Have You Heard? is where the Pod Bible team meet the people behind the podcasts you may not have heard of yet. This time we’re speaking to Andrew MacDougall and Giles Kenningham, the ‘flaks’ on a new podcast that shares the inside scoop on how journalist hacks and the flaks of government work behind the scenes to decide which stories, you’ll be reading …
Who are you and what’s your podcast about?
ANDREW: My name is Andrew MacDougall, and I’m one of the regulars on Hacks & Flaks, the new podcast that shines a light on how media (Hacks) and PR (Flaks) work in tandem to make the news. I’m a former Director of Communications to former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who’s been working in PR in London for the past ten years, advising corporates, charities and high net worth individuals in my role as a Director at Trafalgar Strategy.
GILES: I am Giles Kenningham, former Number Ten spokesman and in a life before that I was a journalist for ITV News.
Our podcast lifts the lid on how and why stories make the front and back pages but also why some stories end up in the dustbin. It also takes an irreverent look at the more comedic sides of the media.
What was the first podcast you ever listened to?
ANDREW: The first podcast I can remember binging on was ‘Serial’, the true crime series about Adnan Syed. Now I can’t stop listening to podcasts, from ‘The Missing Cryptoqueen’ to Joe Rogan.
GILES: One of the first podcasts I listened to was Elizabeth Day’s “how to fail” which was and remains a great format. Now I listen to an array across the spectrum and am trying to listen to more podcasts and watch less television. I am currently listening to the comedian Paul Chowdhry’s “Pudcast”.
Why did you decide to start podcasting in the first place?
ANDREW: Having worked in politics, business and the media, I didn’t feel there was a podcast that properly examined how the news comes together and how that’s changing in the age of social media. Enter ‘Hacks & Flaks’! In any age of declining trust in media we think it’s important to demystify this vital cog in our democracy.
GILES: I’ve always been fascinated in how the media works and shapes the agenda. We also felt there was a gap in the market for a podcast that lifts the lid on how the media works but does so without taking itself too seriously. The media show on Radio 4 aims to do that but is massively constrained by the straitjacket of BBC editorial guidelines
Which podcasts do you take inspiration from?
ANDREW: As someone who’s benefitted from cognitive behavioural therapy to help improve my mental health, I’m a big fan of Ryan Holiday’s pod ‘The Daily Stoic’, which explores the Stoicism that underpins much of CBT. Stoicism is an operating system for life in the dizzying age of social media and I love how the pod gives you strategies and insights that can help you in your daily life.
As a Canadian political junkie, I also love ‘The Herle Burly’, a political pod that actually knows what it’s talking about and knows what it feels like to be caught in the grind of modern politics. It’s also a real conversation for real people, not a sermon, and that’s a vibe we’re trying to match in ‘Hacks & Flaks’.
And as a football junkie, and a Chelsea supporter, I love the ‘London is Blue’ podcast, where the hosts really do a good job of including their listeners in the pod and building a community of people who love Chelsea Football Club.
Who’s your dream guest for the podcast?
ANDREW: My dream guest for the podcast would be Rupert Murdoch, a man who had seen – and lead – multiple revolutions in the media, from the rise of The Sun and red top culture in the UK in the early 1970s, to the rise of opinion-led cable news in the United States in the 1990s and beyond.
GILES: So many people. But for starters any of my favourite comedians from Kevin Bridges to Peter Kay. On a more serious note Bill Clinton.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far from making the podcast?
ANDREW: My biggest lesson to date has been that chemistry really matters. On ‘Hacks & Flaks’ we have a great host – Petrie Hosken – and a great collection of regular contributors, including my business partner Giles Kenningham, another former political staffer, and Mick Booker, an experienced (and hilarious) journalist. We get along well in real life and that comes across on the pod. And of course we have a wonderful producer – Amanda Redman – who keeps us all on track and on point!
GILES: Sometimes the best moments come from going off piste. Given we are not live, we have the luxury of time and can always edit bits out if they are too off topic.