- Recycle Journalism – This was the year that recycle journalism came to the fore. It’s been a trend for a long time, already when I was writing for the magazine Space in the 90’s, I was experimenting with it, and Sweden’s Nojesguiden had a fun tradition of creating interviews using questions from other magazines’ interviews, but this year, it was everywhere. New media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Gawker are in large parts based on recycling and reshuffling material, but this year even more traditional magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek had pieces which were made up of lists of articles from other outlets, such as their year-end jealousy list. Slate capped the year by doing a list of (social) media outrages for each day of the year. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the vast and increasing amount of content creation, which means that not all of it can be original content (as with this article itself!). Perhaps it can even be useful given the impossibility of keeping up with everything (unless you’re Jason Hirschhorn of Media Redef who seems to have 25 hours in his day!)
- Snowdenification – One of the outcomes from the NSA leaks has been the rise of apps that promise anonymity or not storing data. Two of the most talked about apps of the year were Secret and Whisper, which lets users share sentiments anonymously. Snapchat, with its self-destructing photos, continued to gain in popularity, and recently, we saw the launch of Confide, which lets users send self-destructing text messages.
- Long tail in analog – The creation of digital content was supposed to enable the long tail, i.e. with a distribution cost of zero, we could all enjoy whatever niche content we wanted. That ended up not being the case, with mainstream music/films/videos still dominating digital. Instead, it’s in the analog space that we are seeing extremely niche products, with the success of magazines like Brot (a German magazine dedicated only to bread!) and Modern Farmer (which I can only imagine is, as its name suggests, for modern farmers). Likewise, we saw Serial blow up and reach mass audiences that podcasts earlier could only dream of.
- Fights for digital distribution and pricing rights – Taylor Swift picked a fight with Spotify, and Hachette picked a fight with Amazon, and all over, music labels, artists and film studios were worrying about how to price their products for digital distribution and how to maintain control.
- Algorithms beats curation – Another highly visible fight this year took place between Spotify, the reigning master in the algorithm corner, and Beats Music, the newcomer in the curation corner. We’ll have to see how much focus is given to curation when Beats is relaunched by Apple next year, but for now Spotify has the lead, with steadily improving algorithms.
- Corporate Content – Benetton has long had its own magazine, Colors, which received praise this year for its World Cup issue, but this year, corporate content has become one of the main trends. One aspect of this is native advertising, which has become the buzzword du jour in digital advertising. Other advertisers took it even further and launched their own magazines with quite limited branding, such as GE.
- Data journalism – Big data is making its mark on all industries, and the news industry is no exception. The launch of Nate Silver’s 538 heralded an onslaught of data journalism, and there were suddenly infographics wherever you looked. The belief in data as the ultimate objective source was quickly questioned, however, and it turned out that data journalism has biases just like regular journalism, it just has more graphs to back it up with. That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t great, though, NYT’s The Upshot did great work around the US midterm elections.
- Explanatory journalism. The other surprising trend this year was explanatory journalism. Alain de Botton published his book News: A Manual, where he called for news to be kinder to the reader and function more like an oracle helping the reader navigate life. Whether or not as a response to Alain, Ezra Klein this year left Washington Post and launched Vox, which became the torch-bearer for explanatory journalism. Again, it was a worthwhile aim, and some of the pieces served to provide much-needed background, but in order to maintain the 24/7 flow of a digital news site, some explanations proved a bit silly, and “Vox explains” could seemingly be attached to anything from ISIS to Easter Eggs.
- Drone journalism – The rise of affordable drones and cameras provided journalists, and especially photographers, with a fantastic new tool to investigate and report. There are still many question marks, not least around FAA regulations, but this is clearly something that will only grow. A related phenomenon is the launch of mini-satellites which can be used to provide high-definition images in close to real-time.
- Google’s Right to be Forgotten – A scary trend in Europe was for Google to remove links to websites under the court ruling dubbed “Right to be forgotten”. This could potentially be admissible for individual websites that are defamatory, or simply out-of-date, but it was applied to stories on many news sites, such as BBC stories about specific CEOs, etc, where it has no right at all. That is called editing history, and has no place in a modern society.
As readers of this blog might have noticed, I’m addicted to podcasts. I find it an unbeatable way to take in information while multitasking something else. (I’m for example listening to the Politico podcast while writing this). Therefore, whenever I see a list of “The Best Podcasts”, I inevitably click on it. These pop up from time to time on all the listicle websites such as Business Insider, PolicyMic or Buzzfeed. This one was on PolicyMic, Biz Insider had this one a while back, and you could find this one on BuzzFeed.
However, there is one big problem with all these lists, they all favor the “storytelling” podcasts. Examples of these kinds of podcasts are This American Life, or Radiolab, or the TED Radio Hour. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great pieces of radio. Especially Radiolab is very innovative. However, they can sometimes feel a bit narrow in their focus on people’s stories or personalities.
