2018 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Medium / Large Newsroom finalist

Strange Bird: Experimental Podcast and Player


About the Project

The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab collaborated with the Guardian US newsroom to launch Strange Bird, a podcast hosted by Guardian US data editor Mona Chalabi, along with an experimental web-based audio player that broke new ground in the experience of listening to podcasts by augmenting the audio with related material.

In the inaugural episode, Chalabi used data and statistics to explore the gap between the the frequency of miscarriages among women and how little they are discussed.
Through a chat-like interface, the player integrated visual elements—such as Chalabi’s illustrated charts, along with text messages with background information, links to sources, and photographs of the people Mona interviewed—into the listening experience. It also allowed people to subscribe to the podcast through the web, rather than exclusively in podcast apps.

On Android devices, listeners could also sign up to receive the show’s visual elements through notifications, and could be alerted when new episodes are released.

Mona Chalabi, data editor and host, The Guardian US, said:
“Strange Bird is a show about the things that can make us feel lonely. I try to use statistics to explain that the universe isn’t so random, that there are patterns that shape our lives. In this first show, I speak to my mum, friends and experts to uncover an experience that can feel incredibly lonely: miscarriage.”

Sasha Koren, editor, Guardian US mobile innovation lab, said:
“Given the popularity of podcasting, we felt that audio was an area ripe for experimentation, both in the way it is accessed and the kind of content included. We wanted test out new audio formats, including the ability to make images and source material seamlessly available alongside audio. Mona’s gift for pairing writing and illustration to produce compelling pieces of data journalism made her the perfect collaborator for what the lab team wanted to build.”

Special features:
*The web player’s chat-like interface with the show’s host gives listeners instant access to pieces of information that enhance the listening experience — such as related images, data visualizations and links to additional resources on the show’s topic. For Chrome users, the extra content can be delivered through notifications that live on your lock screen for when you want to look at them.

*Wide availability to audiences on the web: unlike iOS devices, many Android phones don’t come preloaded with a podcast app. Podcast producers have to rely on users finding an app on their own (or being recommended one to download) before accessing their audio content. Alternately, publishers could promote discovery by integrating podcasting functionality into their own native apps. Whatever the case, publishers who produce audio face significant challenges to gaining an audience, which is a problem this player allows them to work around.

*Ability to subscribe to receive alerts when there’s a new episode (Chrome-only)

*Ability to be in touch with the podcast host directly from within the web-listening interface

*Ability to bring scenes and data to life through audio and complementary visuals