Originally published on my blog.
I listen to a lot of podcasts these days. I listen on my headphones while doing the washing up or in the car on the way to pick up the kids from school and nursery. I find them very comforting.
I'm both a techie and a leftist, and I use podcasts as an antidote to the misguided neoliberal establishment voices that saturate western society. For some reason, I've always been more interested in hearing conversation about serious topics rather than light entertainment, and usually where they can teach me new perspectives or insights. So I look for a few specific things in podcasts:
- No partisanship: Although my podcasts skew significantly to the left, I'm quickly put off by opinions that are clearly biased towards one party or side, and bashing the other side simply for their alignment. No "Pod Save America" here.
- Heterodox views: I prefer podcasts that bring me new perspectives, especially where they push against the established wisdom.
- Courage of conviction: I don't want podcasts to pull their punches or temper their position - if their reasoning leads to a conclusion, go all the way there. Stand there. Be consistent.
- Well researched and defensible: This is especially important because of the heterodox nature of my preferences: I won't put up with podcasts that get it wrong very often at all. This isn't just about the stated facts but also the broad tone and positioning. This excludes, for example, "The Joe Rogan Experience" from my list.
- Global: I'm not at all nationalistic, and nationalism generally really puts me off. So I look for podcasts that also bring me global perspectives that are often significantly different from the perspective of national media.
I'm quite proud of my podcast feed, which I've strictly curated over many years. I think they very often bring me high quality and unusual perspectives.
Every one of these podcasts varies from week to week, and I'd also love to publish summaries and recommendations of individual episodes that I find particularly ground-breaking. I hope I'll do that soon.
But for now, I'm going to publish the list of the very best podcasts in my regular diet, in the hope they might also be helpful to someone else out there:
I liked Deconstructed when it was hosted by Mehdi Hasan. At that point it felt like a more irreverent version of, and the lesser counterpart to, Intercepted, and generally followed its anti-imperialist, lightly conspiratorial tone.
But since Ryan Grim took over, Deconstructed has entered another league. He brings his deep journalistic experience and extensive network to bear in some truly groundbreaking reporting like his interview with Imran Khan. He brings challenging perspectives from a truly global understanding of politics, and he interrogates and explores many assumptions of leftism.
Ryan's style is much more sober and straightforward than Mehdi's was. Each episode is different and usually surprising. Some are only decent, but many other episodes are truly exceptional.
I'm interested in economics, and especially heterodox economics theory. Macrodose, James Meadway offers just about the most sensible summary of economic developments I have ever seen. His perspective is solidly routed in facts on the ground, often cutting through the nonsense of mainstream opinion with some completely undeniable truths.
Although this is labelled as "economics", the stories James tells are very well explained in simple terms and always tied directly to real-world stories. He takes a particular interest in the economics of climate change. I would recommend this podcast even for people who have no interest in or knowledge of economics itself.
His 15 minute summaries are incredible insightful, but he also conducts longer form interviews and discussions which are always incredibly insightful.
PTO is a little less diverse in its voices than some of the other podcasts here - the host Alex Doherty brings on various guests, but particularly Richard Seymour has appeared a bunch of times. Amazingly enough, though, Richard seems to be a genuinely authoritative and uncompromising voice on many aspects of leftist politics.
It's rather more academic and dense in its style than the other podcasts on here - some people might be put off by the overly academic language. But it's nice to hear leftist politics expressed in this detached and sober way, rather than the heightened, outraged style that is so common.
I was particularly impressed by Richard's early summary of the politics around the brutal Hammas attack on Israel and Israel's resulting slaughter of the citizens of Gaza.
A former VP at Twitter, Bruce Daisley has been running this podcast on work culture for a number of years. It's naturally focused on the tech sector, although not limited to it.
The guests on ESWR are often truly exceptional, and give lots of different perspectives on how work can be better structured to better look after workers and improve work life in general.
Okay I'm cheating a bit here. Some More News primarily a YouTube channel, but it's also provided as a podcast and I often listen as a podcast. It's a political comedy show, somewhat in the vein of Last Week Tonight, but more weird, more irreverent, more leftist and more boar-obsessed.
Of all the podcasts on the list, this is the closest it gets to light entertainment. Although only if you find divisive political topics "light".
The podcast feeds for Some More News actually mix in audio versions of the Some More News videos with recordings of the Even More News podcast ("the first and only news podcast" - actually a podcast this time). I also like that a lot.
The flagship podcast from The Intercept, Intercepted is consistently anti-imperial in its focus. Headed up by founding editor Jeremy Scahill, it very much follows his interest in exposing America's war crimes.
Although the tone of Intercepted is conspiratorial, with theme music by "DJ Spooky", its content is always solid. More recently, Jeremy seems to have stepped back slightly from centrally leading the podcast, with Murtaza Hussain also being a fairly central voice. Murtaza always has very strong and sober perspectives.
Intercepted is more predictable than Deconstructed, but still provides incredibly insightful reporting, mostly on issues of global politics and abuses of power by governments and multinationals.
It's not easy to find consistently good political analysis within the tech sector, but Tech Policy Press is the closest I've found. It's not always as challenging to the received wisdom as I would like, but it does often platform some fairly radical perspectives.
There are some other podcasts about tech policy that I sometimes listen to, but I don't consider them quite high-quality enough to warrant their own specific recommendation in this list. They include Your Undivided Attention and Tech Dirt, which are both a little too sensationalist and don't feel super-objective; The Changelog which has some really solid interviews, particularly around open source, but is annoyingly laden with large paid promotion segments; and Late Night Linux which is fun but not really at all serious, and I wish they'd do more news commentary.
I have a keen interest in journalism, communication and bias. On The Media is one of the least radical shows on this list, but it consistently offers solid and introspective analysis about the world of journalism, even if it is usually fairly US-centric.
Here are some other podcasts in my feed that didn't quite warrant a specific recommendation:
- 538 politics podcast - a heavily statistics- and polling-based view of US politics
- The echo chamber podcast - Irish leftist podcast, very human conversations about the ravages of society
- Ted Radio Hour - Summaries from TED talks on various topics
- It's been a minute - Good conversations with experts about topics in the zeitgeist. More focused on voices from people of colour.
- Fresh Air - Terry Gross interviews people on various pop culture topics
So that's the list. I hope it might be helpful to anybody out there who has similar interests to me.