In 2015, two photojournalists, Berta Tilmantaitė and Artūras Morozovas, made the decision to establish their own organization with a focus on creating long-form multimedia projects centered around social topics. They invited other media professionals to collaborate, and that’s how Nanook media was born. Five years and many articles, podcast episodes and multimedia projects later, the media has changed its name. Nanook has turned into NARA. Meanwhile, not only the media itself but also, the NARA podcast, which has been out since 2017, has gained popularity, despite human rights and social issues not being the most popular topics for a wider audience. We sat down with a member of NARA team Indrė Kiršaitė, who is in charge of the organization's audio production, to find out how the media has evolved, the changes that the podcast underwent, and the future of the podcast market in Lithuania in general.
From “Nanook” to “Nara”: the history of the media
Nanook began with the multimedia project about women detained in Panevėžys correctional facility, - saying Indrė. - Later the team released a multimedia article about Lithuanian paralympians. They were not getting much attention at the time, which is actually pretty common worldwide: it’s usually the Olympic athletes who get all the press. Although in a country like Lithuania, for instance, paralimpians bring home more medals than the Olympic team.
Later on, Inna Šilina, a Russian-speaking journalist joined the NARA team. The scope of the podcast topics has since widened to include the everyday life and problems of the Russian diaspora in Lithuania. As a result, publications regarding Russian political refugees in Lithuania, as well as those delving into the issue of identity within the Russian diaspora, were created.
These projects were published in Russian and Lithuanian, while the previous ones were published in Lithuanian and English, - Indrė comments.
In 2017, the journalist Karolis Vyšniauskas joined NARA. Karolis had previously worked at a number of Lithuanian radio stations, so it was he who initiated the idea of the NARA podcast.
In those days, podcasts were not particularly popular in Lithuania in general, - Indrė recalls. - There was even no consensus on how to translate the very word "podcast" into Lithuanian. Nevertheless, Karolis embarked on producing it, and over time, it started gaining popularity. Soon afterward, Karolis branched out into producing audio documentaries with the help of his colleagues in addition to regular podcast episodes.
Indrė Kiršaitė joined NARA in 2020. Before that, she worked for the Lithuanian National Radio. In NARA she is in charge of the podcast branch.
I joined NARA in the summer of 2020, - says Indrė, - and in autumn we decided to rebrand. It was at that time that we changed the name from Nanook to NARA, and we also significantly changed our approach to production. We expanded to various presentation formats: texts, podcasts, photostories and multimedia. So we have more content to publish regularly. At the same time, we finally had a home for all the multimedia stories we create - a well-maintained website. Now it is the place where all the materials we do in all the different formats are brought together.
Although we are now focusing on less complicated forms than long-read multimedia stories, the visual part is still important for us in NARA. Each of our podcast episodes is accompanied by photos. We do not ask our interviewees to send some photos for illustration. We send a photographer ourselves instead. Another important difference between NARA and many other media is that we can go deep with our topics. We cover the topics of human rights, ecology and culture in a way that is not done in the newsroom, for example.
NARA podcast and the podcast market
One would assume that different sub-themes that NARA tackles are covered in different podcast series. However, all regular episodes as well as audio documentaries are released under the same NARA podcast brand. For example, one podcast included an interview with an Iranian activist about the protests in her homeland. There was also an episode about a woman with disabilities from Kaunas who was discriminated against both because of her health condition and because she became a mother. Before that, there was an episode about volunteers helping migrants stuck at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.
In fact, we can say that the episodes of the podcast are united by the same topic, - Indrė comments. - That general topic is social struggle.
Indeed, the range of themes in our episodes, as well as all our activities, is quite wide. From time to time we have conversations with experts on current political events. Or we interview prominent activists. On the other hand, we also release audio documentaries from time to time - a rare genre for the Lithuanian audio market on the whole. For example, we had 3 episodes about the Roma people: about the history of the genocide, and about the life of the Roma diaspora in present-day Lithuania. All these topics are pretty interesting to our audience.
It is fairly common worldwide for radio people to cross over to podcast production. For example, the well-known American podcast media Gimlet was founded by radio journalist Alex Bloomberg. In countries like Belarus on the other hand, the situation is somewhat different: we lack a well-established tradition of entertainment radio, and the podcast industry is not dominated by former radio professionals. The example of NARA at first glance resembles the American model to a greater extent.
