A Typology of Podcasts

I spend an increasing amount of my audio time with podcasts. My Google Play Music account is still current with playlists of 2015’s best albums and tracks, but they’re getting less airplay in my car and my kitchen due to my growing love for a growing body of podcasts.

The field of entertaining and educational web-based audio of growing rapidly, and a podcast is not simply a podcast; there are at least three distinct genres of podcast I’ve discerned, and it feels useful to me to spell those out, because if, as I hope is the case, more and more people are to take up this medium as a platform for sharing and advancing their work, we should understand the conventions we’re working with.

So then: the three types of podcast I’m listening to.

The Personality-Centered Conversation Podcast

The best known examples of this podcasts like Marc Maron’s and Brian Koppelman’s. These are long, like an hour plus, and seem to employ only spare editing. Their appeal is a kind of fly-on-the-wall perspective on a conversation between two interesting people. In the realm of spirituality, Krista Tippet is the best at this.

This sub genre feels like the easiest one to play with. It’s what I did. It’s also what Mihee Kim-Kort is doing to great effect.

The Panel Podcast

My surge in podcast listening the last few weeks has mostly been in this domain. Media outfits like Slate and Real Simply are investing heavily in podcasts to get their content creators talking to one another on air and extend their content beyond a static website. Panoply Media (that Soundcloud link will put ALL of their podcasts into your feed) seems to be ruling the day here, producing a wide range of these panel shows that discuss everything from politics to parenting to cooking to policy. These, typically, are shorter than your conversational podcasts.

Without the production heft of a media enterprise like Slate, the panel podcast feels like it would be hard to pull off on a regular basis. Although offerings like The Foreign Desk by Monacle appear to be using Skype and Google Hangouts quite well for this.

The Narrative Journalistic Podcast

Think Serial. This is the space in the podcasting economy being colonized by NPR defectors like Alex Blumberg, whose new company Gimlet Media is trying to turn journalistic standards of storytelling–including high quality production elements–into a viable business model. Startup, Reply All, and Mystery Show are all can’t-miss podcasts for me, and I own a Mystery Show T-Shirt.

Making podcasts like this feels really daunting, but Casey Wait-Fitzgerald is doing it quite well.