Years ago, I used to listen to news and politics podcasts often, trying to stay informed and learn about the world. After awhile, it became overwhelming and I felt weighed down by all of the suffering. I had to stop.
From the beginning of the 2016 presidential primaries, I felt I needed to return to current events so I could cast an educated vote, so I started listening to a variety of sources to become informed and stay on top of the candidates’ policies and perspectives. I learned a lot during that time. Over this year-and-a-half-long journey, I sampled over 50 different news and politics podcasts. Many parroted the week’s news and gave surface-level analysis at best, but others presented themselves as well-researched, contextually-aware, and deeply analytical. These were the podcasts I found myself looking forward to each week.
And now we’re here. Whether you’re watching a comedy, listening to the radio, scrolling through Facebook, or overhearing a conversation between friends at the coffee shop, it’s nearly impossible to escape the chaotic, overwhelming, and constant drum of real news, fake news, alternative facts, biased commentators, and elitism.
As of June 2017, the top five audio and video news and politics podcasts on the Apple Podcasts charts are MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Fox’s News Flash, NPR’s Up First, The New York Times’ The Daily, and Crooked Media’s Pod Save America. It’s pretty interesting that those podcasts represent the liberal media, the conservative media, the establishment media, and the independent new media.
(Related reading: Daily News Podcasts Hit the Mainstream)
Out of hundreds of podcasts just devoted to news, which shows have quality reporting and perspectives? Which shows are also enjoyable to listen to? Which shows are worth your time? I have listened to all the top shows, and many of the non-top shows, and I have some suggestions of which podcasts to listen to for quality news and analysis, verifiable information, pleasant presentation, and concise delivery so you can stay informed without wasting time.
This article will focus on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast by FiveThirtyEight.com that started in January 2016 to analyze data during the United States presidential primaries. They planned to stop after the election, but they’ve continued to discuss opinion polls and other sets of public data regarding the new administration’s policies and current events.
FiveThirtyEight Politics is hosted by a quality team of journalists and analysts. Host Nate Silver, a political and sports analyst, is the creator of FiveThirtyEight.com. Nate became well known after he correctly predicted 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election and all 50 states plus D.C. in the 2012 election, using an analysis method he created to examine and weigh polls and statistics.
For the 2016 presidential election, FiveThirtyEight predicted 45 states plus DC correctly.
They expected Hillary would win the election, but they had a higher chance that Trump would win than any other major forecaster. FiveThirtyEight is often viewed as liberal, even though they just analyze data, and they were ridiculed by the left for predicting such a high likelihood of a Republican win.
Here is a BuzzFeed article that compared all the major prediction outlets illustrating how FiveThirtyEight was the most accurate. And just a warning, there’s a lot of math.
Nate is joined by Clare Malone, a senior political writer formerly on the editorial staff of The New Yorker whose writing has also appeared in The New York Times and VICE, and by “Whiz Kid” Harry Enten, a senior political writer and analyst whose writing has also appeared in The Guardian, and is known for his analytical skills and quick wit. These three are guided from topic to discussion by host and producer Jody Avirgan, previously a producer and reporter at WNYC and NPR where he worked with On The Media, Freakonomics, and Radiolab. Jody provides structure, flow, and occasionally plays devil’s advocate when the rest of the panel is in agreement.
In addition to the weekly 50-minute podcast that usually drops on Mondays, the FiveThirtyEight Politics team sometimes records an emergency podcast to provide a more timely analysis of the current news. These are often about 30 minutes and focus on a single topic. For instance, just after Neil Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court, FiveThirtyEight Politics put out an emergency podcast on the topic of appointing a new judge to the Supreme Court, how Merrick Garland wasn’t allowed to have hearings, and what credentials Neil Gorsuch has for the position.
More recently, with the news about memos left by former FBI Director James Comey, FiveThirtyEight held another emergency podcast to discuss what was known about why he was fired and where we go from here. And now with the constant stream of revelations coming from the White House, they are almost a twice-weekly podcast.
The podcast will occasionally have specials to dive deeper into a single topic that is so big it can’t fit in a single episode. During the lead-up to the election, FiveThirtyEight Politics aired short audio documentaries. Topics included how Howard Dean’s scream cost him the 2004 election, the connection between Obama and Reverend Wright, and lastly on how Ross Perot affected, or didn’t affect, the 1992 election. All of these had the underlying theme of how these topics relate to the 2016 election.
In February 2017, FiveThirtyEight wrapped a series called PartyTime where Clare and contributor Galen Druke, a producer and reporter for NPR, WNYC, On The Media, and CBC, interview leaders from different factions of the top two political parties to get a feel for the direction of the parties and the country. The interviews consist of the hosts trading back and forth with questions and follow-ups, plus the series illustrates there’s more than one side to each side. None of the political parties have a unified vision for the future or a plan of how to get there.
The four Party Time episodes are highly produced and easy to digest. There are some really great interviews that show how similar and different the politics and positions are between the party leaders. If you were to go back and listen to any of FiveThirtyEight’s old episodes, these would hold up the best.
By the time you read to this, the Party Time and audio documentary episodes may be pushed out of the feed, but you can access their backlog of episodes on their website at fivethirtyeight.com/tag/politics-podcast.
The FiveThirtyEight politics podcast is one of the best audio programs to get a few of the top stories of the week analyzed by journalists who deliver statistical based commentary to differentiate between empirical and subjective, provide emergency episodes for a quick take on breaking news, and deepen discussions with special episodes featuring interviews and fact checking with politicians and investigative reporters.
You can find more at FiveThirtyEight.com.