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Why I treat podcasts as articles

There are mind-bending conversations out there on the internet waiting to impact your life. Today will see the release of 35,000 new podcast episodes. The end of the month will see over one million, and amidst that mountain of episodes, one or two will have the potential to change your perspective.

Some of the most fascinating people in the world will never write or publish anything. Yet we could be lucky enough to listen in on one or two conversations that they have with interesting people. The obstacle to learning someone’s perspective used to be their own desire to write an article or publish a book. Today if you have new ideas and an interesting perspective, it only takes the right podcaster to interview you and make your ideas public.

I have struggled to cut through the noise to find the most impactful conversations and stories. To manage this barrage of content we get a simple podcast app with subscriptions. Podcasts should be consumed the same way you read blogs. Seek out highlights from your friends and queue up the good ones.


Fewer people subscribe to blogs

In the early days of blogs, each one had an RSS feed. With aggregators like Feedly and Google Reader, I used to load up all my favorite sites and see the newest articles.

Google Reader shut down because no-one at Google thought it was important enough to work on, and other RSS feeders have lost the attention of the public. Why aren’t people reading their blog feed?

It has become much easier to find article recommendations through your news site or social media. With the number of good writing online, I rely on email newsletters for most of my article suggestions.

I don’t subscribe to any news site or blog these days, but rather search the web for particular topics or research interests. And, of course, I find so many good articles from email newsletters.

“Audio is very intimate, like listening to people talk in the dark.”

— Ira Glass (creator of This American Life)

Podcasts offer an entirely new style of information – one that requires me to slow down and actually listen to a conversation. The intimacy of podcasts engages your brain differently and for me, it helps me see a topic from a different angle. In the same way, blogs can offer a personal perspective on a topic covered blandly in the news.

Too many podcasts

There are something like 1.5 million podcasts out there today. Does subscribing to ten or twenty prevent me from listening to some good news ones? Of course not, but when I think of podcasts like articles it makes it easier for me to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
Don’t get me wrong – I love This American Life and the high-quality editing and reporting. But sometimes I want a different type of story or another theme, like science fiction.

Many of the best shows know how to tell a good story, which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Consider the most popular podcasts ever including Serial, S-town and Slow Burn (the story of Watergate). These shows tell a full story throughout ten to fifteen episodes.

When I subscribe to a podcast, I often end up spending weeks avoiding the show for some reason or another. For example, I got tired of hearing about the 2020 election back in April, so I bumped Ezra Klein’s podcast much further down my list for a few months.

It’s way better to find the most interesting episodes this week and listen to the most recent ones in your feed.

Listening goals vary

Some podcasts are entertaining. Some are intellectually stimulating.

When you can see behind the curtain, you get to learn more about what makes interesting people tick. You can see this best on the Joe Rogan podcast. When he interviewed Malcolm Gladwell, after 45 minutes, Gladwell ran out of material to discuss related to his newest book and revealed some of his quarks. I learned that he occasionally writes articles by hand and reads piles of pulp pop fiction, like a series about a veteran sniper vigilante. But I don’t care for 95% of Joe Rogan’s podcast interviews, so why would I subscribe to his show? I just tune in to hear the highlights.

I also use podcasts to swarm a new topic. Before I dive into reading books on a new topic, I try to find five podcast episodes with people in that field. When I listen to an author on a podcast they usually offer the most important points of their book. And then they will reference the other people who influenced them and make further book suggestions. When someone endorses a book on a podcast, I feel extra motivated to read it. I think it has to do with social pressure and hearing a person sign praises for a book encourages me far more than a high rating on Goodreads or somewhere else.

Find your System

I still haven’t found the perfect way to save and queue podcast episodes like articles. I started using Listen Notes in April to queue up good podcasts and it makes it easy for me to dive into the next episode. You can easily find a podcast episode and add it to your own Listen Later playlist, which looks like a separate podcast on your phone. I also really like that you can search the entire episode directory for certain people. They also offer a ranking for podcasts (ie top 0.5%) plus a listening score.

My Favorite Podcasts

I. Binge-worthy Shows

  1. S-town – “John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.”
  2. Serial – “Sarah Koenig sorted through thousands of documents, listened to trial testimony and police interrogations, and talked to everyone she could find who remembered what happened between Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. She discovered that the trial covered up a far more complicated story than the jury – or the public – ever got to hear.
  3. Moonrise – how science fiction inspired the US to go to the moon
  4. Slow Burn – “You think you know the story, or maybe you don’t. But Watergate was stranger, wilder, and more exciting than you can imagine. What did it feel like to live through the scandal that brought down President Nixon?”

II. Bust a gut laughing

  1. Conan Needs a Friend – Highlight Episodes: Jeff Goldblum, Paul Rudd,
  2. Joe Rogan – Highlight Episodes: Kevin Hart (YouTube), Russell Brand (YouTube)
  3. Screw it we’re just gonna talk about the Beatles – where they listen to full albums from the Beatles and add some commentary. I really enjoyed these, especially the episode about Revolver.

III. Expand your mind

  1. Knowledge Project – Highlight Episode: Ray Dalio
  2. How I Built This – Highlight Episode: Stewart Butterfield (f. Flickr, Slack), Casey Neistat
  3. Revisionist History from Malcolm Gladwell – Highlight Episode: Blame Game, My Little Hundred Million

IV. Most Interesting People

  1. Wild Ideas Worth Living – Highlight Episode: Chris Burkard
  2. Tim Ferriss – Highlight Episode: Hugh Jackman
  3. Below the Line – Highlight Episode: Sahil Lavingia
  4. Ezra Klein – Highlight Episode: Jaron Lanier, John Higgs

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