Interview: Marc Fennell and Jan Fran, The Few Who Do and how podcasts are the future of media

The Australian media landscape is constantly shifting as technology disrupts how people access and absorb news. We’re seeing downsizing in the publishing and publication sector such as newspapers and magazines. Social media means fast but not always reliable or qualitative information. Interestingly enough the rise of podcasts has seen them become not just for entertainment but also for news and education.

Two journalists who anybody under the age of 40 might be familiar with are Marc Fennell and Jan Fran. You may have seen them hosting news and current affairs show The Feed on SBS Viceland. Or you may have heard Marc hosting Download This Show, a technology news focused podcast. You may have seen Jan popping up on The Project to discuss news topics. Both of them have been moving and shaking in the news realm and are now collaborating on a new podcast project The Few Who Do through SBS.

Marc: Jan and I’ve spent the last five years standing next to each other reading the news. And as it turns out, the news is kind of shit, because most of the things that happen in the world are bad. And what we decided is that we wanted to create a venue where we could actually showcase people that are working on solutions, that are actually setting about to fix some of those problems and issues that we report on. We wanted to create a separate space where we could focus on people that are doing really impressive things. And we’re talking about really passionate, ambitious people that have really surprising solutions for different problems. Some of them are big problems, some of them are small problems. Some of them affect all of us, and some of them affect people that you may not even know. And I think that was the motivating factor, that what didn’t necessarily exist in the TV show, but we could create a space in podcast.

Interestingly The Few Who Do doesn’t sit squarely in any genre or category. Even though the show targets news and current affairs in general, it can be from anything to transgender issues (as per their first episode), to the #MeToo movement, to Artificial Intelligence free from prejudice, to supporting population growth when food supplies are dwindling. The topics can be broad-reaching and ranging and also future-casting. But the podcasts format is grounded in Marc and Jan’s pre-existing work chemistry and being able to have that banter. Whilst having input from those that are working towards making changes and improvements to the issues being raised.   

Jan:  TV’s been around for a really long time. I think radio news and current affairs have been around for quite a long time as well. These are fixed formats that I don’t think you can be as creative with them as you can in a podcast base. And people asked us if it’s an interview podcast, is it two friends riffing, is this a narrative podcast, what is it? And the answer is, it could be all of those things, we’ve borrowed so many elements from so many different podcasts. And I think you can do it in a space like this as long as it’s interesting, it’s entertaining and people feel like they walked away, learning something, or knowing something. Then you’ve done a really great job, and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve with it.

Marc:  One of the things that I really like about podcasting is that the genres are still in flux, we’re creating a genre unto ourselves in a way here. So the show is a bit of interaction between Jan and I, but it’s also storytelling in a way, and interviewing in a way where we’re bringing in other people’s stories and we’re weaving those things together. And that’s the sort of narrative and structure that is best suited to podcasting, you couldn’t do that in TV or mainstream radio. So one of the things we found really exciting was an opportunity to like, “If we were gonna break down an issue from scratch using audio as medium, what’s the best way of doing it?” And it allows us to be really creative with storytelling as well.

Over the last few years in particular, podcasting as a medium has really exploded. Enabling people to consume information in a very intimate but easy way. It’s not just about media but also education. A means for people to learn about new topics or subjects or ideas. Anything from news, arts and entertainment, business, science and health. It’s all accessible through your preferred podcast app on your phone.

Jan: It’s about walking away from this, learning something, knowing something different, being entertained, laughing, crying. You want people to feel something when they listen to this. And the podcasting space, well certainly the space that we wanna create, it’s really intimate and it’s really casual, and it’s a dialogue between the audience, it’s a dialogue between the people that we chat to, and a dialogue between the two of us. And I think normally in other media spaces that might not work, but in podcasting it does.

Marc: I think what people forget that makes podcasting distinctive, is that it is the most intimate of media forms. You put in the earbuds and you are listening to it, and you are taken into a world of conversation. Into spaces that cameras and traditional radio broadcasting often don’t allow, but I think with that comes a tremendous opportunity to create empathy, to explore points of difference and also to have fun. It’s probably not instantly apparent in episode one, but as we roll out future episodes, it can be quite funny as well.

Their next episode which will go live on Friday 15 March will be about fast fashion and wastage in the fashion industry as well as consumer waste. It’s a growing problem that many people are probably oblivious to, and something that Jan in particular is passionate about. Whilst coming up later in the season, Marc gets to dip his toe back in to the film industry with an investigation into some gains in the Australian film and television industry.

Jan: The second episode is gonna tackle sustainability and fashion, because there is this crazy statistic that Australians consume or Australians buy 27 kilograms of clothes and/or textiles a year. Now that’s not the crazy stat, the crazy stat is that we throw away 23 of those kilograms. So fashion sustainability is a huge problem, and that’s what we’re tackling in the next episode. And what you’ll see is you’ll have two people with two very different ways of tackling that particular problem that Marc and I are going to explore. And we have a lot of fun doing it.

Marc:  I will say as a hat tip to my former career as a film critic, we do tackle a very deep problem that’s been bubbling away in the Australian film industry. We don’t wanna give too much of that one away, but it will be an interesting step back into something I’m probably previously known for in a former life.

Jan: Let’s just say that there’s particular elements of Australian film and television that are doing really well, that you actually might not know, that we are leaders in film and television in this one particular sense. And that’s what we’re gonna explore.

Coming up with the podcast subject matter generally involves brainstorming ideas, or selecting topics that the team are interested in. Anything from having simple discussions around the water cooler about problems and asking “Why hasn’t somebody fixed that?”. Though there is also the possibility of finding a particularly interesting individual or solution and retro-actively working backwards to determine the problem. And of course there’s the always helpful option of having people contact you about their solution to a problem, something neither of the two time-poor journalists are against.

Jan: Yeah absolutely, always. DMs are always open. if we don’t find you, we’d love you to find us.

Marc: Yeah, I’ve been inundated with a bunch of emails now, though to be honest it’s mostly from brands. It’s not an anti-business show, we believe that some of these problems can be solved with really great entrepreneurs and startups. We wanna hear from startups and entrepreneurs, but also everyday people that are working on solutions for some of these big challenges. But yeah, I’m really excited to hear from people reaching out.

 

The Few Who Do is a fortnightly podcast available where all good podcasts can be found.

You can also check it out via the SBS website here.