Another type of podcast that is often favored in “best of”-lists, are the ones that stretch the medium in new directions. Examples are Welcome to Night Vale, or Love + Radio. Again, it’s great to see people playing with the medium, but those kinds of podcasts are not for everyone.
I’m convinced that there are other people like me who listen to podcasts primarily as an information source, the way that you have Bloomberg on the TV on in the background. This list, therefore, is for you: The Top Podcasts for Infovores. In no particular order.
Definition: A good podcast for an infovore is one that packs the largest amount of information and analysis into the shortest time possible. E.g. a podcast that doesn’t stray too much into unnecessary chatter.
- 60-Second Science – from Scientific American. Does what it says on the bottle – delivers a quick, one-minute take on a recent scientific discovery. Has established cousins such as 60-second Tech and 60-second Mind. Published daily.
- CFR’s The World Next Week – A fantastic, 30-minute podcast from the Council on Foreign Relations giving the audience a great heads up on what will happen in the coming week in terms of geopolitical and political economy events.
- The Economist’s The Week Ahead – The Economist also has a great podcast looking forward to what key events to look out for in the coming week. Theirs is shorter, just 10 minutes, and tends to focus on a few key events, rather than CFR’s broader approach.
- APM Marketplace Tech – APM (American Public Media) has their Marketplace business podcast, which is a great daily business podcast, one of the few American ones to take a global perspective. The podcast that is truly essential for the infovore, however is the Marketplace Tech podcast, which is a 5-minute daily take on the most interesting developments in the world of tech and digital business
- BBC Business Daily – BBC’s business show is the best business podcast. It takes a very broad view of business, taking in everything from the economics of unknown elements of the periodic table, to a specific industry’s development in a little-known African country. The only business podcast that is truly essential listening. Not to be confused with their new podcast Business Matters, which is good, but not essential. Also runs for an hour, while Business Daily clocks in at a nice, info-packed 15 minutes.
- Slate’s The Gist with Mike Pesca – Mike Pesca clearly packs in a lot of information in his daily, 15-minute podcast. It is arguable whether all the information is relevant for everyone, Pesca for example has an unhealthy obsession with vexillology (the study of flags), but he has the most interesting mind of any radio presenter alive and goes of on the most fascinating tangents every single day.
- Philosophy Bites – Short, thought-provoking philosophy podcasts from Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds. Each episode contains a succinct interview with a philosopher about a specific concept.
- Tech News 2Night – From TWiT comes this great, short (10 minutes) tech news podcast with Sarah Lane. Its daily companion, Tech News Today, with Mike Elgan, is also great, but it doesn’t make this list purely because of its length (50 minutes).
- The Weekly Wonk – From The New America Foundation comes this great, newish podcast looking at the week’s wonky news, in terms of foreign and US domestic policy. Great guests join Anne-Marie Slaughter in the discussion.
- O’Reilly Radar – Some of the most intelligent tech discussion takes place on this podcast from O’Reilly Media. Always impressed with the quality of the participants. Around half an hour.
- More or Less: Behind the Stats – The Financial Times’ columnist Tim Harford has his BBC show debunking inane or questionable numbers and statistics that are thrown around in the media. Essential companion to news reading. Less than half an hour.
- Babbage – The Economist’s weekly tech and science discussion. Only covers 2-3 news stories, but covers these well, and clocks in under 10 minutes.
- Pop Tech Jam – The two presenters from the old New York Times Bits podcast (the blog lives on, but the podcast doesn’t) ventured out on their own, and have a fun and idiosyncratic take on the week’s tech and geek events. 30 minutes, and not a dull moment.
- The Writer’s Almanac – From APM, Garrison Keillor does his daily take on what happened that day in the history of literature and world events. Ends with a reading of a daily poem. 5 minutes long.
Special mentions: These are really too long to be considered in this list, but are also among my favorite podcasts, so felt the need to mention them:
- On Being – Technically a show on spirituality, Krista Tippett talks to a wide-ranging group of people on all matters that make us human. Some of the best interviews on the intersection of science, spirituality, and art.
- The Tim Ferriss Show – Jack-of-all-trades Tim Ferriss sits down to drink wine with everyone from Kevin Kelly to Stephen Dubner.
One of my favorite Slate pieces was this June Thomas piece from 2009, on how buttoning the top button on your shirt was shorthand for “special”, i.e. in effect being like Forest Gump. She also said it was meant to signify nerds.
Has this now changed in our post-Zuckerberg, nerd-obsessed culture? This morning, the BBC Sports presenter suddenly had a buttoned up shirt (like this). If the buttoned-up look has reached the bastion of machoness that is TV sports, then clearly something is going on. A quick look around flickr suggests this might be true. See e.g. here.
What’s next for our generation of wannabe nerds? Computers worn on your face? Oh, wait.