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A New Path: Small Media, Big Future


legacy media vs new media

Words by Andrea Ho


Women and people from diverse communities continue to battle for places in mainstream media. Could podcasts and other new media offer more satisfaction and opportunity?

 

Last month, Anisha Khopkar co-launched a media consultancy in Sydney – McAuliffe & Khopkar – advising on media content strategy, development, and reaching new demographics and audiences.


Anisha Khopkar
Anisha Khopkar

She says her progress from junior to mid-level roles had hit a ceiling after a decade working in mainstream media. She found herself doing senior work without commensurate position or pay. She adds that she’s often seen women with non-Anglo cultural backgrounds treated as juniors.


“We [women of colour] are just not seen in positions of power so they assume we don’t belong,” she says. “There’s a perception bias – that you’re ‘younger’, less experienced.


“The only way to spread my wings at this stage in my career with my skills set – which is about what media will look like in the future – was to leave a large media organisation.




“Now I take the lead, make decisions, choose who I work with, what we do, what we represent.”

 


Podcasts and new media opportunities


The Women in Media Industry Insight Report 2024 shows record-high career dissatisfaction for women in Australian media. This year’s Gender Pay Gap report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency reveals media organisations pay women 9% less than men, a greater gap than the national average of 7%.


So is now the time for other women in media to take a similar step to Khopkar, to look beyond legacy media to new media and its growing audiences?


Previously seen as niche, new media such as podcasts and vodcasts, and their increasing popularity, can be an attractive alternative for professionals grappling with legacy media set-ups. The usual structural barriers that can exclude women and people from under-represented communities simply don’t exist there.


An increasing number of new media players are gaining serious ground. Radio and podcasting provide a particularly interesting case study to of legacy vs new media.


Data shows a slow but steady decline in radio listening overall, while podcast listening is rapidly growing. Podcast listeners skew female and younger, with under-35s the most enthusiastic.

 


Mid-career move to new media


Khopkar recognises her future success will, however, be built on the skills she gained from her jobs as digital content editor for ABC and social media editor at BuzzFeed in legacy media.


“I learned best practice: how to edit a story, editorial judgement. There’s nothing like being trained up and held accountable in a big newsroom,” she explains.


“That said, the moment you’re skilled and want to start exercising that judgement, use the value you bring, it became… disappointing. There are less diverse people in influential roles in legacy media, a problem in valuing mid-career [talent]. The only way forward for me was to make my own opportunities.”


Kellie Riordan left mainstream radio after several decades to start Deadset Studios in Brisbane, which provides audio strategy and podcast production (as she explains in this month’s Five Questions). Her team are overwhelmingly women.


Some of this is “happenstance – the first two [people] I turned to were incredible operators who happened to be women”.


Kellie Riordan
Kellie Riordan

But at another level, Riordan is employing women “purposefully”. She aims to offer a better workplace experience.


“I’ve been that woman in a large media organisation, balancing family and kids, so it was important for me to offer flexibility at Deadset Studios. Why wouldn’t I?”


It’s an approach that has already yielded dividends; I spoke with one of her clients who cited the company’s team and approach as an “ethical recruitment” factor when they commissioned Riordan.

 


Opportunities outside mainstream media


Both Riordan and Khopkar recognise what they gained from starting in legacy media. If the mainstream continues to contract, they are prepared to join emerging generations of new media businesses who, in turn, will nurture new talent but will cast a wider net.


Khopkar says, “Our goal is to put our money where our mouth is: to elevate emerging voices and young diverse creators.”


Kellie Riordan is acutely aware of these underserved audiences.


“With the mainstream media contraction in recent years, the space is opening for powerhouse new media production houses that are separate from legacy media,”

Riordan notes.


Khopkar believes audiences have already made that shift, so opportunities await those who step outside the mainstream.


“I do think Gen Zs get it, better than we do. They’re less brand loyal, so they’re quicker to question things and speak up. They’re bearing the brunt of cost-of-living crisis and job insecurity, so they’re more cynical about mainstream media – it has less sway.”


 

The generational divide in radio


Traditional radio continues to reach sizeable audiences and will be around for a while – good news for senior practitioners.


But, anecdotally, next generations of radio listeners are hard to find. At several different radio events I’ve attended this year, I’ve asked a range of industry execs what their kids listen to; without exception they said, with embarrassed laughs, podcasts.


It’s at these industry gatherings that the generational divide becomes very apparent in another way: panels and keynote speakers about traditional radio content or radio advertising tend to feature older, Anglo-Australian men and (fewer) older, Anglo-Australian women.


But the speaker panels for podcasting are overwhelmingly female and culturally diverse.

The conference brochures neatly capture where thought leadership, and senior opportunities, diverge between legacy and new media.


Riordan has also noticed this. She cites a half-dozen examples, in quick succession, of international podcasts that have gone from niche to heavy hitters, driving the careers of media makers outside the mainstream mould.


She highlights culture podcast ‘Still Processing’ with Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham (they/them), two writers with the New York Times Magazine with African-American backgrounds, which debuted in 2016.


“They were seen as ‘off-Broadway’, so the New York Times gave them a podcast in a way they wouldn’t have given them their own column,” she says.


“Then it became popular with mainstream media audiences. And then #metoo happened and #blacklivesmatter, and they became the voices of a massive pop culture movement.”


 

Servicing old and new media audiences


For some time, legacy media has highlighted the very real challenge of ‘riding two horses’ – the double impost of servicing old and new audiences.


Khopkar empathises: “It’s a hard position to be in, they have a huge audience and they just can’t turn things off. But it’s at the expense of younger audiences, and I’m talking about the under 40s.”


Meanwhile, audiences vote with their feet, as they always do.


For women and diverse media makers, we have choices to make. If we’re dissatisfied with the status quo, it might be time.



 

Andrea Ho is an experienced media executive, leader, and on-air broadcaster and producer, with a career spanning decades. She currently teaches at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) where she is the Discipline Lead for Radio and Podcasting.





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