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Podcasts keep getting better

“It turns out that people — well, lots of people, anyway — are hungry for substance. Our attention spans are quite intact, ready, and willing.”

“Nobody has any attention span anymore. Least of all anyone under 40.” Until a few years ago, it seemed that virtually all media watchers, and media makers, agreed on this. Among the most powerful gatekeepers, anyway, the consensus seemed solid.

One of the most gratifying revelations to emerge from the podcast boom of the last few years is that the above article of faith was dead wrong. It’s an especially gratifying discovery if, like me, you love to produce long-form, in-depth, documentary audio.

Yes, the trend took off with Serial’s first season. Twelve episodes, “one story told week by week,” 100 million downloads in no time, etc., etc. Everyone knows that Serial’s success unleashed a new podcast stampede. More specifically, for my purposes here, it threw open the doors to the podcast series. Eight, ten, fourteen parts, a bunch of hours in total — the audio nonfiction (and sometimes fiction) equivalent of a good book, or of the bingeable Netflix series so many of us are burning through. Podcast listeners — who in fact skew younger than in most other media — seem to be saying: Yes, thank you. Take me on a journey. We’re going to take our time, dig into corners, get into the weeds? Sign me up.

So, we’ve got the many true crime series, each show or season tackling a single case (In the Dark, Dirty John, Empire on Blood, Atlanta Monster, Last Seen), while others dive into past political scandals (Slow Burn, Bag Man). In addition, podcasters are making series that explore personal journeys (First Day Back, How to Be a Girl) and historical and social themes (UnCivil, Caught, Scene on Radio’s Seeing White and MEN). There’s fiction and quasi-fiction (Homecoming, The Shadows), and limited series turning on a creative, imaginative device (Everything is Alive).

It turns out that people — well, lots of people, anyway — are hungry for substance. Our attention spans are quite intact, ready, and willing.

My prediction: More podcast series in 2019. (No kidding.) They’ll keep getting better, smarter, deeper, and more varied. Thank god and the inventors of the podcast. Bring ‘em on.

John Biewen is audio program director at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and host/producer of Scene on Radio.

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Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

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Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

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Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

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Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

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Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

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Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

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Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

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Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

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John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

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Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

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Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

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Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

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Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

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Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

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Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

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Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

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Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

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Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”