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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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Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

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Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

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Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

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Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

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Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

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Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

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Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

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Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

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

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

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Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

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Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

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Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

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Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

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Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

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Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

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Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

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

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

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Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

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Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

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Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

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Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

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Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

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Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

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Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

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Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

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