Questions for Brad Mielke, Host of ABC’s Start Here

Brad Mielke, host of leading daily news podcast Start Here, is an ABC News correspondent based in New York. Start Here takes a straightforward look at the day’s top news in 20 minutes.

Since its launch in March 2018, Start Here has posted special episodes on some of the world’s biggest events including the Singapore Summit, the testimony of Brett Kavanaugh & Christine Blasey Ford, the State of the Union and most recently, the Mueller report, with Brad at the center of the podcast’s reporting.

Brad gave Podcast Movement the chance to ask some questions about his experience as a podcasting news anchor. Looking for exclusive insight into the making of an award-winning show? Start Here.

In a piece you wrote last spring about the lessons of daily podcasting, you pointed out the importance of talking “like a freaking person.” Podcasting lends itself to more conventional storytelling, rather than the old-school “inverted pyramid” method. Has news podcasting influenced the way journalists relay information?

Yes – in two ways. One, I think it’s reminded a lot of newsrooms that there is a hunger out there for storytelling, and not just bullet point facts. The entire true-crime genre is based on this idea that headlines do not tell anywhere near the full story. Even if it’s a story we’ve heard a million times, if you bring in characters and plot and context, the listener can be captivated.

Two, I think in the smartphone era everyone knows the headline already. They’ve seen it. So the job of the journalist becomes fleshing out that headline. In every Start Here segment we try to answer the two questions your notification banner rarely tells you: how did this event unfold and why should we care?

Fitting the key parts of an interview, or several, into a 20-minute show must be a challenge. Has your interview style, i.e., depth of questioning and analysis, changed to fit the rapid-fire format of Start Here?

I think it’s made me prepare more, frankly. One of journalists’ favorite tricks is to ask an expert to “talk about this angle for a second.” If the person has a decent 20-second answer, you can use that in your piece. That’s not possible in a quick interview show and it’s especially not possible when you’re asking that guest to tell a story, start to finish, in 4 minutes.

So it’s forced me to plot out what I need to get from my guest and have a clear idea of the story arc before we begin. And then if we get an extra nugget of information, maybe we’ll stretch to 4:30.

The pressure on journalists to appear neutral has undoubtedly increased in recent years. Do you feel like the podcast format allows more freedom of expression than traditional broadcast journalism?

I think this format allows journalists to describe what it takes to get a story right. None of us are born experts on a topic. Most general assignment reporters are just people who like to nerd out for quick bursts of time! And since audio is such an intimate environment, where you feel like you really know the host in your ears, you can hear their genuine curiosity, their reactions to questions, their skepticism of canned answers and their ability to dig for something new.

During interviews, you can actually hear it playing out. In a podcast with a conversational tone, you can hear the host weigh the factors involved. The truth is that every story is often more complicated than a headline would suggest — and podcasting is a great format to explore the complicated.

The time frame of the show limits the detail of coverage by necessity. If you could revisit an episode of Start Here to extend a segment or elaborate on an interview or event, which would you choose?

Every day! I’ve had to kill so many great anecdotes and even full segments because they weren’t as necessary for listeners who are starting their day. The day that Mueller testified, we had a producer who was in touch with the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, reacting in real time as the governor resigned. Just the other day, Rahm Emanuel was dropping smart take after smart take about the Democratic debates, but we had to lose a couple so that the audience could get filled in on other news.

But the thing I always wish he had more time for is our investigative team. Recently our correspondent David Wright had spent weeks studying this story about abuse by priests in Buffalo. He flew all over, conducting painstaking interviews; his team was digging through documents. At the end he premiered a full hour on Nightline, only to be asked by me: “That’s great, can you just make it shorter?”

Many of us find that podcasts provide a reprieve from work and the news. Has hosting Start Here changed your relationship with podcasts? Do you listen to any shows in particular outside of work to relax?

For sure. Podcasts are great comfort food for me around the house and on the way home from work. I find myself listening to a lot of humor podcasts — How Did This Get Made? is always a sure bet for me. I’m also a sucker for a good mystery like Who the Hell is Hamish. But on the way into work, I still listen to lots of news and analysis.

The Start Here team includes talented producers, audio experts and editors, all essential roles in creating a major podcast. What aspect of behind-the-scenes engineering has given you the most appreciation for those that podcast solo?

I can’t imagine producing Start Here on my own, namely because of the breadth of the stories that we cover. A major strength of ABC has always been the diversity of its team, which leads to a wide variety of story pitches, interview questions, and storytelling styles. I’m a true believer that the more voices you hear from, the better the end product will be.

And often a segment will evolve throughout the day because of our team’s collective interests. I’ll start to script a piece, but then our booker will tell me a great fact that sets me up for the interview. Our producer will point out a better way to introduce the segment, a smarter angle. And while I’m working on the next piece, our editor will pull sound clips that really frame it for the listener in a way I could have never done as effectively on my own. So I’m in awe of people who can pull together so many threads in their own brains!

PM19: Learn more from Brad Mielke at 2 conference events on Thursday, August 15!

The Start Here breakfast: 8:15am-10:15am in the Gatlin B foyer. Stop by for coffee and conversation.

Keynote Session: “Goodbye to Sleep: The Art of Making a Daily News Podcast,” 12:15pm-1:15pm on the Live Stage (Gatlin B).

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