Podcast News

6 podcasts that widened our perspective

From online algorithms to identity politics to health science, here are a few recommendations from industry experts to get you thinking and asking important questions.

Industry experts share the podcasts that changed the way they look at the world

Industry experts share the shows or episodes that impacted the way they see the world. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC Podcasts)

If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that everything can change in an instant. And when nothing feels familiar anymore, we're forced to consider new possibilities and different perspectives.

It's a powerful shift — the moment your ideas are challenged and something just clicks. You start to look at the world around you with fresh eyes. 

Anything can trigger it. Maybe you had a great conversation with a friend, or read a thought-provoking book. Or maybe, like the industry experts we spoke to, you stumbled across a paradigm-shifting podcast.

From online algorithms to identity politics to health science, here are a few recommendations to get you thinking and asking important questions.

2020: The year of learning to unlearn

Whether it was online or within intimate circles, conversations around internalized bias, oppression and systemic racism ignited crucial self-reflection for many this year. 

Droga5's copy chief Laura Jane Standley says The Heart's Race Traitor played a key role for her in navigating those conversations. The mini-series by Phoebe Unter probes into the normalization of white supremacy and how it manifests in daily life.

"Despite having to do it almost daily for my job, I feel unsure of my ability to talk about race, especially with people who aren't white," Standley said. 

"The Heart showed me hundreds of examples of how to do it inclusively and with vulnerability. That's what I love most about podcasts — you get to try on language and thinking that might be more advanced or really different from your own and live your life while experiencing other people's consciousnesses."

Race Traitor is a mini-series by Phoebe Unter (The Heart)

When it comes to standalone episodes, co-host of Reply All Emmanuel Dzotsi says Radiolab's Nina was an important listen.

"[It's] about what Nina Simone would have to say about the ongoing movement for Black Lives, and it made me examine what my responsibility as a journalist, and as an artist, is in these times," Dzotsi said.

"I've held it close to my heart all year."

And if you're looking to do some unlearning (or re-learning) within a historical context, Ryan McMahon, CEO of Makoons Media Group, suggests The Secret Life of Canada. Hosted by Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson, the series surfaces untold or under-told stories that challenge the dominant narrative.

"The Secret Life of Canada continued to disrupt and unsettle the Canadian sense of self again this year," McMahon said. "It remains one of the most important podcasts in Canada." 

The Secret Life of Canada is “a history podcast about the country you know and the stories you don't.” (CBC Podcasts)

2020: The year the algorithms ruled

Physically distant, yet constantly connected. Global digital and social media usage surged as the pandemic spread through our communities. 

But what happens when our lives move online? That's what Rabbit Hole, an eight-part narrative audio series from the New York Times, sets out to explore. Hosted by New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose, the podcast looks at the consequences of a hyper-connected society. 

Its lessons spoke to two of our respondents.

"Rabbit Hole was brilliant in describing what algorithms do, the pull that conspiracy theories have on us and how we got into such a mess with 'fake news' and misinformation, especially during the reign of Trump," said Lisa Gabriele, executive producer at Antica Productions. 

Rabbit Hole, hosted by New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose, takes a crack at answering a not-so-simple question: What is the internet doing to us? (The New York Times)

Latif Nasser, co-host of New York Public Radio's Radiolab agreed. "[Rabbit Hole] made me think a lot more about online recommendation algorithms like Youtube. How much are you in control of what you see online?"

2020: The year of seeing the big picture

Between understanding the nuances of public health guidelines and watching the pandemic unfold in real-time, this year has put a spotlight on understanding our challenges on a larger scale.

Whether we're dealing with an infectious disease or economic downturn or a natural disaster, there can be comfort in zooming out and seeing the system.

Justine Kelly, executive producer at ABC Audio Studios says Patient Zero from ABC Radio National offered her some perspective.

ABC Radio National's Patient Zero “tells the stories of disease outbreaks: where they begin, why they happen and how we found ourselves in the middle of a really big one.” (ABC Radio National)

"It tells the stories of disease outbreaks — where they begin, why they happen, our reactions to them, of the scientists who research them," Kelly said.

"Rather than scaring the hell out of me (as a lot of coverage has this year), it made me feel oddly reassured that even though bad diseases/pandemics do, and will happen, there are very smart people (scientists) across the globe working tirelessly to make it not so bad."

Another podcast that widened our lens was The Atlantic's Floodlines.

Floodlines is a podcast by The Atlantic. The series investigates the failures of politicians and media during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (The Atlantic)

Sean Rameswaram, host of Vox's Today, Explained says the series was a "tragically perfect" companion this year. 

"The show, which debuted the same week the country was shutting down to slow the spread of this coronavirus, artfully retraces how all levels of government failed New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," Rameswaram said. 

"A richly told story about political dysfunction might not be the easiest sell this year, so how's this: you won't hear anything better."


Listen to any of the podcasts mentioned in this article by following the dedicated links throughout. Researched and produced by Glory Omotayo. Written and produced by Hadeel Abdel-Nabi

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