Podcast Pulse: The Best Audio Journalism

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Podcasts have a reputation for being low-effort, just some friends hanging out and goofing around in front of their microphones. But on some shows, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As podcasting has grown as a medium, so has audio journalism – you can listen to everything from breezy daily news podcasts to deep-dive, heavily reported stories. If you’re looking for something to really sink your teeth into, here are some podcasts featuring the best audio journalism in the business.

“Embedded”

On NPR’s “Embedded,” host Kelly McEvers and her crew choose a story from the news and dive deep. The title comes from the idea of a reporter embedding themselves with a group of people to get a deeper understanding of a story. Their multi-episode explorations, including detailed interviews with the people closest to the stories they’re covering, are some of the best reporting you’ll hear on any podcast. Find out what it was like to survive a shooting at a local newspaper, watch the rise of Mitch McConnell’s political career, hear from coal miners in Appalachia, navigate a tense war between two biker gangs and so much more. “Embedded” feels like a podcast that can go anywhere and do anything, and it’s a privilege to be along for the ride.

“30 for 30”

Based on the ESPN documentary series, “30 for 30″ is a podcast about all the most fascinating moments in sports culture. You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this podcast. The stories are sure to enthrall any listener. My personal favorite seasons of “30 for 30″ are “The Sterling Affairs” and “Bikram.” “The Sterling Affairs” tells the story of “the worst owner in sports history,” the complicated history of basketball in Los Angeles and the power of real estate. “Bikram” tells the story of the rise of Bikram Choudhury’s brand of hot yoga and the controversies that followed.

“Radiolab”

“Radiolab” is a classic podcast listen – and one of the first podcasts that I recommend to new listeners. It’s one of the most popular and enduring podcasts out there, and for good reason. Radiolab’s team of reporters publish unique stories on diverse topics, including the dark history of measuring intelligence, a political prisoner with the same name as one of the Radiolab reporters, the “supreme court” of Facebook, scientific breakthroughs and more. The episodes usually run under an hour, and they all pack a punch.

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“The Daily”

True to its name, “The Daily” is a daily podcast from the New York Times, billed as “twenty minutes a day, five days a week, ready by 6 a.m.” Every weekday, you can load up “The Daily” and find out what’s going on in the world. Listeners can also enjoy the Sunday Read, a special Sunday episode where a recent New York Times article is read aloud. It’s a daily conversation with some of the best journalists in the business.

“Rabbit Hole”

“Rabbit Hole,” from the New York Times, chronicles how the internet can change people’s minds and lives. From algorithms that point people toward more and more polarizing content to forums that stoke conspiracy theories, “Rabbit Hole” is true to its name. The podcast asks, “What is the internet doing to us?” Columnist Kevin Reese tries to find out. Whether you’re an internet expert or a newbie, “Rabbit Hole” will shock you.

“The Retrievals”

“The Retrievals” is a podcast from Serial Productions and the New York Times that tells the story of women who went to a Yale fertility clinic for egg retrievals. When the procedure is unusually, excruciatingly painful, the patients are left wondering what happened, and what was wrong with them. Eventually, it’s discovered that their fentanyl had been surreptitiously replaced with saline. But who would do such a thing? And why did it take so long for the patients to be taken seriously about their pain?

“Killed”

“Killed,” billed as “the podcast that brings dead stories back to life,” chronicles news and magazine stories that never made it in front of readers. Host Justine Harman interviews the journalists involved to find out why their stories were killed and what they did next. It’s an exploration of the stories that almost got buried for good, and the reporters who wouldn’t stop digging.

“Sold a Story”

“Sold a Story” dives deep into the state of literacy education in America. Host Emily Hanford explores the changes in how we teach reading and why the education system might be going in the wrong direction. If we’re truly teaching kids how to read, why are so many of them falling behind? “Sold a Story” interviews parents, children, teachers and education specialists to find out what’s going on between the pages.

“StartUp: Success Academy”

“StartUp” is a podcast about (you guessed it) startups. In the beginning, it was mostly about the birth of the podcast company Gimlet Media, but since then it’s covered everything from the beginning of Friendster, the meltdown of American Apparel and the process of “planting” new churches. “Success Academy” is a series about a network of charter schools of the same name in New York City. Founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz has grown Success into one of the highest-performing schools in the city, so why is the school facing so much criticism? “StartUp” investigates every facet of the issue, from the perspectives of employees, students, families and education experts. There are no easy answers in this series, which makes it an incredibly rewarding listening experience.

“The Dream”

Season one of “The Dream,” hosted by Jane Marie, is all about the world of multilevel marketing, or MLMs. Marie interviews a participant in the “airplane games” of the 1980s, goes deep into multilevel marketing’s alleged ties to the White House and even has a former cosmetics marketer try (and fail) to make money selling makeup through a MLM. This show is shocking, funny and sometimes enraging. Season two explores the state of the wellness industry as Marie tries crystals, magnetic therapy, acupuncture and more. The personal connection that Marie brings to these stories, in addition to her and her team’s tireless research, make “The Dream” a must-listen. Season one is, in particular, one of the best deconstructions of multilevel marketing schemes I’ve ever heard.

“Headlong: Running From Cops”

“Running From Cops” is the third season of “Headlong,” an investigative podcast hosted by Dan Taberski. In the first season he explored the life of Richard Simmons, and in the second season he investigated the hysteria of Y2K. In this season, Taberski looks at one of the oldest reality shows on television: “Cops.” “Cops” is like a microcosm of problems that we all struggle with in modern life – from reality-bending reality TV to increased awareness of police brutality. Does the presence of a camera crew change how police act? What happens to the people who appear on the show, and why did many of them give permission for “Cops” to show their faces? And what about the cities that “Cops” embeds in? Does it change them? Taberski interviews the creator of “Cops,” fans of the show, local police officers, lawyers, reality TV producers and people who appeared on the show.

Which of these podcasts are you most interested in listening to? Do you have any other recommendations? Tell us in the comments below. 

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