In the case of NARA, we are actually a group of journalists who had previously collaborated with different national and international media outlets, - says Indrė.
In general, people come to Lithuanian podcasting from different spheres. Now podcasts have already become quite popular, and some of the most popular podcasts are made by Lithuanian comedians. Psychological podcasts about mental topics are also very popular. There is a joke that everyone now has a podcast, and this is partly true for Lithuania.
NARA releases all of its content, including podcast episodes, in different languages: Lithuanian, English and Russian. Indrė explains the reasoning behind this:
There are several different reasons for this, - comments Idnrė. - First of all, we publish articles in Lithuanian. Some of them are then available in English as well, it is the international language after all. In fact, there are about four million people speaking Lithuanian in the whole world, so it makes sense to try to expand to a wider audience beyond that number. The choice of languages is also dictated by the diversity of our team. For Example, when Russian-speaking journalist Inna Šilina joined us, she started making a Russian-language podcast "CoMeta" for a while. Our Russian-speaking colleagues can also make content in Russian. Since we are a non-profit organization limited in human and financial resources, our choice of languages is determined, among other things, by our team. We could make content in other languages if we had journalists and editors who speak these other languages.
Indrė adds that the audience of NARA is not limited to Lithuania residents, and the views statistics by country correlate with the choice of languages.
75% of our audience lives in Lithuania, and 25% - abroad. I think a quarter is a pretty significant part. Of course, it should be understood that not only foreigners consume content from abroad, but also Lithuanian migrants who have gone there. The first place in the rate of views abroad is taken by the United Kingdom. Then come the United States, Norway, Germany, and so on. These are all countries where many Lithuanians have moved. Interestingly, Belarus occupies the 6th place in terms of views. I think this is due to the fact that we covered the protests of 2020, and periodically return to Belarusian topics until now.
In addition to the geography, Indrė also said that their core demographic is educated people aged 25 to 34. Another significant portion of the audience is people aged 35 to 44. Both of these figures suggest an urbanized audience.
We have a pretty close relationship with the audience, - says Indrė. Our Facebook group is the place where topics are being discussed with our listeners. That is also where we often share behind-the-scenes posts about our work. We get real feedback all the time thanks to that group and it makes us feel connected to our audience. When I worked at the radio for example there was no such connection at all. I sometimes felt like I was talking to a wall. Perhaps because of this lack of contact, radio ratings are constantly declining.
As for the technical side of content production, as Indrė says, in NARA the topic itself dictates the presentation format. If there is a lot to see in the story, a photo report or a multimedia story format is chosen. Text with infographics would be a format easier to take in visually if the content is rich in analytics and data. If the sound aspect is crucial to the story - the podcast format would be preferred.
When making a podcast, we have two options for recording, - says Indrė. - A conversation with an expert can be recorded at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library studio with which we have a partnership. On the other hand, we also have our own equipment that we can use in the field. When the recording is done, the post-production stage begins. We cut together and edit everything we recorded.
Some of our employees are capable of handling the entire post-production process independently. In such cases, a single person takes charge of producing the entire podcast episode. But with audio documentaries, we usually work in teams: when there is more content, we need one or two more people to lend a hand and provide a fresh set of eyes and ears. There is usually no strict division of labor in such teams, but we loosely assign roles of the author, editor and sound engineer.
Sometimes I feel jealous of big productions they have in some U.S. online media that can have up to 10 or more people working on a single story. On the other hand, when I worked in radio, I had to do everything myself. Now, when we produce audio documentaries, we work in twos or threes. Which means the situation is slowly but surely getting better.
NARA and the future of the podcast
As Indrė said, back in 2017, when they just started, podcasts generally were not very popular in Lithuania. Obviously, both the NARA podcast and the entire podcast market have changed since. This is what Indrė has to say about the future of their project:
We see that podcasts have gained significant popularity in Lithuania; however, precise statistics and data on the overall podcast audience size are unavailable. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to say that we have reached the peak: the audience of podcasts in Lithuania is still growing.
NARA has gone through different stages over the six years of the podcast's existence. And now we're in discussions about where to go. For example, our recent episode about psychology got a substantial number of listens. In general, we are considering focusing in and narrowing down the topics of our podcasts even more.
In addition to podcasts, we aim to promote the importance of media literacy. We have a dedicated focus on education, recognizing the worrying global decline in trust towards the media. However, our particular concern lies in enhancing trust in Lithuanian journalists.
Text by Darya Hardzeichyk