The best podcasts I’ve heard recently (26/11/2016)



The week’s most interesting development in podcast land has been the arrival of Undone. The conceit is revisiting news stories and controversies of yesteryear to see how they developed once they stopped being the focus of media attention.

Which is interesting but the real selling point are the production values. It comes from Gimlet Media who specialise in doing what they call “high quality narrative podcasts”. Which is advertising speak for ‘our podcasts sound like something that could have been broadcast by the BBC or PBS.’ Don’t get me wrong: I like the fact that many podcasts aren’t like that. The ‘stick some smart and articulate people in a room with a microphone for an hour and lightly edit it’ format has lowered the medium’s barrier to entry substantially, and allowed listeners to eavesdrop on some fascinating conversations. However, given the way that the media as a whole appears to be drifting away from reporting towards opinion, I like hearing journalists doing the opposite: going out and interviewing the people involved in a story and giving precedence to those voices rather their own.

I’ve heard two episodes so far. The first on the battle that broke out between academia and Native Americans, when the oldest skeleton ever discovered in North America appeared to have ‘Caucasoid’ features. The other was on the Deacons for a Defence and Justice, a group pursuing civil rights in Louisiana that rejected Martin Luther King’s insistence on non-violence yet stayed within the movement he created and indeed was called upon by him for assistance.

Moving from PBS-like shows to PBS itself, “>Planet Money had a strange yet entertaining episode that felt like two episodes mushed together.  It nominal subject was the awarding of this year’s nobel prize for economics. But as it was awarded for a rather technical development in contract theory, the presenters themselves admit they are struggling to find a hook. So they wind up blending that with an interview with More or Less‘s Tim Harford about his new book on how forcing yourself to deal with unpredictable situations can foster creativity. In this case, that means the Planet Money team using a pack of cards devised by Brian Eno to help bands try new things to force themselves to create a new episode idea. It’s at once mad but brilliant.

Also on economic theory but seemingly a long way from Planet Money, the Vietnamese themed Loa reports on Marxist-Leninist education in the country. All university students are apparently required to take modules in the subject even if they intend to major in quintessentially capitalist fields like banking.

Right that’s it for my inaugural round up of the week’s best podcasting. If you hear anything that you think should be included in future editions, please do let me know.

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