We’re living through a golden age in podcasting — that perfect sweet spot where the general public has started to recognize the form, creators are expanding its possibilities, and there isn’t so much money in play that the speculators and non-enthusiasts have swept in to ruin it like… well, like most other things on the internet.
For now, podcasts are almost exclusively created by and for the people who love them, supported sometimes by ads, but even more often by people paying specifically for that content. It’s a refreshingly simple model. So enjoy this brief period of podcasting’s adolescence while it lasts, and be glad that for now we only have the occasional Zip Recruiter live reads to fast forward through.
True crime writing, long-form reporting, documentaries, and radio documentaries have all existed for a long time. But the serialized podcast format is creating all sorts of new opportunities for this brand of reporting and allowing it to be more in-depth than ever before. New stories are being told in unique ways, and — best of all — they’re being heard.
Audio is a more passive medium, in that it doesn’t require your full attention, and you can experience it while you do something else, like drive a car or clean your doll collection. This ability to be experienced on less than full engagement paradoxically makes podcasts more intimate. It’s content you can take with you wherever you go, keeping you company on your commute or in your desperate attempt to tune out coworkers. This quality also allows for more in-depth, more detailed reporting. Storytellers can tell longer-form narratives, some of these lasting up to 10 hours, without worrying that they’re boring people.*
*Though it’s worth mentioning: just because you can make a 10-hour podcast doesn’t always mean you should.
At the close of 2018, we’re seeing incredible advocacy journalism being done in podcasts. Many of these series offer top-notch entertainment, but they’re also Important. I don’t expect it will always be this way. Here are some of my hopes for the medium going forward:
1. Let audio be audio.
One of the most obnoxious trends in podcasts right now is the push to turn podcasts into “soundscapes.” Some shows do it better than others, and there are certainly some soundscape-y pods on this list, but the reason the medium is popular in the first place is that there is a simple power and pleasure in listening to a single human voice. It’s fine for a podcast to be just that. So many podcasts are starting to add unnecessary sound effects, pointless music, and conspicuous edits that I’m reminded of that Simpsons episode where Homer learns to edit video. “You know there are other transitions besides a star wipe, right?”