnson watcher,” agreed to host a conversation between the global business reporter Patti Cohen and the London correspondent Stephen Castle, who were following different angles to Mr. Johnson’s announcement.
At 9 a.m. Eastern time the next day, nearly 8,000 listeners tuned in to their discussion on Twitter Spaces. “It ended up being a really good conversation,” Mr. Goel said, noting that the team had been unsure about how it would come together, especially since Mr. Castle spoke while en route to a train station. Unlike a podcast, in which interviews are edited together, live audio is less polished, Mr. Goel said, “but it also has that reality.”
“It felt a little seat-of-our-pants,” Ms. Lyall said of the discussion. She added that a “really good script,” written by Mr. Goel, helped the speakers move through the 50-minute chat.
“Britain Without Boris” was The Times’s 27th Twitter Space of the year. The online panels have allowed The Times to experiment with the live audio format as a way for reporters and experts to react to breaking news, and for feature editors and critics to host curated talks on arts and culture. Thus far, The Times has hosted Twitter Spaces on the Capitol riot, Amy Schneider’s winning streak on “Jeopardy!” and Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter.
The Audience team first started thinking about live audio in mid-2020, when Clubhouse, an audio-only social app, was gaining popularity. “We were carefully waiting and seeing how that played out,” said Anna Dubenko, the director of audience for the newsroom. Because of Clubhouse’s success, she said, “bigger platforms started to dip their toes into live audio,” including Twitter. The Times already had over 50 million Twitter followers, so Twitter Spaces could be “easily integrated into our workflow,” Ms. Dubenko said.
Blockbuster podcasts such as “The Daily” are distributed on platforms like Spotify and Apple, but The Times is always experimenting with new formats, Mr. Goel said. In particular, he said, leaders developing an audio app at The Times “were really interested in this as an alternative to the highly polished podcast.”
According to a digital news survey conducted in January and February and published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 37 percent of U.S. respondents said they had listened to a podcast in the last month, while only 19 percent have paid for online news. “All the industry research shows that U.S. audiences are interested in podcasts and listening to news,” Mr. Goel said. He has noticed a rising level of interest in The Times’s Twitter Spaces, too: More than 100,000 people listened to a discussion about U.S. sanctions on Russia, while a talk on the corporate marketing of Pride Month drew about 55,000 listeners.
“We think that the Twitter Spaces can maybe be used as a way to appeal to audiences who don’t already subscribe to The Times and aren’t necessarily reading us a ton,” Ms. Chen said. From an events standpoint, live audio offers a nearly unmatched level of access for listeners, and it’s more efficient to produce. Since guest reporters and lawmakers can drop in from their phones, Ms. Chen said, “you can really turn things around more quickly.”
Audio in general can seem daunting to writers in particular, Ms. Lyall said, but it’s “quite relaxing” if one treats it like a chat with friends. “It’s a way of flexing different muscles that maybe you didn’t even know were present beforehand,” she said.
In a live audio conversation, writers can expand on ideas from their reporting. For example, the week after “The Root of Haiti’s Misery: Reparations to Enslavers” was published, a few of the reporters joined Haitian history scholars for a talk on Twitter Spaces in response to readers’ feedback.
“People are trying to understand a complex story,” Mr. Goel said, adding that with Spaces, “we’re offering some of our best journalistic minds to explain it.”
Listen to Times conversations on Twitter Spaces by following @nytimesevents on Twitter.