Today in Focus

The Guardian

Each weekday Today in Focus brings listeners a deeply reported, richly produced look at a single news story.

Despite increasing competition, the podcast remains a leader in the field. On any given day its most recent episodes sit towards the top of the Apple news podcast chart. It has built a loyal and ever-growing audience, and a younger, more diverse reach than the newspaper or website.

Connecting with that audience means doing everything that this category demands: presenting the news with originality, knowledge and creativity.

Episode 1 of the podcast is about the Pegasus project. Pegasus is the name of phone-hacking spyware sold by the surveillance company NSO. It has always claimed that it is only used to prevent crime and catch terrorists.

As part of a wider Guardian investigation, Today in Focus produced a 5-part miniseries, breaking the story about how repressive governments around the world have in fact been using the hacking software to monitor human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and political opponents.

Presenter Michael Safi worked as part of the reporting team throughout the project, and producers captured audio as the investigation unfolded. In the submitted episode, you hear the multi-layered production style used across the series to keep a strong narrative drive and gripping pace throughout.

The impact of the project was huge. It prompted an official review in five different countries. The United States placed NSO on a blacklist usually reserved for enemies of the country.

Another episode is about Barbados’ decision to become a republic. But through a creative treatment, which zooms in on one property, we understand the story behind that decision, and how colonialism still echoes across the whole country. The piece is centred on an on-location interview with Esther Phillips, the country’s poet laureate.

Esther has heard popular rumours that the plantation near where she grew up is still owned to this day by a British MP, Richard Drax, a descendant of the original pioneers of slavery.

Michael obtains documents proving Drax is still the owner, and shows Esther the papers. The revelation prompts her to deliver a passionate and eloquent case for historical reparations - the kind of rare, serendipitous moment that makes podcasting feel electric. Another episode looks at the cost of living crisis. We hear from Amy, a single mother, who Today in Focus presenter Nosheen Iqbal had kept in touch with throughout the pandemic. The episode focuses on the relationship between Amy and her son, and demonstrates the depth of reporting and focus on character-driven story telling which the podcast has become known for.

The episode also demonstrates the strong connection between the podcast and its listeners. We received dozens of messages from women going through similar experiences. Amy told us that many had also contacted her directly giving messages of support. Hundreds of people bought the knitting patterns that she mentions incidentally at the start of the episode. She said this had “made a monumental difference to her year”.